4 STOPS and STARTS to overcome anxiety
“Let me see your inner world and I will show you mine” (Naomi Cameron).
It can be scary opening up about your intimate inner spaces of thought and feeling. It is the place where our deepest, darkest secrets lie. Hidden in the shadow, away from prying eyes. But there is always a part of you that knows it is lingering there, waiting, for your attention. People can spend a lifetime trying to avoid these hidden parts, fearing that they reflect negatively upon them.
I use to experience severe anxiety from all these hidden parts of myself.
My mind would run rings around me, telling me if someone found out about me then I would be unlovable. So I hid for nearly 25 years, but the longer I ignored them, the louder they spoke.
Severe anxiety can feel like a vortex. It grabs every piece of external information to make a story about how deficient you are. This can make the world feel like a very lonely and scary place.
The more the mind creates a whirlwind of doom, the greater angst felt in the body. The body can feel very unsafe because of the inner turmoil. This is the nature of anxiety. Everything becomes overwhelming and a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness emerge. This usually presents in thoughts of ‘I’m a bad person’ and ‘I am never enough just as I am’, which reflects self-judgement about what we see as a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ person.
Especially the high functioning adults, who seem to hold a stable job, have a good social network and appear to be ok. However, images can be deceiving. This is how I use to cope with my deep unhappiness and low self-worth. When adults experience unworthiness, they create personas that keep this deficiency hidden. This keeps them safe and protected from feeling inadequate. However, this is extremely unfulfilling. It leaves you with a massive void inside that can never be filled. So we try and fill it with things outside of ourselves hoping for some respite from our inner pain. And in the short term these things do bring relief, but it is always short lasting and the inner turmoil rises once again, leaving you feeling even more alone and inadequate.
I use to think that if I just ignored those wrong parts of myself that everything would be ok. However, I was only leading myself down a path of self-destruction. The greater I avoid my inner feelings, the worse I became. I was constantly stressed about everything, I was drinking a lot of alcohol, had difficulty sleeping, felt restless- all the time, and felt utterly miserable inside. Nothing really felt pleasurable because I was constantly worrying about the things I did and said, and was always re-thinking how I could improve.
Life became so unbearable that I just couldn’t go on anymore. I was at breaking point.
So I made a choice. To start reaching out for help.
You see, people with anxiety are the least likely people to seek help. This would actually mean admitting that there is something wrong. Which reflects back on the pain of realising that you are not perfect. Which plays havoc on your inner fears of inadequacy and can feel debilitating.
Every day you place unrealistic expectations on yourself. You try and hold everything together, portraying a perfect image of how you should be, but you always falling short of your expectations. When you have this fear of being less than your perfect image, the harder you try to sustain it. The inner judgements, criticisms and self-blame significantly increase. You have the tendency to compare yourself to another, reflecting that you are inferior to them or more superior. All this time and energy trying to uphold this self-image is enormously exhausting. Leaving you with minimal pleasures in life.
So, the first step to personal transformation is surrendering to the fact that ‘I really need help’. My current life circumstances are not really how I want to be living and there has to be more to life than living this anxious (self-destructive and self-loathing) experience. When we own the need for guidance through this challenging inner terrain, it means we are choosing to become aware of all the parts we have tried to hide. Exploring parts of ourselves that seem inadequate or faulty is extremely scary. Especially when we have grown up in environments that have not been accepting of our natural self.
In my earlier years, I felt strange about opening up to a stranger and sharing my intimate inner world. Especially after 25 years of trying to suppress it. This is how foreign it is for people to feel safe to share what is really going on inside. When we start to give ourselves permission to let go of all the fears of how we will be perceived, it is like going through inner surgery, mending all the broken unseen parts.
The beauty that comes from taking the necessary steps towards freedom is learning to fall in love with yourself. It was the first time I felt a respite from my self-hatred and self-loathing thoughts. It was like I got the taste of a secret elixir to life. My tension, anxiety, stress, worry, concern all started to fade. As the years went by, I continued to seek skills and tools to keep building my inner resources to overcome my anxiety. It hasn’t come easy, but I was willing to make the commitment to do what it takes to lift this burden.
