I haven’t talked about my challenges with anxiety in a while. It's not that I don't still struggle with my mental health, but rather I've become much more equipped to handle it (and the challenges life throws at me) over the past six-ish months. Whenever I find myself in an uncomfortable situation or life throws something crazy at me, I don't freak out or end up in an anxiety spiral. But rather, I result to one of the trusted tools I've found help me reconnect with myself and put my mind on track. Through putting in the work on self awareness and mindfulness, I’m slowly starting to reap some of the benefits.
Today I sat in front of a room of students and professors at St. Lawrence College and spoke about my experience with anxiety and phone addiction. I started my talk with a few questions to see how many people in the room were affected by common anxiety triggers and addictive phone tendencies:
How many of you feel anxious when your teacher mentions a new project or test?
How many of you worry about what to wear before you go out with your friends?
How many of you look at your phone when you wake up in the morning and right before bed?
How many of you would say you’re addicted to your phone?
80% of student's hands went up as I asked each question. And you know what? My answer used to be yes to these questions too, until I had a breakdown. That's usually what it takes, isn't it? Something happens, or a series of unfortunate events occur, that we can't handle because we're trying to do so many things right, and we just kid of lose it and question everything we've been doing. Whatever that looks like for you, for me it went a little like this:
I was so unhappy in one of the jobs I was working (one that I thought would make me happy) I would get physically ill either during or after my time there.
My mom had a sudden near-death experience and I had never been in a position where someone I loved so much was in such a vulnerable position.
I was unhappy in my relationship but wasn't willing to put in any effort to fix it until I read a book that changed my perspective and gave me courage.
I was blindsided by someone I thought was a good friend and thought my work and other friendships would suffer.
I didn't know how to handle any of these situations, so as each one piled on, I slowly started to feel consumed by my emotions until I became so anxious and that I had to see my doctor and say, "I need help." This first instance happened after my mom ended up in the hospital.
Her solution was to have me take an Anxiety Survey to which I was deemed "severely anxious" and was prescribed medication so that I could handle these feelings. But for some reason I knew in the back of my mind that wasn't my final solution. I don't have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I don't have a chemical imbalance in my brain. I don't need medication to feel better, like some people actually do. This was a bandaid because she wasn't prepared to coach me on how to handle life.
What I needed was to learn how to react more appropriately to situations so that I could manage my emotions and not derail them into an anxiety attack. The real issue is never what's actually happening to us, but rather, how we choose to respond to it. Thankfully, I had a friend who helped me reach this realization.
I spent an invaluable amount of time with my friend Morgan Pierce of Black Sheep Thinking hashing out my demons and letting him coach me through some of my major faults with the purpose of self awareness, humility and growth. I learned there is no room for ego if I want to live the life I say I do. There is so much goodness and power and awakening in being aware of your emotions and mental health. So I did what I had to do:
I quit the job that was making me ill and I gave myself the space, patience, and love to reflect on that experience.
I dealt with my mom’s experience through talking and writing about it, while also standing up for my mother by submitting a complaint to the KGH patient care department for her unfair and traumatizing experience at the hospital.
I spoke to my boyfriend about my insecurities and what I need in a partner, while also accepting and proceeding to take actions on some of my behaviours needed to change too.
I sought advice from a trusted friend on how to handle women who hurt other women and how to present myself in the working world when situations like what I went through arise.
Of course, these things didn't just happen because of sheer will power and determination. Emotions are a lot more complicated than that. It took hard nights alone, endless tears and frustration, and ton of reading and researching and writing. So here's the next part of my story: the tools I've used to help me get to where I am today: more comfortable and able to manage my anxiety and emotions.
TIP ONE: FACE IT & ACCEPT IT
The first step to seeing a positive change in your mental health is to accept that you have a challenge to work through and possibly manage your whole life. It's critical to accept this in order to see this positive shift, as a lot of your time will have to be spent having uncomfortable moments and conversations, but know that they will be completely worth it and life changing. Anything worth having is at the edge of your comfort zone.
This is important to remember when you’re in the trenches. Life is a series of highs and lows, each one important for growth and a balanced life. Take the lows with the highs and learn from them. It's important to have people in your life that you trust, support you, and who you can talk to about the real things in life.
