Confessions From a Fellow Anxiety Sufferer

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been a worrier and over-thinker. Some of it was learned behavior, from close family members of mine, but, in retrospect, a lot of it was self-inflicted too.

It reached an all-time high in college–I was a senior, studying, interning, trying to figure out my next step after graduation. In short, I was a hot mess–a ball of nerves ready to break at a moments’ notice. I could barely sleep; worried thoughts and possible scenarios and what-ifs clouded my brain the second I put head to pillow.

My family and, then-boyfriend (now fiance) encouraged me to seek therapy. For a while, I didn’t want to. I claimed I was fine. I didn’t want to admit to having a problem that I needed aid for. Because then it would be real.

But (unshockingly) I didn’t get better. Not sleeping for weeks pays a toll and I finally sought help.

The diagnosis

I owe a lot to my college therapist. She gave me tips and tricks to help me cope. But the singular most important thing she did for me was diagnose me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

That diagnosis changed me because I had finally had a name for my suffering.

Looking back, anxiety has played a consistent role in my life in one form or another. As a child, I had several prolonged periods of time when I couldn’t sleep, from worry and stress. Most school mornings I would feel a lingering, empty pit in my stomach, as I nervously anticipated the day ahead. Now I had something to call this feeling, this emotion, this thing I’ve felt ever since I could remember.

A new perspective on worry (from none other than a published therapist)

Lately, with COVID-19 sheltering us in our homes, I’ve started reading “The Chemistry of Calm: A Powerful, Drug-Free Plan to Quiet Your Fears and Overcome Your Anxiety” by Henry Emmons MD. And honestly, I can’t recommend it enough for anxiety sufferers.

Here are the two main lessons I gathered from it:

1. Don’t let ruminating thoughts control your life

“What determines how well you survive chronic stress is how you react to it and whether you are able to shut it down.”

– Henry Emmons MD

A lot of times we create unnecessary worry in our heads to give us something to do. Ruminating thoughts, or excessive and intrusive thoughts about negative experiences and feelings that we replay in our minds over and over and over again, have always played a massive role in my own life. I blame rumination for all those sleepless, restless nights.

The key here is to learn how to control the repetitive thoughts. Dr. Emmons highlights that it is crucial to monitor and filter out negative thoughts that like to run rampant through our minds.

Since self-isolation started, I’ve been practicing yoga in the mornings before I start my workday. For me, right now, this is my preferred way to practice mindfulness. I’m away from my computer, I breathe into the stretches and I focus on just “being”.

Though it is easier said than done! It takes practice and patience and forgiveness when you fail at it. I’ll admit, even during yoga I find myself worrying and ruminating about something or another, but on an exhale I try to let it go and focus my attention on the present.

2. We believe our own wild thoughts

“Much of the problem, though, lies not with how things have changed outside of us but with our lack of a skillful means for dealing with a challenging world.”

– Henry Emmons MD

To be frank, the last six weeks of work have been hectic and uncertain. The advertising industry (and every other industry for that matter) are in turbulent times, and we are doing our best to navigate unprecedented waters. Because of this, I often find I have more self-doubting thoughts than usual.

“You’re not good enough” and “You can’t do this” and “You’re going to epically fail at this” run through my head during the workday.

Dr. Emmons makes a valid point in his book that these are just thoughts. You don’t have to believe them! Just because sometimes I think I’m not good enough, does not mean I actually am! Again, it is key here to monitor your thoughts and reject your crazy, outlandish, totally untrue notions, lest you start to believe them. Let your thoughts, just be your thoughts. Don’t ruminate on them if they are untrue and negative. Think them, discard them and move right on along.

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