I have been racking my brain trying to decide how to tackle the topic of anxiety through the written word. In person, I could talk for hours, even days about it. So why is putting pen to paper such a daunting task? Maybe it’s because the topic of anxiety in today’s culture is still so taboo? Most people who suffer hold it in because they cannot articulate their feelings and they are convinced they are alone. Personally, I like to tell my story in hopes that it might help others to learn from it.
My journey with anxiety began roughly 13 years ago. I have come a long way from my first panic attack and for those who have never experienced the physical symptoms, consider yourself blessed. First, there’s sweating and a racing heart, then it adds in shortness of breath with a tight chest, a tingling sensation in your hands and feet, and the grand finale of dizziness and feeling like you are about to pass out.
The only thing that comes to mind when experiencing an acute panic episode is that you’re having a heart attack. You truly feel as though death is a real possibility. During my initial attack, I rushed to the hospital to be seen by a doctor. I was moderately relieved when I learned that I had suffered a panic attack. Little did I know how long the healing process would be and how the intense fear of those symptoms returning would linger.
Panic attacks are on the extreme end of the spectrum for most people who experience anxiety. Most are fortunate enough never to experience them directly, but still end up living with a more generalized anxiety disorder. This type of anxiety may be less acute than the panic episodes, but it can still take over your life.
Simple tasks such as going to the grocery store become more difficult than climbing a mountain. You have to get yourself psyched up for something as trivial as standing in line. Some days even getting out of bed can seem impossible. Your life changes to the point that you have to relearn simple, everyday tasks, all the while dealing with the new co-pilot of anxiety.
Everyone who lives with or has had an intimate relationship with anxiety usually asks themselves the same question, “How do I make it go away?” I wish there was a simple answer to that question, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. The path of healing and learning to live with the reality of anxiety is a lifelong journey. It starts with recognizing and accepting the existence of what you are feeling. Denying or burying them only serves to strengthen them. Then, with the help of professionals, you can begin to learn how to train your mind and developEach individual has different triggers. Becoming aware of your default storylines and habits is an important step in understanding your new feelings. There are many things that can serve to fuel anxious thoughts, and by learning to identifying them we can gain some measure of control over how we relate to them. Basic selfcare is critical and I have found that adequate sleep and a regular diet help tremendously in reducing my anxiety. Taking care of oneself is vital, but we also need to practice relating to the world around us in a whole new way.
As turf managers, it can appear that we have a long list of stressors that rest squarely on our shoulders. Member expectation, staff issues, board meetings, weather patterns, disease and pest pressures are among the daily issues we deal with. If we let them, the rigors of the job can easily translate into a sense of being overwhelmed. If one or all of these situations causes you anxiety, then it can be helpful to step back and become curious about how you are relating to it.
For example, do you sense stress when a staff member is not performing to the same standard you might hold yourself to? Is it realistic to expect that everyone should work with as much precision and passion as yourself? Each person has their own skill set and set of beliefs and should be treated as individuals. When I finally learned this lesson, it completely changed my leadership style. I now have an unobstructed view of each person’s idiosyncratic ways and work to utilize those qualities to develop a more harmonious work environment. This slight shift in perception went a long way in reducing my anxiety and created a better workplace for my employees.
By learning to deal effectively with anxiety, we are creating a new relationship with our thoughts, emotions and tendencies. Some of the more effective coping skills that you can focus on include mindfulness meditation practice, playing sports and exercising, reading, listening to music, or even just a quiet walk in the woods.
Personally, I have adopted concentrated breathing strategies into my life. When I feel an anxiety flare coming on, I pause and focus on my breathing. Taking long deep inhales through my nose, exhaling slowly through my mouth and taking care to make the in-and-out breaths an equal length. Slowing your breath and concentrating on it is proven to help slow your heart rate and relax you. But how do you deal with the other sensations? I like to focus on art or baking when I feel the need to distract myself. Using your favorite hobbies can be a very effective way to calm you down and bring you back to the present moment.
It is my sincere hope that this article is only the beginning of a discussion that more people will participate in. The more we talk about mental illness in an open way, the more we reduce the stigma and its power to control our lives. We need to let people know that it’s okay to feel anxious and it is perfectly normal to become overwhelmed. As a society, we need to recognize that people are imperfectly great and to understand that this ride of life is full of highs and lows. By learning to navigate these waves with compassion and vulnerability, we can begin to truly change our relationship with anxiety.