According to Google, anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
For people with anxiety disorder, these feelings of worry or fear are not temporary. They do not go away, and they often worsen over time. Even more troubling is that, with anxiety disorder, it can be incredibly challenging to suss out what is causing the sense of anxiety. Without a clear cause, figuring out how to remedy these feelings can seem hopeless.
While I have intimate experience, as a mother and a friend, with anxiety disorder, until last year I had never experienced it myself. Sometime in my 51st year of life, however, that changed. While I have suspicions, as is true for many, it is nearly impossible for me to point a finger at a specific cause. What I know is that I gradually realized as winter ebbed into spring, that I was living with ceaseless, physical sensations of panic complete with tightness in my chest, jumpiness, poor sleep and a relentlessly spinning mind.
As spring slid into summer, and summer into fall, my anxiety persisted. I applied all the tools in my (rather full) yoga and mindfulness tool-box to my uneasy inner state. Breathing. Daily physical movement. Meditation and prayer. Keen awareness of my feelings. Weekly acupuncture appointments. Therapy. Patience and persistence as I practiced the skills I trusted would help me stay centered until these feelings eventually passed away.
And I credit these tools and skills with helping me navigate my disorder in such a way that my feelings did not interfere (at least not much, I hope) with my work and relationships. But, as challenging as it is for the yoga and philosophy teacher in me to admit it, they did not “cure” my anxiety. They simply helped me to live with it.
Imagine how stunned I was to realize three days into our winter vacation that I was suddenly anxiety free! I could breathe fully. My heart felt free and light. I was sleeping soundly and through the night. When I mentioned (with tremendous relief) how good I felt to my inquisitive husband, I didn’t have any answers to his inevitable questions. I didn’t know why the feelings had lifted. I didn’t know if it would last.
I realized with some surprise that I did know that these answer-less questions didn’t make me feel anxious. They made me feel curious. While it is not possible to stay on vacation, I wondered if there were aspects of being “away,” that I could bring home with me. So I watched myself to see what I was doing and how I was living differently than when I was at home.
My observations revealed that, while on vacation, I was experiencing life rather than getting caught up in doing all the things of life. I was fully engaged in each experience our trip offered. When circumstances strove to distract me (for instance, when my kids bickered over the camera or I got frustrated with the chronic lack of wifi as I tried to stay in touch with my parents), I witnessed myself dig deep and resist. I observed myself take a deep breath and choose to refocus on the experience at hand. I practiced (successfully!) staying in the moment and reaped tremendous rewards.
When I was engaged in the moment, I found that I didn’t feel anxious at all. Instead, I felt like me again. I felt bright and happy. I felt wonder and awe. I felt feelings again other than worry. I felt ALIVE.
My yoga teacher would say that I had shifted into a “human being” from a “human doing” and I 100% agree with him.
Upon reflection, I could see that, at home, I had developed the habit of running furiously from task to task. I was spending my days much more focused on my (oh-so-long) list of things that needed doing rather than on the experience of doing each one. I was very rarely living in the moment because I was constantly allowing myself to be distracted by moments in the future and past, neither of which were within my control or even really real.
I boarded my (very long) flight home with the hope to arrive back into my daily life strong enough to resist the temptation of slipping back into being a “human doing.” As my first Monday morning at home dawned, I took a deep breath and gently quelled a little flare of worry that my anxiety would resume as my work did. Instead of allowing my mind to skitter off toward my list for the day, I focused on each task throughout the day – practicing yoga, teaching, writing, getting organized, attending meetings, cooking dinner, and so forth.
At the end of the day, I thought to myself, “It was a good day.” Guess what? At the end of the week, I thought, “It’s been a good week.”
While I am not brave enough to say that my long bout with anxiety has been cured, I am hopeful that I’ve stumbled upon a new super-tool to add to my toolbox. And I am choosing (quite deliberately) to savor each day (actually, each moment in each day) when I feel like me.