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  • Andrea Benny

Anxiety: My story about learning how to manage it

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

I am known in my family as the ‘worrier’, I wasn’t always like this, as a small kid I remember been hugely confident and outgoing, I would talk to anyone, do anything, try anything. As some point though, I lost a lot of this, I guess it was in my later years in primary school, where you start to learn that putting yourself completely out there can expose yourself to hurt, embarrassment, failure, etc. By the time I was in high school, I found myself in a constant state of worry and anxiety and it felt horrible. You know that feeling you get when you find out something really terrible, your stomach drops and you feel yourself getting white, this is what I was experiencing all the time, and over things that weren’t actually important and other people wouldn’t even give a second thought to. These feelings soon became ingrained in my identity and who I am.

As worry and anxiety comes from the fear of the unknown- the future, it was always the anticipation of things that tied me up into such big knots, and the longer I had to wait the more I would feel physically sick. In these moments, I feel extremely faint and weak, I can’t do anything, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep and if I can I get night terrors. By the time I was a teen, I had learnt two ways of managing this, first is that I needed to just do what I was worried about, as the issue is with the anticipation, once it’s done, regardless if it goes well or horribly wrong, it was done, there is nothing to fear anymore. So, if this was something I could control, I would make it happen now, not tomorrow, not next week but right now.

As you can imagine there is a lot I don’t have control over when it happens, that I couldn’t do just now. Like when my class speech was on, when my dance performance was on, when a job interview is booked, things with a set date that you are told about in advance. This is where strategy number two comes into play – finding a safe environment until D day. As there is nothing I can change or action I feel like my heart is doing overtime, and I know I am just not functioning very well, I learnt that I could ease these feelings enough to be able to stand the feeling for however long I needed to by feeling ‘safe’. In these moments, my way of feeling ‘safe’ is being in an environment where everything seems completely normal, average, standard. For me this was being around my parents, they are a really easy way to feel safe. They don’t have to interact with me, I just needed them around me, doing their own thing, pottering around the house, doing errands, etc. This sense of normality really helps me. Since I moved out of home, having them isn’t as easy so I find similar relief with trash TV, soap stories, sitcoms, rom-com movies, etc. This also gives me that feeling that everything is normal and ok.

These are still the two main methods I use today. My friends try to make me feel embarrassed for liking and watching the show Neighbours every night, but it really doesn’t bother me!! This was one of the first things that helped we when I started work full time and would come home to my apartment. It really settles me from a day of work and stops me worrying about what tomorrow will bring in the office. I am now totally a neighbours expert!! As my responsibilities at work grew, I was finding it harder and harder to manage my anxiety levels, it got to a point where I started to get extremely faint all the time, I thought something was physically wrong but after going to the doctor and testing it was concluded that it was stress and anxiety related. This is when I got into Yoga, and it seriously changed my life. I had honestly forgotten what it felt like to be calm, clear and relaxed. This really has lead me to a space where I feel much more balanced between mind, body and spirit. This quickly became my third and most important method of anxiety management.

I leaned into the practice of yoga so much that I decided to the teacher training course - not to teach but to deepen my practice. During my yoga teacher training, we dove deep into discovering and unraveling our core limiting beliefs, and needless to say anxiety was a big one for me. It is the driving factor to my limiting believe that I am not important or safe. Through this process I learnt that while we can demonise these limiting beliefs as burdens is our lives, they also give you a gift. Understanding what the gifts are, and balancing it out with positive core beliefs is what will let you be a peace with its existence in your life.

So what gifts did I find? I would say that this method of doing things ‘now’ is what really shaped me over the years to be a ‘doer’. If I decided on something, I would just do it. I am not a slow mover, once I make a decision, I am starting it, and this has become such a natural response for me across all aspects of my life. Along with this, I have always cared so much about everything that I do. Doesn't matter if I hated a school subject or a work task - my anxiety around failure and 'bad things happening' always fueled me to care so much about doing and being the best that I could. This is a gift that anxiety has given me. I believe this is what has lead me to achieve what I have at my study, work and all other things I have set out to do.

