When I was in my late teens and into my 20's, I was plagued with anxiety and panic attacks. The anxiety was not what many people think of when they imagine anxiety; it didn't seem to have a focus, and would come on often without reason, or so it seemed. It would come on during otherwise peaceful moments at home, or spending time with close friends. The anxiety would hijack my brain, making me totally unable to function. I couldn't drive. I couldn't communicate what was wrong. And this was just one side of it. Around the age of 21, full blown panic attacks started to become a weekly or several times per week occurrence. I would lock myself in bathroom stalls to try to slow my breathing. My brain would convince me that I was suffocating, or having a heart attack. Sometimes I would lie on my bedroom floor, curled in the fetal position, hyperventilating for what felt like hours. I felt hopeless, totally out of control, and possessed.
But I want to tell you what I discovered.
While consciously, it seemed like all of these events had no trigger, subconsciously, much more was going on. As a people-pleaser my whole life, I'd always thought it was more important to be agreeable and pleasant than to cause a scene or speak up. So I never really learned to say no. I never really developed my own voice. But slowly, first out of sheer exhaustion, and then almost as if through experimentation, I began saying no. "No, thank you, I don't really feel up for going to that event." "No, I actually really don't feel comfortable doing what you're asking me to do. I don't think it's right." "No, I'm actually not really that into you." Etc.. And slowly, something I didn't expect started to happen: the panic attacks subsided. The anxiety lessened. And the more I said "no" to things that didn't feel right to me, the better I got. Now, I'm not suggesting to coop yourself up inside and say no to everything. But by saying no to some things, I opened up the space to say yes to better things. "Yes" to more personal time. "Yes" to life enriching things. "Yes" to passions and interests and developing a mind-body connection through things like yoga and biking and physical activity. It is through my learning to speak up for myself, that I learned to defeat anxiety. While it might not be the same for everyone, I hope that maybe someone out there gives this a try and that it helps.
Speak your truth.
About the Author: Arista is a biologist, lay herbalist, urban gardener and rock climber with a passion for all things adventure. She enjoys getting her hands dirty, immersing herself in other cultures and perspectives, and getting in sync with Mother Nature."
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