Since I was a child I have been living an anxious life. Anxiety is cyclical, like all of life’s processes. Sometimes the feeling of anxiety is overwhelming and it controls my mind and, therefore, my body. Panic attacks are incapacitating and life-altering. Sometimes anxiety is like the shadow of my thoughts; it is ever-present, but it is in the background and can be easily forgotten.
Sometimes I ponder whether anxiety is a learned behavior as well as a genetic behavior. Understanding the root of the behavior, such as what is going on in my body physically during an anxiety attack, does help me process what is going on in that moment, but it does not remove the fear or anticipation of a panic attack.
There was a point in my past about eight years ago where this fear, the fear of panic, affected my life so dramatically that I became agoraphobic. For several months, I struggled and agonized over the simple act of leaving the house. Many times, I wouldn’t leave. Now, I understand this fear and I no longer allow it to dictate my actions. The thoughts manifest themselves, but I am able to recognize that they are just fearful thoughts. They are not rooted in fact. They are thoughts attached to a fantasy, not a reality.
Lately I have been traveling a lot. For me, summoning up the courage to travel while preventing the thoughts of fear to take root in my mind can take a tremendous amount of energy. What if I get sick? What if I get injured? What if I get lost? What if the plane gets delayed? What if something happens at home while I am gone? What if I get sick and I can’t get on the plane? What if? What if? What if?
Over the years, I have developed a very diverse toolset to deal with this situation. Meditation, mantras, physical awareness, yoga, running, planning, more planning, breathing, medication and distraction are all tools that I use. Physical fitness is a huge part of preventing fear for me. When I feel physically strong, I can be mentally strong because my body is able to endure stressful situations with less physical exhaustion.
Next week, I am traveling to China for the first time. All of the ‘What ifs’ have been drifting through my mind and, so far, I have been able to vaporize them. When traumatic events happen around the world, such as the latest terror-based events in Europe and Africa, my base level of fear rises. I have been doing a tremendous amount of yoga for teacher training and I think that is one of the main reasons that I have not focused on my fear and let it manifest itself.
My mantra is: I am fearless. Using the mala bead ritual of focusing this thought, I am fearless, on each bead over and over and over creates a calm space in my mind. The repetition creates a place for me to believe in myself. The repetition creates space for cultivation of self-trust. The repetition creates space for calmness.
If I could reach out to an individual who, right now, is feeling anxious, I would tell them to trust themselves. You are stronger than you know you are. There are a lot of reasons we could let fear dictate our life; we could cower in fear of everything or we could push fear aside and be alive. This is a choice. Choose wisely.
You are stronger than you know you are. You are fearless. I am fearless.
The featured picture for this article was created by my beautiful child, Coral, who is learning how to win her mental battle with anxiety.