I still remember the moment it all began… I was 19 in my second year of uni and I was standing in front of my classmates in a huge lecture theatre. I was midway through my speech when I mispronounced a word. I don’t know why but in that instant, everything stopped. I’d never experienced anything like it before. My mind went blank, my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest and I could feel the heat rise to my face. I was so embarrassed I didn’t look up for the rest of my speech. From that moment on, I had a fear of it happening again.
Before this incident, I was a confident speaker. I loved performing and being on stage, I volunteered for the musical and debating club at school. Speeches were my jam! I was very confident in my abilities. But in that moment, I floundered. I knew it was silly – I mispronounced a bloody word, but at the time I was so embarrassed, scared and lost. I felt frustrated and determined I would never recreate moment as traumatic as this.
Before long, this fear consumed me. I wasn’t just anxious about presenting to classmates…I began to fear the small talk with the cashier at the supermarket, unexpectedly bumping into people I knew on the weekends, making conversation with strangers at parties, weekly meetings at work, brunch dates with friends… over seven years, I slowly developed a fear of being seen.
I was constantly in a state of fight or flight. I’d come home from my 9-5 exhausted. The sick feeling in my stomach, my sweaty palms, the fear of blushing, tension headaches, teeth clenching, the mind blanks and the rapidly beating heartbeat became a part of daily life. Each day I did my best to cover up my anxiety and make it go away. I didn’t want anyone to know about it and I didn’t tell anyone about it (apart from the healers I was visiting) for seven whole years!
So I bought every self-help book I could get my hands on, I did online courses, I tried EFT, hypnosis, acupuncture, I saw a psychic, a naturopath, a psychologist, I started meditating, I bought crystals, I started exercising, I stopped eating meat, I started taking vitamins, I quit the pill, I went to self development workshops, I bought essential oils, I sent white light to my chakras, I tried positive affirmations… I did everything!
Last year after some really difficult events, the kind that see you begging to god on your hands and knees on your bathroom floor – I decided enough was enough. I was tired of hiding and dimming my light. I wanted to be OK with being seen and speaking my truth. I booked in to see Beanie, a local kinesiologist the following week (who coincidentally has also struggled with anxiety in the past) and within minutes of our session, I was a teary, snotty mess.
What Beanie said to me completely changed my life. A part of me already knew what she was saying was true but she gave me the validation I needed to hear. She affirmed everything happens for a reason, and I was exactly where I needed to be. She said my anxiety was a gift and I needed to start accepting and owning it. She reminded me my anxiety had led me to this rich and beautiful new world of health, wellness and spirituality – something I might not have discovered otherwise. And this was only the tip of the iceberg!
That night when I got home, I did something I never did before. I walked out to the middle of my backyard, at about 9’oclock at night and laid on the soft, cold grass and looked up at the full moon. I noticed the moon had a rainbow ring around it, something I had never witnessed before. In that moment I was filled with so much gratitude for my life. I knew I was going to be OK. All I could think was anxiety had led me here…To this moment, with happy tears in my eyes, mesmerised by this magical rainbow-ringed moon!
I’d be lying if I said life was all lollipops and rainbows from that moment on and I never had anxiety ever again. Sorry to disappoint, but plenty more tears and anxious and fearful days followed that night but it did get better, I promise! The thing is, the more I came to accept and learn more about my anxiety, the more it’s hold over me weakened. And as I write this I can honestly tell you this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and I’m so incredibly grateful I’ve got anxiety because it’s taught me some beautiful truths over the past seven years.
I’d love to share FIVE of those lessons:
1. When you notice the nudges – Listen!
I learnt the hard way that when you don’t listen to the nudges, your body will keep sending you signs and signals until you’re forced to pay attention and take notice. The nudges were a knowing in my gut that I was going down the wrong path, hormonal acne, gut dysbiosis and of course anxiety and all the symptoms that fall under it’s umbrella.
I realised that anxiety showed up the loudest when I was not living in alignment with my truth; when I went against the nudges in my gut. You know what I’m talking about… that sick feeling you get when you realise you don’t like your job or you’re in the wrong relationship or you’re not enjoying the degree you’re halfway through at uni or that you actually don’t like spending time with the people you used to call friends.
For so long I looked to others to give me the answers I wanted to hear; to tell me what my next move should be. But honestly – all I needed to do was check in with my body. The information I needed was already there. Each and every day I do my best to listen and check in with my body. Listening doesn’t just involve taking notice of the nudges. I also pay attention to how I feel physically and mentally. I look at my skin, food cravings, my energy levels, my irritability, headaches, sickness, tension in my jaw. I’ve also found that respecting and honouring my body through each phase of my menstrual cycle has had a huge impact on my mental health. If you want to learn more about this I highly recommend the beautiful work of Claire Baker.
2. Life is happening for you, not to you.
Despite everything I went through, I know it’s all happened for a reason. I liken my anxiety to a compass which has constantly been leading me in the right direction. When I didn’t listen to the nudges or trust my intuition – my anxiety would get worse. It was frustrating at the time, but it made me listen! I felt as though I had no choice but to start meditating, or to buy that book, or see a kinesiologist. Through the process of healing my anxiety, I discovered so much about life, myself and the world around me. Looking for answers meant I often pondered questions like who am I, what is my soul purpose, and what is the meaning of life?
