My personal experience with anxiety dates back to my teenage years. For the longest time though, I had no clue I was suffering from anxiety; I just thought I was stressed. But about three years ago, things got really bad. I was a shell of a person, getting through every single day on autopilot. I had to talk myself into doing just about anything. I was so tired all the time. I got emotionally overwhelmed by the mere idea of having a social life. I was worried about every little detail. I felt unable to cope with, well, everything. I felt weak. I felt guilty. I felt ashamed.
Yeah, that was my own particular brand of anxiety. It sucked.
With that being said, it was also the very best thing that ever happened to me. You see, that emotional pain was there for a reason. It just took me a while to figure out what it was really about.
Pain, any kind of pain, is meant to draw your attention to something that could threaten your survival. When you’re dealing with physical pain, like a sprained ankle, you understand that walking on it makes the pain worse, and so, you refrain from putting weight on it while it heals. Emotional pain is the same. It is telling you to stop doing whatever it is you think you have to do, to stop pretending to be whoever you think you should be.
If you’re thinking it’s not that simple, you are mistaken. It is that simple. It’s just not necessarily easy, there’s a difference.
What if you allowed yourself to consider that it is possible? What if you knew with absolute certainty that the best-case scenario would come to pass? Would you dare to leave your current job, your current relationship, your current life behind? Close your eyes for a moment and imagine what it would be like to lead that life… Now tell me, in that moment, do you feel anxious? Or do you feel relieved?
I’m not asking if you feel good about it, because change will always be accompanied by discomfort, hence it won’t feel good. Relief, though bittersweet, is still a slight improvement. Following this sense of relief is like a beacon on the road to becoming yourself again. The destination is full-on authenticity.
Anxiety is the flip side to authenticity. If you feel anxious, it’s because on some level, you’re not being true to yourself. Take some time to reflect on your values, not from a logical point of view and what seems right, but from an emotional angle and what feels right. Take the time to define what’s really important to you. Most importantly, allow yourself to want what you want without judgement. There is no wrong answer here. Give yourself permission to make your own happiness a priority. Realize that being selfish isn’t bad; it’s necessary.
For instance, I came to realize that the reason I was anxious was because I was leading a life that was not my own. Everything I’d achieved in my life was based on outside expectation instead of inner desire. My most cherished value was freedom, but I didn’t feel free on a daily basis. Acknowledging that was the first step on my journey out of anxiety and back to myself. Three years and a few major changes later, I’m now living anxiety-free.
I know there are a lot of people out there who think anxiety is a mental illness you have to live with and manage as best you can. I am here to tell you that it’s not true. Anxiety is a symptom, not a disease. Take responsibility for your health and your life. Listen to your pain. Figure out what the real problem is, solve that problem, and the pain will go away.
It really is that simple.