Just over a month ago I wrote about my scariest bout with panic attacks. I've been *maybe* avoiding the follow up to that post - the "but how did I get past it," because there's no simple answer. I know that everyone is looking for a silver bullet, and there just isn't one - don't hate me.
That height of my anxiety was 3.5 years ago. Back then, I got a prescription for Xanax and found that just carrying it around with me made me feel better, because I was less afraid of it happening since I knew I could just knock myself out if it did. Even though the sleep-aid side effects were pretty enjoyable, I let that prescription lapse a long time ago. I have no interest in renewing it, especially given the scary things I’ve read about Xanax lately; like how taking Xanax regularly for 3-6 months increases your chances of Alzheimer’s by 32%, and taking it for over 6 months increased your chance by 84%.*
Yikes, that seems fast, no?
So what have I done to manage this previously overwhelming force? How have I actually reduced my day-to-day anxiety levels to even lower than they were before this flurry of attacks?
It’s called doing the work. And whether you’re trying to quell your anxiety, or get in better shape, or make a business happen, or just find more balance in your life, this is your answer. You have to actually do the work.
Awareness is the integral first step to making any change (acknowledging that I had anxiety). Knowledge – of what to do – is the second (in this case: meditation, self-care, slowing down, aligning my life with my values). We often just sit on that knowledge though – thinking we know what to do - like, we get it – somehow that’s enough? Or maybe we can skim past a few steps, cut the corners, or be an exception to the rule? But action is the third and most necessary step; and not just one-time action, but consistent, actually-change-your-lifestyle action is what’s needed to, in fact, change your lifestyle.
So if we're aware, and we've read all the blogs and articles and they all say the same thing, why are we still not doing it? What's keeping us from taking action? What comfort zone must you leave, what familiar thing do you have to let go of, to finally make these changes for yourself? How are you standing right in your own way?
I struggled with letting go of labels like my “environmental sustainability professional” identity - or maybe just my “straight and narrow” identity - as I made the decision to leave the 9-5 world and pursue yoga teacher training. And then other roadblocks surprised me, like when beer was making me feel like shit and I finally had to come to terms with it and give up my “beer girl” identity; I hadn’t realized how much a part of me that was, and how resistant I’d be to let it go.
Sometimes you have to let go of people in your life; those that are not supportive of the lifestyle you want to create, or are actually keeping you stuck. This is another hard one, because friends are friends. In most cases you can simply distance yourself from people that might accidentally (or intentionally) sabotage your efforts, have an attitude that drags you down, or simply don’t respect the changes you want to make for yourself. The saying “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” is true. Choose wisely.
Maybe you need to let go of a belief about yourself or about how the world works. I used to think I needed a stable job with a steady paycheck and guaranteed health coverage. I thought that kind of job was a parameter to build my life around, not something that could be shifted. I used to think I hated to travel, that I’d never live in New York City, and that meditation was for weirdos. Try being open to new ideas and perspectives, even on things you thought you already knew.
You might need to let go of a repressed memory or trauma. This is a big one; we push this shit so far down and think “I’m fine,” when in fact, it can be impacting how you show up every day. You may not see the connection, but if you start to untangle the knot you’ll see it’s all one piece of string. You have to face it to move past it; try exploring whatever weight you’ve been carrying, always with intention, support, and in a safe space.
There is a little bit of retreating that needs to happen to do any of this work. You might actually go away, or just get a little quieter in your daily life. Basically, you have to start hanging out with yourself more, and taking better care of yourself. That’s the closest thing to a silver bullet I can offer. You’ve got to get quiet and identify the things that are keeping you from making the lifestyle shifts you want to make, and let them go.
The thing about anxiety is, you wont get over it by reading blog posts and taking personality quizzes, it’s a lifestyle shift. It’s uncomfortable and unknown territory; it probably means letting go of something familiar, and it definitely means looking deep inside and getting to know all of yourself.
The good news is the adventure never ends because there’s always more to find in there.
There is no bad news. It only gets better.
*(from The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington)