Have you ever had anxiety? Most of us have. There is a lot of information online today about ways to cope with anxiety yet so many of us are walking around trying to push it down, ignore it, wish it away, drink and/or medicate it away. As we all know, none of these methods work and if they do in the short term, anxiety always comes back, often stronger than before.
Working out is one of those top listed ways to cope with anxiety as if we are exercising the demons. While exercise is a tactic I swear by because of the endless benefits it offers, I do not advocate solely on exercise as a cure all.
There is no question that after almost any type of exercise, I am always glad I participated, but I believe that for well rounded health, exercise is only just a single part of the health wheel.
I used to use exercise as an escape. I remember after one particularly hard break up, I repeatedly rode my bike for hours because I was having so much anxiety and fear. I remember riding one Saturday for 7 straight hours. The anxiety I was having was telling me I had to move; moving was less agony than sitting there and contemplating the pain of the enormous loss I was feeling.
At that time, my anxiety was more of a panic attack than just general anxiety. I didn't have the skills to address my feelings and exercise was my life and nothing about this seemed unhealthy to me at that time. I exercised when I was happy and when I was sad; it was something I knew, something that could keep me busy and something that could mask my unrelenting pain from others.
The pain intensified for me when I had nothing to preoccupy my mind. Exercise, for me, was the same band-aid alcohol/drugs are for others trying to cope. In this way, pushing it down or trying to escape the feelings of anxiety make sense; who willingly wants to feel more pain? Although I was fit, I was unhappy inside and with each year I found myself hoping for something different. I thought that we somehow figured it out when we got older. I realized that this wasn't happening and the older I got, the more unenlightened older people seemed to me, with the exception of a few.
It eventually became clear to me that my anxiety wasn't going to fade with age. I began reading books, working with therapists and coaches, going to seminars, practicing meditation, journaling, sitting still and really letting the emotion come through.
Through all of this I have come to realize that my anxiety peaks and is most scary and persistent when I allow my mind to make it bigger than what it really is. For example, the breakup got my mind to start spinning this incredible tale about how I will never find love, how I will always be alone, etc. It failed to acknowledge the gift it gave me; breaking up with him was what had to happen for me to begin self exploration. It was so painful for so many months that it forced me to finally do something different. I had to face the projection I was putting on him. I needed to understand what was happening that caused me to feel such crippling anxiety and fear.
There is a reason so few people practice self exploration. It is hard and almost impossible without someone guiding you through personal obstacles you face but with practice and a good coach guiding you, the light begins to shine through.
Becoming more introspective didn't prevent me from feeling pain or anxiety again, it just gave me a different perspective which changed the way I experience obstacles I face. I have since experienced other breakups and disappointments but my reaction to them is like that of a different person. I take things much less personally and I see with clarity that everything has a lesson in it; that life isn't against me. What if obstacles are the little sting needed to redirect attention and focus? Since pain gets our attention, what if all the pain we experience is for our greater good?
If we keep stuffing it down by ignoring and escaping, what really is the point of it all? If we feel and understand what is really trying to get our attention, then can we experience more calm when dealing with hard life issues?
My experience is yes, we can. My life isn't a cakewalk but it isn't a ball of panicked anxiety anymore either. I now look for the lesson or needed redirection in my pain. Nothing in life has any meaning expect for the meaning we give it, so I choose to get the lesson and see it as only that, a lesson, not as a punishment.
In my quest to encourage moms to impress upon their children a physically healthy lifestyle, I believe equally in the importance of showing children the gift or lesson that must be taken from life's inevitable pain. When we see it as a gift or a lesson that will ultimately help us if realized and used, does it seem as painful? I would answer no to this question as I have done some of the most bold things and grown the most after hard times like breakups that I would have never done had I had the (perceived) security of my (insecure) relationship.
We are all conditioned beings (by our families, environments, and cultures), so when thinking of starting your own family, remember the impression your parents had on you. By becoming more self aware, more conscious, more healthy, you automatically, without trying, impress those same habits on your children, giving them the best self regulating tools there are.