I’m a terrible runner. I take breaks every two minutes. My heart is in immense agony. All I want to do is lay on the ground and stuff my face with a juicy, fat cheeseburger. However, I am excellent at letting my mind run.
“What am I doing with my life?”
“What will people think if I post this on Instagram?”
“How will I ever meet this deadline?”
“What if I throw-up when I give my presentation?”
“What if my parents disown me for wanting to quit my secure job?”
“Am I unlovable?”
At one point, my anxiety (paired with deep depression) was so uncontrollable that I just snapped. I reached such a low point in my life. I hated my job. I wasn’t sleeping. I was constantly crying. I had panic attacks. I was a recluse. I avoided seeing my friends and family. I felt so defeated and lost.
After falling into such a dark hole, I had no choice but to learn how to climb up and out. Here are four steps I used to break free from my crippling anxiety.
1. Identify which cognitive distortion(s) you’re guilty of.
A cognitive distortion is an exaggerated or irrational thought pattern. By identifying your distortions, you are able to logically acknowledge your negative thinking pattern, combat it, and come out more level-headed in handling your anxious thoughts.
2. Just put one foot in front of the other.
I absolutely hate when people tell me to stop worrying. You think I haven’t tried? You only have 24 hours in one day. You are not going to resolve your existential problems during that short time span. Think of one baby step you can make to move things forward. That’s all it takes. Completing that next step will lead to a small feeling of fulfillment. After completing a few more steps, you will slowly start to gain momentum. Eventually, there will be a snowball effect. Naturally, there will be days where you can’t take a step and that is okay. Forgive yourself. Have grace with yourself. When you’re ready, get back up and take that next baby step.
3. Be openly honest and emotionally vulnerable.
People don’t care about your “perfect life” and “perfect image.” People principally want to gain an insight to what troubles and worries you. It helps them feel less lonely of pains in their own hearts. Here’s the truth: everyone else is just as stupid, scared, and lost as you are. Every person’s strength you perceive has a counterbalancing weakness. So why not just own up to your weaknesses and share them publicly? Next time someone asks how you’re doing, don’t just say the standard “Good!” Build up the courage to say something short and truthful like, “Feeling a bit anxious about ____. Trying my best to work through it. How do you in particular, work through emotions like these?” It will create meaningful dialogue, allow you to be authentically you, and give you a boost of self-confidence. Learn to be kind to yourself. Learn to love every bit of your flawed self. It’s the healthiest thing you can do.
4. Take risks. Do what you love.
I was a nurse, a director of marketing, and a clinical program manager. Then I transitioned from the corporate world into entrepreneurship. I started my own e-commerce business. Everything I did was for the money and to please my Asian parents. What did that lead to? Anxiety and depression. After years of extensive soul-searching and exploration, I am now a comic artist drawing cartoons about my daily life. When I started, I didn’t even know what an illustrator was. I thought it was a made-up, fairy tale job. Now, I spend everyday drawing cartoons about my anxiety, introversion, awkwardness, life struggles, weird thoughts, and hilarious, embarrassing moments. I have never been so happy and in love with what I do! Am I worried about making money? Am I worried about what people think of me? Is it a ton of work? Yes. Yes. Yes. Every day. The difference is now my fulfillment and happiness far outweigh my anxiety.
I still get anxious. I still worry. I still stress. However, I am no longer 100% overcome with these negative emotions, so much so that I become emotionally crippled and paralyzed. When anxiety starts to creep over me, I repeat these steps in a repetitive cycle. Now I’m only 30% overwhelmed! Clearly, I’m not perfect. Nor will I ever be. However, it’s not about eradicating anxiety; that isn’t humanly possible. It’s about triaging your crippling anxiety and breaking free from that emergent feeling. I hope that by following these four steps, you are able to find your own emotional freedom and happiness.