Why Anxiety No Longer Controls My Life
Anxiety is an issue I have always been ashamed, embarrassed and reluctant to talk about. That is, until this year.
This year where I was given a good talking to in the local Emergency department and learnt the hard way- that self care is the most crucial step in any busy lifestyle.
This year where I reached a point of feeling so burnt out, opening up about anxiety was a necessary step to recovery.
This year where I learnt that reaching out to people doesn’t create a place of shame; it actually creates a safe haven instead. It creates a “go-to” person, a support network of one or more who just “get it”.
This year I learnt that it’s okay to have anxiety and it’s okay to talk about it.
Yet, it no longer controls my life and this is how I’ve done it.
I can still remember my first panic attack five years ago. I was 16 years old and it was the day I got my Learner’s license; it was also the week my oldest brother (and closest sibling) was moving out of home. I got out of the shower that night and felt like I couldn’t breathe. My legs were shaking and I started hyperventilating as I went and told my mum something was seriously wrong.
I have a history of anxiety in my family and immediately my mum knew what was happening as she calmed me down and encouraged me to breathe. I started crying and my mind was full. So full of so many thoughts and worries and concerns that I thought I was going to be buried in them. It lasted for what felt like a lifetime of twenty minutes. I was exhausted after and felt completely drained and scared it would happen again as I went to bed.
In the years that followed, anxiety weaved its way through my teen years. Panic attacks were less common, but there were countless times I would skip meals, cry for no reason and not go out with my friends because my anxiety was so strong. At the time, I was deeply invested in the Christian faith and this was a coping mechanism for me as I held on to my belief that God wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
In high school, no one talked about issues like mental health openly and I felt incredibly alone and isolated in my struggle. I could go fine for weeks or days on end, but then it would come in waves and slowly cripple me. Home was my haven and the only person I talked to about it was my mum.
At 17, the opportunity arose to go to Africa for a month with a team from my church and my older brother leading it. I remember jumping with excitement at the possibility but quickly being filled with panic.
What if it happened over there? Thousands of kilometres away from all I know and trust? An entire ocean away. How would I cope?
I had about nine months to prepare myself for the trip and I made the most courageous step that ended up changing my life. I decided to step out and go even though I was petrified.
In the nine months leading to it, I did all I could to mentally prepare myself, but there was a book called “Living Beyond Your Feelings” (Joyce Myer), that changed my entire mindsets and perspective about how I let anxiety affect me. This powerful book offered lessons in how we can prevent our emotions and feelings from controlling our lives. This book acknowledged that feelings are real, strong and powerful- but they don’t need to rule us or stop us from living our dreams.
This was the starting step for me controlling my anxiety as I learned the power of our minds.
Since this month long Africa trip, I came home to finish school, start my Gap year and travel again to Zambia- but this time completely alone. It was my greatest challenge and I still remember a week before I was meant to fly out; I found myself curled up in a ball too anxious to leave the house and wondering how I was going to survive crossing the Indian Ocean alone. I blocked out the dark thoughts and heavy oppression, gritted my teeth and decided nothing was going to stop me from pursuing my dreams.
I lived in Zambia for just over three months, staying in a two bedroom unit alone- surrounded by only my newfound friends in this foreign land. No one knew of my anxiety except my boyfriend at the time, and even then it was still a private battle I faced alone.
I came home, started university- moved out of my parents’ home at 19 years old, and finally in December 2013- I took my greatest plunge of faith. I packed my bags and moved to a city five hours away from my hometown. I didn’t know a single person except the name of my new boss. I had little money but I had a house to move into alone, a new job in my career field, and I had just been accepted into my dream university. Anxiety was not going to stop me from chasing my dreams.
In the last year of living alone in a city where I knew no one twelve months ago- I have met the most incredible man who has become my greatest support in this struggle specifically. I have made some friends for life, completed a year in a very challenging job, and passed another year of university.
I have learnt about the power of our minds and the impact our thoughts have on our lives.
Anxiety does not have to control your life as long as you learn about your triggers, and take the time to understand how anxiety works on four dimensions; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual- how hormones can trigger it, traumatic events and times of the year that remind you of these, and even busy times- such as the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Anxiety does not have to control your life as you reach out and get the support that works for you. There are various means of support and it’s important to get what you specifically need. For example, some need medication, others see a counsellor regularly and some surround themselves with a few friends and family who get it and are able to offer this support.
Everyone is different but the only way to stop anxiety from controlling your life is by tackling it head on. At first it can be painfully embarrassing, defeating and difficult to talk about- but there is nothing to be ashamed of.
People from all different walks of life can face anxiety. It doesn’t matter how much you seem to “have it all together”, what field of work you are in or how confident and driven you are. Anxiety can grip anyone- but don’t let it cripple you.
Get control of your thoughts before they seep through and before you know it, you are lying in a pool of sweat struggling to breathe.
Look after your body and soul to take preventative measures to avoid stress. I struggle with this and need constant reminding from those around me, but I know that when I am proactive about wellbeing my anxiety is decreased.
Set goals and achieve them. Moving away from home seemed like an impossible feat for me when I was in one of the weakest times of my battle, but setting that goal to step out was powerful. It was empowering and it brought the greatest things into my life.
Anxiety can be often described as voices. Negative, oppressive, worrying voices that plant fear and panic deep into our minds and seep into our lives. Anxiety is one of the hardest battles you will ever face, but don’t let the voices win.
Taking control doesn’t mean these voices will never come; it just means you won’t allow them to dictate what you can and can’t do.
Anxiety no longer controls my life and I need to constantly remind myself of this.
It doesn’t have to control yours either.
This was originally published on Rachel Tonu's blog 'A Heart For The People.'