Any time you want to give up or run away from something unbearably uncomfortable, it’s important remind yourself of your end goal, whatever that may be. Mine is: to reach a place of true belonging.
This is what Brene Brown describes as True Belonging: the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world, and find sacredness in both being a part of something, and standing alone in the wilderness.
A crucial trait that goes hand in hand with acceptance is patience. Give yourself the grace and patience to accept the things you cannot change, and to work through the things that you can. Life is a journey, not a race, and patience will help you through the hard times. Your experiences have brought you to where you are today, and the decisions you make will shape the future you want to have. Do you want to design your own future? Because you totally can.
TIP TWO: REFRAME YOUR THINKING. GIVE YOUR ANXIETY A NAME
Sally is the name of my anxiety and Sally is a bitch.
Sally likes to show up unexpectedly and throw a wrench in my everyday, positive lifestyle and makes it hard for me to be myself and do the work I want to do.
Since renaming my anxiety, it’s been easier to talk about the insecurity I have around feeling that way into something more human, manageable, and sometimes humorous. I actually talk to Sally to get her to leave me alone and that's what's so funny. Sometimes the acknowledgement that you’re anxious, rather than trying to hide it is all you need.
"Hey Sally, I know you're here right now because you want to talk me OUT of going to this event because I don't know anybody, but I'm here to tell you that I really want to go to this and your negative thoughts aren't wanted. I'm going to this event and I'm going to make new connections. Thanks bye!"
My anxious self and my normal self (aka Sally and Jesse) are so far removed from each other that it makes me want to scream on the days Sally is around. Having this distinction between my anxiety and my normal self is positive because it reinforces the notion that I am NOT my anxiety and I don't IDENTIFY as an anxious person, but rather it's just a part of me I'm learning to manage.
Always acknowledge. Never avoid. Screaming is sometimes frowned upon in public, but people are always going to stare - so might as well give them something to look at.
TIP THREE: DO A SOCIAL MEDIA DETOX + GET OFF YOUR PHONE
Whether you realize it or not, the amount of content and the kind of content you consume in a day has a direct affect on your mental health and how you view yourself and the world.
Are you filling your brain with images of other people first thing in the morning? Or are you using do the things help start your day the way you need to, like setting an intention?
The next time you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed, take note of how you feel when you scroll past certain images. Are you jealous of travel bloggers or wish you had the closet of all the New York Fashion bloggers? Do you completely disagree with someone's message but follow them and consume their content anyway? If anyone pisses you off, makes you consider your worth or feel bad about your looks, consider why this may be (lack of self love?) and unfollow them. You deserve to do the work on yourself from a place of self-worth, not a place of self-doubt.
I sat down and asked myself: what do you want out of social media? How do you want to feel when you scroll through your feed and when you post a photo? How is this platform going to serve you? How much time are you wasting in your daily life because you're busy checking your phone? This led me to not looking at my phone in the morning when I wake up or at night before bed.
Changing my morning routine was a critical component to managing my anxiety. I now take the time to ask myself how I am feeling, check in with how I would like to feel that day, and read a few pages of a book that’s helping me grow. I can’t recommend Brene Brown books enough, but you need to know what works for you. I like to connect with other women’s stories. I like to know they feel similar to the way that I do and what they’ve done to shift their thinking. I’ve learned that it all comes down to your internal compass and doing what’s best for you, which leads me to my next point:
TIP FOUR: GET TO KNOW YOURSELF. SELF AWARENESS IS KEY
Trust me when I say that there is no greater power than knowing yourself, and I think one major factor that plays a role in us “losing ourselves” is the amount and or the type of media we consume and the people we surround ourselves with. How do we know who we are and who we want to be if all we do is live vicariously through the lives of other people or don't hang out with people who inspire us to be ourselves?
A few ways to get to know yourself are to:
Reminisce. Look at photos or videos of you when you were a child. What did you love to do? This is when we were the most carefree versions of ourselves. Talk to your parents about your childhood: what made you happy, what made you sad, what made you stop and think, what made you run wild with ambition? Chances are you’re still very much aligned with the child inside.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What are the things I love about myself? Why do I love these things? Do I celebrate them regularly?
What makes me happy? How many of these things do I do on the regular?
What makes me sad? Why do these things make me sad? What can I do to change my perspective?