Here are some of the cold hard truths that I have learnt along the way:
#1 STOP searching outside of yourself for the answer.
The only person who is able to pull you out of your hole is you (with the support of a skilled guide, as we need new tools and resources otherwise we keep recycling the same old stories trying to find answers to them). If you are really serious about transforming your life… “if you want something you’ve never had you have to do something you’ve never done”. You can place a lot of pressure on friends, lover and family when you rely on them to sooth your inner discomfort.
#2 STOP pleasing others
You will have your lovers, haters and people that simply don’t care. If you keep trying to bend yourself into a size and shape that another deems appropriate, you are only hurting yourself. I implore you to please stop hurting yourself! You have to live with you for the rest of your life, why don’t you try pleasing yourself and prioritising what matters most to you. You will notice significant changes in your life when you do.
#3 STOP reading other people’s actions and behaviours as a reflection of your own sense of worth.
When we are constantly on the lookout for other people’s actions to affirm who we are, we are doomed to fail. On a good day, we may be able to override this and keep a smile. On a bad day, this will totally defeat us. We feel overwhelmed by life and how insignificant we are, so the safest place is to hide under a doona cover with the bedroom door shut. Start learning how to connect with your sense of worth internally. This is the only proven fool-proof strategy I have learnt to date.
#4 STOP using unhealthy habits to self-sooth your inner turmoil.
People who experience anxiety and high stress usually have unhealthy behaviours in an attempt to soothe their inner discomfort. This can be drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex, coffee/ tea, sugar (lots of chocolate), excessive exercise & shopping and the most recent phenomena- Social Media. This helps to alleviate the unease for a short period of time before the feelings re-emerge. These unhealthy habits also help to re-enforce our low self-worth and eventually leads to a deeper feeling of self-hatred.
And here are some options that I’ve tried, tested and now swear by:
#1 START becoming aware of your own self-destructive thoughts and behaviours.
The minute we decide that our thoughts and behaviours are unhealthy; we can start to take action to re-wire these. Journaling is a great tool that I have applied on a daily basis for over 5 years now. It gives me the safe space to write down every crazy, wild, insane thought I have.
#2 START learning how to be kind and loving to yourself
Yes, I am a deep supporter of the LOVE REVOLUTION. When we can learn how to relate to ourselves in a positive way, we start to receive this in our outer reality too. It is a necessary to start accepting that the essence of our humanness is messy, wild, emotional and crazy. Nothing ever has to make sense, other than learning how to love our natural and normal self. The more we reject who we are, the more we hurt ourselves. So start fuelling yourself with loving acceptance.
#3 START reaching out for guidance and support
You don’t have to suffer alone. As my mentor says, a burden shared is a burden half the weight! Seek someone who knows what they are doing when all these painful feelings are ready to be explored. In my wealth of experience seeking the right support can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. What I have come to realise is there are two different kinds of therapeutic people, people who have the embodied wisdom to shift these pains from your reality (these people have connected with their own pain-body and undergone personal transformation) and others who have skill in listening but not really able to shift the energetic patterns stored in the body (these people tend to rely on intellectual based study in their treatment methods). From personal experience, people who don’t possess the necessary skills to transmute energy patterns, I leave feeling relieved to talk, but still feeling like I have a burden to carry. In a session with someone who knows how to shift patterns stored in the body, I have felt like an inner surgery has taken place so that I no longer have that burden.
#4 START taking any action to calm down your Nervous System.
When you anxious, stressed or even depressed, your inner world has been left ‘on’ for way too long, meaning staying alerted for any oncoming threat in your surroundings. This creates the tension, shortness of breath and restlessness. It can feel like an overwhelming tidal wave that you cannot escape, keeping you on the look out. Starting to implement daily strategies to help calm down the Nervous System is essential. You can find out more about some strategies in my article I wrote for mind body green here.