By Emily Gough
I never identified as someone who had anxiety.
Easily stressed, perhaps. A bit of a worrier, yes. But anxiety? It had never even crossed my mind when it came to thinking about myself.
I was empathetic to those close to me who dealt with it, though I didn’t always fully understand it.
It wasn’t until a therapist casually mentioned my anxiety in conversation that it dawned on me: anxiety wasn’t simply something other people struggled with. I was struggling with it too, and it was taking over my life in more ways that I had wanted to admit to myself.
After years of slowly creeping in, my anxiety peaked at an all-time high a year ago during a time when there was a lot of emotional upheaval coming to the surface with several relationships in my life, particularly my relationship with myself.
This led to a whole lot of procrastination, fear, and a few too many Game of Thrones re-runs if I’m being entirely transparent. Some days it felt like an effort to get off the couch, and I would finish the day panicked about not getting much work done.
I attributed lack of structure, very little routine, and disappointment in myself for not accomplishing everything listed on my unreasonably lengthy to-do list, and there were many tears of frustration as my annoyance with myself continued to mount.
You see, paralyzing fear and doubt are at the root of anxiety.
Sometimes to break through that fear and doubt takes some shifts, and this isn’t only about your usual lifestyle changes to sleep and nutrition. Sometimes we have to dig deeper, and I’ve found a few things that always manage to give me a brighter outlook and shake things up.
Change Your Routine
One particular weekend, I was a total nervous wreck for seemingly no reason at all. By Sunday night, I was fed up with myself. So, I decided Monday morning to do things I hadn’t done in days: workout, go for long walk, made a date to see a girlfriend, put on makeup and a cute outfit, went to a coffee shop (for a brownie!) and did some work in a new location to mix it up.
I felt more like myself than I had in weeks.
Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you don’t feel ready to switch things up. Sometimes you can only take one tiny step at a time. And sometimes you’ll be so sick of yourself, you’ll change up everything in a single day.
It’s going to look completely different for everyone, but if you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed and stuck — change something about your day and see the positive cascade effect it can have.
Manage Your Energy & Set Boundaries
Managing your energy isn’t simply about the bubble baths and pedicures brand of self care we hear about everywhere.
It’s about taking stock of the activities that fire us up, and the ones that drain us, and planning our lives accordingly.
For example, if you’re an introvert like me, spending time in large groups of people can be a blast for short periods, but rapidly turns exhausting. I need to recharge my energy after being out for a social event, and after a boisterous and fun bridal shower for a friend the other day, I came home and went straight down for a nap to reset my energy levels.
Previously, I would have felt guilty and lazy about that.
Now, I recognize that it’s the greatest gift I can give myself and set that boundary with myself and others both willingly and lovingly, knowing that it will keep me functioning as the best version of myself for my own sake as well as for those who are counting on me.
Other examples: doing an activity in your business that leaves you feeling depleted and worn out. Is it a necessary task? Can you out-source it? Are you able to design your day differently so that you do it last after you’re already done your more creative tasks for the day?
This is completely unique to each person, and I highly recommend taking a so-called “energy inventory” to help you determine what’s lighting you up, what’s sucking the life from you, and how to manage both ends of the spectrum and keep your anxiety in check.
Get Used to Hard Conversations
Initiating and having hard conversations requires practice and skill, and doing them well is something to be learned like anything else. Best of all, in my opinion, getting good at having tough conversations will take you farther in life than most other skills.
You can try and avoid or delay having them, sure. Though, recognize that by avoiding these conversations, the very act of avoidance is probably eating you alive from the inside out and adding to your anxiety.
Whether it’s about having a conversation around boundaries, learning to say no, or allowing yourself to be vulnerable with someone and putting your heart on the table, you’re opening the door for deeper connections that you would otherwise miss out on.
Sometimes this is going to require putting your trust in the other person to handle what you have to say, along with putting trust in yourself that you can handle whatever the outcome is of the conversation.
With the worst case scenario in mind that the person on the other end of the conversation doesn’t respond well to what you have to say, ask yourself this: how would you feel if you had continued to keep your feelings from the other person?
I can’t answer that for you, but it’s worth further thought and careful consideration.
Give Yourself Some Grace
It’s not going to look perfect. Some days are going to be harder than others, and it’s OK to feel the way you’re feeling.
It’s also OK to have those stretch of days once in a while when Game of Thrones re-runs might be your top priority to give yourself a bit of a break from adulting.
Know that the way you feel right now is not how you’re going to feel forever. This isn’t permanent, it just happens to be where you’re at in this particular moment in time, and because you’re struggling right this moment doesn’t mean that you’re not meant for big things in life. It means you’re tired, and you need to rest.
Give yourself the same beautiful grace you would grant to any loved one. You deserve that same love.
Bonus Tip: Take Action
Whether you use one of the examples above or try something different to deal with anxiety, the crucial step is to take action. Any action.
I had a former coach would always say “action over anxiety” and it could not be more true.
That doesn’t mean you’re going to force yourself to do everything on your to-do list.
It means take one small step of action, such as stepping away from your laptop to get outside for a walk. Showering and getting dressed, putting on a swipe of mascara, eating a nutrient dense meal, or jotting a couple quick notes about a business idea that popped into your head are all examples of taking action that can shift your entire outlook.
Action is how we GROW.
“Don’t let the fear of what could happen make nothing happen.”
– Doe Zantama