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Can Anxiety Be a Good Thing?

5 years ago, I quit smoking — cold turkey. It was, in a word, brutal. I had been an almost pack a day smoker for 16 years. I had a few half-hearted quit attempts before that point but never succeeded. (I tried Champix, but it really didn’t agree with me, and after only a day with no smokes, I caved.)

Quitting smoking really is an extreme form of mind over matter, though, because once I hit my 30’s, I knew something had to change. See, two of my aunts — both were my dad’s sisters — died in their 30’s of breast cancer. There was lots of cancer elsewhere in my dad’s side of the family, and by the time I hit 34, I suddenly realized just how dangerous this game I was playing really was.

So, that spring I was about to turn 35, I made myself a promise. I vowed to quit smoking by my 35th birthday. And, 4 days before that day rolled around, I did it. I quit. It’s been 5 years and I haven’t had a single puff since.

This post isn’t really about quitting smoking, though. I’ll write one about that another time — as well as some of the things I did to get through it. Suffice it to say it wasn’t easy, and I really had to work hard to succeed. The cravings were hard, but what was even worse was the emotional baggage that started surfacing once I no longer had a substance helping me keep it all stuffed down.

Two of the very hardest things to deal with, that I had never experienced before, were insomnia and anxiety. I can’t with any certainty say which of these came first. They really do go hand in hand — not sleeping contributes to anxiety, and anxiety contributes to not sleeping.

It was horrible, this first official foray into the experience that anxiety is. It felt like my body was not my own. The day long feeling of absolute certainty that something terrible was going to happen. My thoughts seemed fine — I wasn’t consciously worried about my kids, my husband, our finances, etc. Everything on the outside was fine. So why, on the inside, did I feel like the world was going to end?

As someone who’s long tried to respect and listen to her intuition and follow her inner guidance, this day-long anxiety started to make me feel like I was losing my mind. How could I be so damn sure that something bad was going to happen, that I could feel it in every cell, and then be wrong? Every day I felt that sick, gut punch feeling that something was incredibly wrong. And every day, nothing bad would happen.

(An interesting side note: I’ve come to discover that what I thought was intuition and inner guidance was only that some of the time. Other times it was my fears, issues and blocks leading the way. Because the truth is, you aren’t being true to yourself — and therefore can’t properly guide your own self — when you’re addicted to anything that is helping you self-medicate.),

So, in addition to the horrible anxiety and insomnia, I also started doubting and questioning myself. Everything I ever thought I knew, believed, and was, came into question.

By this time, the physical craving for a cigarette was long gone, and the only real, and incredibly powerful urge to smoke, came from a desire to make all this other stuff stop.

I don’t know why I picked up that first cigarette back when I was 19 years old, but I do know I was pretty insecure about a lot of things back then, so it’s not much of a leap to assume the reason I started smoking was to medicate these feelings of anxiety that were starting to surface. This is only an assumption, of course, but seems likely to me, based on the ferocity with which anxiety took over my life once I stopped smoking.

Here I am, 5 years later, and mostly in control of the anxiety that once threatened to consume me. It wasn’t a quick fix. It definitely wasn’t a one step fix. I’m not on medication — I managed to heal my anxiety on my own. It flares up every once in a while, and when it does, I now know that something, somewhere in my life is out of balance. Once I work to uncover and address that, the anxiety disappears, almost as if by magic.

Anxiety taught me more about myself and my intuition than anything else before or since. When I step off my path; when I stop doing the daily things I do that work to create the life I want; when I allow myself to step away from who I really am — it’s right there. Instantly back, like someone tapping on my shoulder, pointing out that I was doing the wrong thing, or not doing the right thing.

Once I quit smoking, I was able to start to heal all the baggage and issues I was stuffing down in the first place, and I also learned how to listen to what the anxiety was telling me. And once I started doing that, and started living the life I was actually put here to live, being true to who I really was… the anxiety left, too.