"I'm so anxious!"
I could feel my voice raise as I spoke aloud to my children crying at my feet. My body felt suddenly extremely tried, and the sadness crept up in my throat. Thoughts swirled in my head as I replayed them over and over again. I could feel the tingle in my arms travel up to my shoulders.
A familiar feeling now for me. Crippling at times. Painful. Hidden.
My mind and body suddenly under attack and finally after a good fight, my soul surrenders.
This is my life living with real anxiety. After years of working with and through my anxious thoughts and body, I find myself being comfortable talking about it with others. I find myself being comfortable being able to give it a name. I believe it is so incredible that we are at a point where we can talk about mental health so freely. I see the brave women each day laying it out there for others.
But there was a moment when I had to questions my personal experience with anxiety.
I was speaking to my husband when I became deeply aware of my words, "I am so anxious! I have a lot to do tomorrow. I am having a lot of anxiety about..." and then it stopped.
I took a quick inventory and knew immediately this was not anxiety. Not true anxiety like I have known. Overwhelmed would have been a better fit for my feelings, but I used the word “anxiety”.
This was very revealing to me.
I decided to pay close attention to how and when I used the words "anxiety" or “anxious”. I quickly learned that if I was going off words alone, then I was living in a constant state of anxiety. I used this word all the time! I found that anytime I was having negative feelings, my inner dialogue immediately went to relating this to anxiety.
This was a big moment for me. I took a timeout, had a nice long look at myself, and asked, “Am I really THAT anxious?”
I had to admit the answer was no.
I feel negative emotions often. I feel overwhelmed. I feel lonely. I feel underappreciated. I feel troubled. I feel tired. However, the idea that all of these moments are anxiety just is not true.
Instead, I have begun to learn how my own self-talk not only either heightens or lessens my anxiety but that my own self-talk about anxiety could diminish the experience of someone else struggling with an anxiety disorder. This could contribute to a culture where the overuse of the word, could lessen the seriousness in which we take the disorder.
I now understand that I need to be more specific with my descriptions of how I am feeling. I also need to understand that having difficult moments or feelings are okay. I can find ways to recognize them for what they are, and this allows me to be in the moment with them and then allow them to pass.
It has become life-changing for my overall well-being.
I have suddenly found myself much happier, living in the moment more often and just plain calm in times I would have been frantic. The feelings of anxiety dwindled, and when I have them, they pass more quickly and have a far less impact on my body.
Did this simple shift in how I described my feelings really help me that much? I wanted to learn more.
I decided to sit down with Dr. Suzanne Klenck, a clinical psychologist in New Orleans. Dr. Klenck specializes in working with adults with anxiety and depressive disorders using cognitive behavioral therapy.
Dr. Klenck and I met outside of a little bistro on a popular street in Uptown New Orleans, to share a meal and discuss mental health in today’s world, especially for women. Right away she made me feel comfortable sharing my personal experiences with her. We explored mental health issues surrounding anxiety and dove into what we felt our society was getting right at the moment and how far we need to go. Warm and friendly, she was eager to share her knowledge and expertise with me.
Dr. Klenck told me was not surprised by the big changes I have made since I began recognizing my overuse of the word “anxiety”. She told me self-talk is everything with anxiety and depression, and in life.
“Our dialogue that we have with ourselves about what we are experiencing, sometimes that can be a trigger for someone that has dealt with anxiety. If you find yourself saying, ‘Oh gosh I am so anxious.’ That does make your body respond even more to that feeling and that kind of perpetuates it,” Dr. Klenck explained.
She went on to say, “Breaking [anxiety] down in bite-size pieces makes it a lot more manageable. Because then you know the next step you are going to take and that isn’t overwhelming.”
I learned that breaking it down was exactly what I had been putting into action. It is as simple as just acknowledging the truest emotion I am experiencing and what I am going to do with that feeling.
She says the words we choose really do go a long way.
“Knowing the difference between I’m overwhelmed in this moment and the next moment I am okay, versus I am really in a high anxiety state. Those are very different feelings, and being more specific about it does validate the person that is going through a hard anxiety time versus someone having a bad moment.”
I asked Dr. Klenck if we also needed to be more careful in how we use the word “anxiety” not only with our own self-talk but also when discussing mental health.
Her answer was a big yes. She said people are feeling validated and minimized by the word being used flippantly. She says we are making progress, but have a long way to go in good education of mental health.
Dr. Klenck confirmed my experience and helped me open my eyes to a subject that needs so much more attention.
I personally think that education starts with each of us, in assessing and acknowledging our own states of mental health.
I also believe we have to continuously evaluate our feelings, learn to not generalize what we are going through by getting super-specific with our emotions.
I share my experience around my anxiety because it has truly been life-changing for me to step back from the overuse of this word. I have found tremendous growth in dissecting my feelings instead of throwing a label on it without really thinking it through.
Most importantly, I do not ever want to water down and overuse a word that will diminish anyone’s experience or my own experience with anxiety.
It is important to understand it’s healthy to have some negative feelings. Our goal is not to avoid feeling anxious or worried or overwhelmed. It is healthy to learn to work through hard moments when they come.
It’s important to have a healthy self-talk narrative that gives us the ability to manage our lives in a way that we live with more joy and love than pain and hurt.
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