Anxiety Part 2: Redefining It All
by: Nola Johnson
(for part 1 of Nola's story, read The Roots of Anxiety).
As I continue to navigate the ups and downs of anxiety there are a few things that I try to keep in mind. While each one is pretty easy to remember, some have been harder to put into practice than others.
Forgive the past and appreciate the present
Early on in my journey, I mailed cards and sent text messages to a number of people, apologizing for the strain my behavior put on our relationships and thanking them for remaining in my life. While I know that there was no ill intent behind my actions, I wanted to be intentional in acknowledging them and forgiving myself.
My therapist said, “You’re taking care of yourself now and that’s something to be proud of.”
My functional doctor said, “Be your own light. You’re in control. You’re capable.”
I reflect on these conversations whenever I start to wonder what my life might have looked like if I had received help earlier. Not only can I not change the past, but I also can’t see into a hypothetical future. What I can do is be appreciative that I’m healthier now and continuing to get healthier each year. I also feel very fortunate that it was only hair loss that got me to this point and not the myriad of health issues that can come from being a CostCo sized pack of inflammation and stress.
Find, don’t force, a support system
I had a group of people in my life two years ago that I referred to as my close friends, inner circle. That group has dwindled substantially over the past two years as I’ve evolved. I learned that many people in my life exhibited similar behaviors so it was no longer healthy for me to hang out with them and risk falling into old habits.
There were also people that I opened up to about my anxiety and they weren’t supportive of either the diagnosis, the changes I was experiencing, the support I needed or a combination therein. Regardless, I had to get comfortable having hard conversations and saying goodbye. The other big thing I’ve recognized throughout this process is that it’s easy to be vulnerable when you have people that are choosing to show up for you, instead of hoping or requesting that someone be engaged.
Prioritizing your needs
I am more apt to say yes to people that I care about. Even when I’m really sweating and saying no on the inside. Even when I know I have no more energy to give. It’s still something that I struggle with, but I say no more now.
I also try to offer an explanation as to why it’s important for me to say no and why I haven’t done so in the past. Since understanding my own why has been such an eye-opening experience, I hope that my transparency gives others a better understanding of my thought process.
In saying no, I’ve also had to establish what my needs are vs what I think others expect from me. A few days ago my therapist asked me if my needs have changed since we started working together only a few months ago and I panicked. Was he trying to end our time together?! It didn't dawn on me that my needs could evolve as we worked together. Once he posed the question though, I realized that they had in fact shifted and that moment served as a reminder that I’ll need to continue to check in with myself to make sure what I’m prioritizing is in line with my current needs.
Know your boundaries
Shortly after I started working with my functional medicine provider I gave up running and dating. I knew I didn’t have a healthy relationship with either, so I made a commitment to myself to not reintroduce either one until I felt I could participate in both activities in a healthy way. I’ve also shifted my mindset regarding exercise in general to sweat when I take active classes, instead of hurt and introduce more restorative yoga when I want to quiet my thoughts. Before my nervous system began to calm, I didn’t understand why anyone would do a physical activity that wasn’t challenging. Breathing. Lying down. Being still. Why?! What a waste of time. Now I’m all about dozing off during savasana.
I also bought a new pair of running shoes right before quarantine and started going for walks, eventually working up to run/walks. Before, I would have been embarrassed to go for a walk - I should be running. Now, I have a better relationship with my body, listening to what it needs instead of using it to replace one pain with another.
In between labs, I’d write down all the behaviors I was no longer exhibiting to share with my functional medicine provider. It was really exciting to experience so many things for the first time, like walking through security at an airport with socks on and realizing that nothing bad happens when you put your “dirty” socks back in your shoes. The list has also been a good marker for behaviors to be mindful of should they return.
Perhaps some of these will resonate as you work through your own anxiety discovery process or help you to better understand someone that may not have the vocabulary or desire to share what anxiety looks like for them.
About the Author
After 18 moves and one dream, Nola Johnson is proud to call Raleigh, NC home. With a bachelor's degree in marketing and a MBA in nonprofit management from the University of Missouri-Columbia, she now serves as a people-first Senior Manager. In her free time you can find Nola watching documentaries, exploring cities through donuts, or dreaming up her next interior design project.