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HOW IT BEGAN.
I have had anxiety for over 16 years. It started in high school as primarily social anxiety with panic attacks, dread around going to talk and being in social situations, and constantly fearing potential social interactions. I even diagnosed myself with Avoidant Personality Disorder at 16. I was formally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder at 16. At 17 I was seeing a nurse practitioner (prescribed me anti-depressants) and a psychologist. After experiencing some scary side effects, I decided that antidepressants weren’t for me and the NP took me off of them. At the time, I was also having gastrointestinal issues. I frequently experienced throwing up ‘out of nowhere;’ when I went to the GI doctor, we both knew what it really was- it was my anxiety, not an actual GI disorder.
Nevertheless, my anxiety persisted throughout the years and usually got the best of me, even in more recent years. My throwing up in stressful situations became ‘normal’ and I even joked about it. My anxiety during grad school and during the first few years of being an occupational therapist truly defined who I was during that time. I so strongly associated myself with my anxiety- I was my anxiety. I had a panic attack during one of my Occupational Analysis labs in grad school when we had to engage in a baking activity in groups. With the differing personalities in that group, I suddenly found that I couldn’t breathe. Sheer terror swept across my entire body and I had to step out of the classroom. I knew that point that I needed to see someone again. I took advantage of my school’s anxiety clinic during my first year as an OT student. I felt somewhat ashamed and disappointed that I had not ‘outgrown’ my anxiety already. Little did I know that that was just the beginning how anxiety can terrorize my mind, body, and spirit.
ANXIETY IN MY CAREER.
Anxiety played a role in my burnout story during my first years as an OT. My unique recipe to burnout included many intrinsic and extrinsic factors, but anxiety was just one ingredient in that elaborate burnout recipe. I found that I was constantly worrying about my role as an OT, worrying about my clinical confidence, worrying about how I looked to other therapists and patients- worried about everything and all the time, even on the weekends. My burnout story is something I have shared and will share again on the show, but for now I am focusing solely on anxiety.
During my mid-late twenties, I regularly experienced the mental and physical symptoms as my anxiety to be a normal occurrence- just something I had to learn to live with. Completely over-analyzing everything, replaying scenarios over and over again in my head, getting the millions of thoughts racing in my head, worrying about constantly pleasing everyone, shortness of breath, throwing up weekly, being completely ingenuine with myself and everyone else, and more. It just became my normal; when something becomes your normal, you don’t try to change it.
Over the past year, I have been on a huge, spiritual and personal growth journey, which I will also talk about in another blog post/episode. I have had the opportunity to work with an integrative health coach Angie Sanchez she was on episode 19) which truly changed me. This year of transitioning to turning 30 years old, moving across the country, and many other changes that have occurred have all been the catalyst for this incredibly transformative period.
THE TOOL THAT CHANGED IT ALL.
This tool that I discovered a few months ago that has completely revolutionized how I go about dealing with anxiety is one thing I have unearthed during my spiritual growth journey.
I have personified my anxiety and his name is Prince Harold. It happened one day, working from home on Joy Energy time projects that I had this epiphany. In a moment where I stepped away from my work to stretch, I started to have a ‘talk’ with myself, specifically my anxiety. I was sick and tired of my anxiety calling all the shots. Even though by this point in my anxiety journey I had already gained incredible tools and insight about mindfulness, mindset shifting, and more, it bothered me that anxiety could show up unannounced and change the way I feel and therefore the way I operate. I realized that operating from a place of anxiety, low-vibrational energy was the opposite of who I am and who I becoming. I preach about having more joy in your life and living your most lit up life possible! So how could I be working from a place with such anxiety?
Then it hit me. Your anxiety does not define you. A thriving life does not mean a perfect life. Although a thriving life can be seen as an end goal, it is most definitely about the journey. Anxiety may be a part of the journey, but you can learn to adopt a thriving life as an attitude and a way of living despite your current problems. Because guess what? You will always have problems! If we want to thrive when our problems are resolved, we will never get there.
BEFRIENDING MY ANXIETY.
This was when I stopped ‘battling’ my anxiety and ‘befriended’ my anxiety. I developed this open dialogue with my anxiety and actually talked to it for the first time. I have learned to acknowledge when my anxiety is taking place, observe it for what it is, and understand that I do not have to choose it. Do anxious thoughts continuously pop up on a daily basis? Of course! Thanks Prince Harold. What’s different now is that I have separated Erika from the anxiety- we are not one. My anxiety over the past year and a half has dramatically lessened thanks to my daily meditation practice, journaling, breathing techniques, reframing techniques, and my own personal growth (countless books and podcasts continue to be my personal growth vitamins everyday). Just naming my anxiety has allowed me to make peace with it and even laugh at it.
Although my anxious thoughts are always in my voice and come from me, I can distinguish between what is an anxious thought (Harold) and what is an objective thought. For so long, I thought my anxious thoughts were helping me and protecting me. I believed them. My anxious thoughts lowered my confidence in myself, how I related to people, how I showed up for my job- everything. I think that throughout my journey with anxiety over the years of therapy, tools, meditation, and personal growth that I have developed resilience, self-compassion, and self-awareness.
In summary, ‘Prince Harold’ has helped me with three major things:
1. Distinguishing my ‘anxiety voice’ from myself; understanding I can acknowledge anxiety when it pops up, make peace with it, take from it what is helpful and toss what isn’t.
2. Asking myself “does this serve me?” when an anxiety thought pops in my head, lying to me and promising me that it is a helpful thought.
3. Living in peace knowing that instead of drowning and stuffing my anxiety down and having so much tension with me, I can choose a different approach to it. Having some fun and naming it Prince Harold has allowed me to feel this sense of freedom from it.
Share this with someone that has anxiety and let them know you’re thinking about them and that they’re not alone!