Another gift I found was my willingness to take on challenges. I feel like a lot of people don’t step outside their comfort zone because of how scary it is, how uncomfortable and messy it can feel, but for me, these feelings are so normal and live with me daily. I never really had that road block of actively having to step out into a challenge - everything was always terrifying and I was used to the notion that I have to do it, the only way is through. While I didn’t feel like I actively choose to take on challenges, I did find myself in them often and wonder why I do this to myself! As I would go from my normal daily level of anxiety to absolute crippling moments. But after a while I learnt that what happens when you come out the other side is just so worth it. The personal growth is not only life changing but also extremely rewarding. So now I have made it to a stage where I actively take on challenges, things I thought I couldn’t do but always dreamt of doing, and each time I am lead to a new experience that I never would have come to without it.

During my yoga teacher training, we actually had to label and personify our balancing belief into a "I am..." statement - a positive core belief we can use when a limiting one is consuming you. For me it had to be something that is the opposite of feeling unimportant and unsafe, that when saying it, it actually shifts the way you feel, to move you back into a space of balance. I remember work shopping this in front of 100 people on a retreat (ps. Public speaking is also massive nightmare of mine! I literately can't get words out because my body is shaking so much.) When I was ask to personify it I said 'Whale', there were quite a few laughs! I guess it is pretty random!! But when I added majestic to it and put it in a “I am” statement, this is when people could visualise what I could about the harmony a whale has, and it was the first time in my life that I physically felt myself calm down while standing up in front of so many people with a mic, i could breathe and I could talk. This was a massive break though and where my mantra that ‘I am a Majestic Whale’ was born. Whales aren’t scared, they are giants of the ocean but they also don’t need to create fear to feel safe and in charge, they just be. This process has since become my fourth method for managing my anxiety in those real pinch point moments.

I had always thought of anxiety as a feeling that then causes a physical response (the knots in my tummy, the weight, struggling to breathe, in ability to eat and sleep, etc), until I learnt about the Power Pose. I had no idea that our body also works the other way around in this context - what we do physically changes our hormone levels. That I could lower my cortisol by how I hold my body regardless of whats going on in my mind and how much i disbelieve it. Its been a fantastic tool I use for any kind of public speaking, I have a separate post about it here if you want to dive into it:

Lastly, I have build a list of things I need to avoid - things that I know time and time again worsen how I feel with no upside. When I was young, it was doing what I knew was the 'wrong thing' the anxiety that would consume me about being caught or being in trouble was paralyzing. So lucky for my parents I was a pretty tame teen! Drinking was a big one, while the night that I am out and drunk would be so fun, the many days following it was really hard to handle. So for about that last 10 years I don't get drunk any more, an odd social drink here and there feels fine, but I am done with getting drunk. It destroys my mental health and I have chosen to protect it.

I am sure as time goes on I will find other ways to manage it, and in no way am I fixed. I guess the point of sharing this is that when I was young no one even used the word anxiety let alone were there people opening talking about it and sharing ideas and tools to manage it. Of course a lot has changed since the early 90s and it's almost cool to say you have anxiety, but sadly I mostly see if from a medicated point of view - which I understand can be a good tool, but there is also a lot more that you can do as well or in-conjunction with it. So I wanted to share this to give insight to what anxiety can look like for people on the outside who might know or care for someone with it. As for people living with it, maybe one of my strategies resonates with you, or sparks an idea for you. I think strategies for managing anxiety are pretty personalised, so what you really need to set your focus on is what you are doing and what is happening around you in the moments you feel better and find relief, then acknowledge it as a tool and build on it, so your brain knows it's a hard wired option to turn to when you aren't coping.

I encourage you to come face to face with whatever holds you back and start to work on ways of learning to cope and manage it.

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