Photo created by Erika Walton || @ownyourpath_

To those on the outside, I am super helpful, hardworking, detail orientated, active, determined, and loyal but there was a time when I suffered from high functioning anxiety. The type of anxiety where I put on a brave face while suffering on the inside. The type where I would overthink everything, have trouble saying no, fear failure, plan way too much, and try to please everyone in my life. The scariest part was that I didn’t even know it was anxiety. I truly thought I had a heart problem and I feared for my life.

One day, I was at work getting ready to go to a meeting. I felt stressed but that was nothing new. A few moments later, I was sweating. My heart was racing. I asked one of my co-workers to take a walk with me. I asked her to just talk to me in hopes that I would be able to calm myself down.

We walked and my heart just continued to race. I was dizzy, short of breath and my chest felt tight. Once I realized that I had no control over how I was feeling, I went to the emergency room where I asked one of the nurses to hook me up to the heart monitor for a quick look at my heart rhythm. They put me on the monitor and I heard the nurse say, she isn’t going anywhere. My heart rate was 180 and all I was doing was laying there on a stretcher, looking up at the ceiling, listening to the sound of the tachycardia (high heart rate) alarm ringing in my ear. All I could focus on was that alarm and the pounding sensation I felt in my chest.

It wasn’t long before the nurse was telling me that if I couldn’t get my heart rate down, they were going to have to give me a medication in my IV to do so. Luckily, my co-worker I was with was an emergency room nurse. She was able to calm me down through deep breathing and eventually my heart rate returned to normal. Moments later the doctor walked in and informed me that I had had my first panic attack.

Photo created by Erika Walton || @ownyourpath_

For months, I continued to suffer from severe anxiety. There was one night that I woke up in the middle of the night in a sweat, heart racing and short of breath. My husband tried to calm me down. He tried to convince me that it was another panic attack but I didn’t believe it. I truly believed I was going to die. I threw on my shoes, got in my car and drove myself to the emergency room with my foot shaking nervously on the gas petal. My husband couldn’t drive me as I didn’t want to wake our son in the middle of the night. I made it to the emergency room safely and honestly, the second I knew that I was somewhere safe, somewhere that someone could intervene if I were to pass out, I started feeling better. Once I was on the monitor, my heart rate was elevated but I was able to calm myself down and the doctor told me I had another panic attack.

The panic attacks continued for months. My anxiety was crippling. I didn’t want to go out or do anything because I was terrified that another panic attack would come on. The worst part of all of this was that my anxiety followed me through my wedding day, the morning after our big day and throughout my honeymoon.

A necessary step in the right direction

It wasn’t long before I knew I needed to do something. I took a big step and I made an appointment with a therapist through my employee assistance program at work. I started therapy and continued to go for about six months. The anxiety, the worry and the panic attacks did not subside. I finally accepted that I would need to take medicine to help me live my life. I was ashamed. I felt like a failure. I just didn’t understand how I couldn’t control my own emotions.

A few months after starting the medication, I was back to my normal self. I had control over my life and I could actually enjoy myself. I am still on medication today and I am not one bit ashamed of it. Anxiety is not something you can control and no one should spend their life suffering.

At this point in my life, I still have anxiety and I still feel panic attacks coming on at times. Sure, I could ask my doctor to increase my medications, but since it is manageable, I choose to do just that, mange it.

How I manage my anxiety

While I rely on my medication to prevent panic attacks, my anxiety has not just disappeared. I still feel anxious throughout the day and I manage it myself through fitness and self-care practices. These practices include journaling, meditation and music therapy. I also benefit from progressive relaxation, visualization, actively acknowledging the anxiety and moving past it. On the days that I rest and do not work out, I can feel my anxiety climb. When this happens, I have to focus a lot more on the other self-care activities to manage my anxiety.

Furthermore, some of the most beneficial things that have helped me manage my anxiety lately come from some advice I received during virtual wellness retreats/self-care society events. I learned three things that help me manage my anxiety on a day to day basis.

The three most important things I tell myself every day…

1. It is okay to NOT be okay

This statement resonates with me so much. I say it out loud to myself on numerous occasions because it is perfectly okay to have days where my anxiety gets the best of me. It doesn’t mean that I am weak. I am human and it is okay to NOT be okay. Utilizing this statement allows me to acknowledge my anxiety, to name the collection of negative symptoms I feel and move past it.

2. You can feel more than one emotion at a time.

You can be happy and excited but also still feel anxious and fearful. You can be sad and anxious but you can also be grateful. There is no rule that says we must name one emotion when someone asks us how we are. We can be whatever we feel and we do not need to be ashamed when those feelings include anxiety or fear or worry. Sure, I try to remind myself not to worry but some days, I just worry.

3. Be unapologetically you. Your true authentic self. Do the work and find out who you are and be that person, without judgement. I learned this valuable lesson from Jacq Gould and it has changed my life. It has given me confidence and removed a lot of stress and anxiety from my life. I wake up every day and I make a promise to myself that I am going to be me. I do the things that bring me happiness and calmness and I release the things that do not. I try really hard not to worry about what people think of me or how I should act. I follow my intuition and do what makes my truest self happy. Sure, I second guess myself sometimes. Sure, I still go back and worry what someone may have thought when I was the truest version of me but I acknowledge the thought and I move past it because no one should apologize for being their authentic self.

So for those of you who suffer from anxiety, I want you to know that I am here for you, that I know what you feel and I know what you go through on a daily basis. It is a struggle but we are strong enough to overcome it. It may take medication. It may take work like fitness, journaling, talking and opening up, meditation or some other self-care practice but we can do this. We will do this. Anxiety does not define us. It does not dictate our lives. We do.

Photo created by Erika Walton || @ownyourpath_

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