Just a few days ago, Ed Sheeran spoke out about his social anxiety. More celebrities are speaking up about their anxiety and depression and it is definitely helping break through some of the stigma surrounding mental health. But our society still has a long way to go to truly support and accept that mental health is as important as physical health. Even more so. I don’t have all the answers to how to bring about the change that is needed, but I know one small step I can do is share my story.
I have probably struggled with anxiety most of my adult life, but it wasn’t until recently I realized that nagging feeling of not being good enough, not doing enough, not being enough was a sign of anxiety. Everyone experiences anxiety and depression differently, but for me, my anxiety originates from not being able to cope with my feelings. Feeling sad, lonely, or any similar uncomfortable feeling felt too overwhelming. I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt like a failure for not being happy. There was no outside reason for it. The pain came from the inside….my emotions, and negative self talk. I have spent most of my adult life self medicating with food, alcohol, TV, shopping, anything to distract me.
Recently I discovered meditation as well as the practice of just riding out my feelings, including my anxiety. I focus on my breathing and remind myself that the uncomfortable feelings won’t last. I invite them in. I don’t judge them or try to figure out why I am having them. I allow them to be. It has been a game changer for me. I still have anxiety at times, but this has helped me realize that I am not powerless over it.
Gabor Mate, in his book, In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, sets out tools to overcome behavioral addiction which can be translated and applied to anxiety and any other uncomfortable emotions.
First, Relabel the emotion. Label your emotion for what it is, not mistaking it for reality. “This feeling makes me anxious, but there is nothing to feel anxious about.” Practice conscious awareness. Stand outside your emotions and just watch them. Do not try to make them disappear. Just pay attention to them.
Second, Reatrribute. Your emotions are a belief. Be curious about them. Give them compassion. Give yourself compassion. Your emotions say nothing about you as a person.
“Feel what you need to feel and then let it go. Do not let it comsume you.” -Dhiman
“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.” -Dan Millman