To be honest, I’m still figuring these out but what I do know is that I am here for a reason. I know that I want to help others live their best lives and I want to help make the world a better place – starting with myself. I care less about things, and more about connection. I want less small talk, and more deep conversations. I don’t want to hide, when I was born to be me. I don’t want to keep thinking “Someone should do something about that.” – I want to be that someone!
It’s not easy, but next time you’re hit with a hard day or negative experience, look for the lessons. When I look back at every horrible moment I’ve ever gone through – it’s always turned out to be the best thing for me at the time whether it enabled growth, built resilience, inspired creativity or encouraged vulnerability.
3. Self-love is key
This is something I knew for years, but something I only really understood a few months ago. It all clicked into place when I watched a lecture by Dr Paul Epstein on the body/mind connection. Dr Epstein believes that the most important thing we can do on our healing journey is to show ourselves compassion and learn to embrace and love those problems or issues as part of the whole of who we are. He believes to heal we must love ourselves as we are right now, in this very moment.
It made me question if I actually did love myself like I thought I did. It turns out it was a big, fat NO! You see, it wasn’t totally obvious to me at first because I was doing all the self-love things. I was meditating, going to yoga, using essential oils, stuffing crystals down my bra, drinking and eating lots of cacao, reading, going for walks in nature and eating nourishing food…but I was still talking myself down. I was still listening to that voice in my head that was telling me I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, smart enough or witty enough and a lot of the time I wasn’t fighting back. That is not behaviour of someone who loves herself!
Once I had this awareness I went a little deeper, and through journaling I was able to figure out what was going on for me. I realised I put other people on a pedestal, believing they were better than me. I didn’t think I could love myself unless I was perfect like them – but the thing is no-one is perfect! I realised I didn’t need to wait until I had this or that to love myself. I need to love myself – anxiety and all – right now just as I am. Only then can true healing take place.
4. Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection
For seven years I hid my true feelings from those closest to me. But by hiding my anxiety, I was also hiding my vulnerability. I was always trying to present this perfect version of myself, but it wasn’t real. Because of this, I never felt like people really knew me. I desperately wanted people to see the real me, but how could they when I was constantly hiding? The night I told my fiancé and best friend I had anxiety was one of the best nights of my life. I was terrified, but liberated, nervous but free! It’s clichéd, but I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. They finally knew about this secret battle I’d been fighting for the past seven years. Since that moment my relationship with them has only become richer and stronger. There is something truly beautiful in vulnerability and showing up as you truly are. The more I share my story of anxiety, the more I realise I’m not alone. There’s so many of us fighting the same battles. It makes me wonder why I was so scared about speaking up in the first place. In the words of Dr Brené Brown – “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
5. Anxiety is best managed with a holistic approach
This was a huge lesson. In the beginning when anxiety first showed up I tried everything to make it go away and would Google late into the night looking for a cure. What I discovered was, I could eat all the kale and broccoli in the world – but if I was in a job I hate or not exercising or getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night or ignoring my emotions, I’d still be anxious. What has worked best for me, and something I continue to work on is creating balance in all areas of my life. At the Institute of Integrative Nutrition where I studied, we were taught a concept called the Circle of Life. It’s a quick exercise that gives you a clear visual of where your life is thriving and what areas are out of balance. We look at creativity, finances, career, education, health, physical activity, home cooking, home environment, relationships, social life, joy and spirituality. My advice would be to try this exercise now. Download this PDF- Anxiety to Alchemy – Circle of Life or draw your own circle at home. Place your dots on each line to indicate how satisfied you are in each area. A dot closer to the center of the circle indicates you are unsatisfied with that area of your life, while a dot closer to the outside of the circle shows you are more satisfied. Once you’ve finished, connect the dots and identify areas that are out of balance. You might like to journal on these areas more to work out ways you can create more balance in your life. Enjoy it, this can be a really fun process!
- When you notice the nudges – listen! Because if you don’t listen, your body will continue sending you signs and signals until you’re forced to pay attention and take notice.
- Life is happening for you, not to you – When I look back at every horrible moment I’ve ever gone through – it’s always turned out to be the best thing for me at the time whether it enabled growth, built resilience, inspired creativity or encouraged vulnerability.
- Self-love is key – Don’t wait until you’ve got this or that to love yourself. Love yourself right now, just as you are. Only then can true healing take place.
- Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection – Dr Brené Brown believes embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy.
- Anxiety is best managed with a holistic approach – Try the Circle of Life exercise to identify areas on your life that require more balance.
I hope this post inspires you to uncover your own unique lessons and alchemy. I also want you to know you’re not alone. In Australia, one in three women or one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their life. It’s the most common mental health condition in Australia and it baffles me that despite this there is still a negative stigma associated with mental illness. It’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of and it doesn’t make you less worthy than anyone else. It’s a part of your story, but it’s not all you are. Perhaps it’s trying to guide you down the right path or teach you more about yourself, or direct you to your life purpose? It mightn’t feel like it right now, but it’s my hope that one day you’ll realise it was a gift all along.
Lots of love, Jade
For professional support visit www.beyondblue.org.au.
Jade lives in sunny Brisbane with her fiancé and adorable poodle. She is a holistic health coach with a mission to inspire women to live their best lives, follow their hearts and trust their intuition. You can find her on Instagram @anxietytoalchemy or follow her blog www.anxietytoalchemy.com