The 4 Steps I Took to Beat Anxiety So I Could Travel With My Wife
I was always a worry wart. I remember it vividly from childhood to my current middle age. But I never understood what it was about. Then there was the bullying, followed by years of low self-esteem, self-doubt and finally, the stress that led to anxiety and then depression. What I didn’t know and needed to learn was that I was a highly sensitive person and that the feelings I was dealing with were not that easy to fix.
By far, the anxiety that made me doubt my life would ever be the same was the agoraphobia that stopped me in my tracks from being able to travel. When I say travel, I mean even to the store down the street. Panic attacks were my new, daily friend and it was all I could do to even get through a day at work. How could I have gone from someone who enjoyed traveling the world to a person who couldn’t even leave his house without feeling sick?
Over the next two years, I learned about complex PTSD that came from a childhood of bullying abuse that would grow and lead to my current problems so many years later. I realized I was far from alone in having these issues, but just living with a major anxiety disorder that creeped up on me. There were so many places I wanted to go, but felt that it would never happen now. As time passed, I learned how to deal with this anxiety.
So, I began the process of learning as much as I could about mindfulness and gratitude. I also wanted to learn to accept the fact that I was highly sensitive and try to make changes in my life that would be uncomfortable at first, but would hopefully help. Why did I do all this? I had promised my wife that we would travel to Europe for our 25th wedding anniversary. I didn’t know anxiety would get to me and now the anniversary date was looming closer. I had one year to get to a point of comfort. Here’s what I did:
1. Fed my brain.
I changed my diet and learned that there were mood foods that help with anxiety. I was not eating right before anxiety entered my life. It was amazing that food could have that effect on the mind. But science has proven that food and the mind are closely connected.
2. Exercised and practiced yoga.
For me, this was so hard to start. First, I wasn’t an exercise person. Second, it required me to go to the gym and fight the anxiety and my mind that kept telling me not to go. Interestingly, at the door to the gym was a sign that said, “Know that getting here was half the battle.” How did they know? Again, a discovery I wasn’t alone. Yoga helped teach me to focus my mind only on myself and the movement. Slowly, the anxiety gave up the fight the more I practiced it.
3. Learned to breathe through the anxiety.
This is a major mindfulness technique that so many people forget.
4. Did the things I didn’t want to do.
Really, it was my mind that didn’t want to do it. The more you go and experience the anxiety head on, the more it will give up the fight. Eventually, anxiety gave up on attacking me.
No, it wasn’t overnight and I had to do all the work. But I did conquer the anxiety through help from professionals as well as helping myself. As I stand now looking over the cliffs of Dover in Europe, I can enjoy myself and this trip once again. My wife has little idea of what it took for me to make this trip the dream trip we thought it would be when we married 25 years earlier. But I got here and she is standing beside me, with no idea what I did to get here.
It’s important, when the chips are down for you, that you set a goal to defeat these things. This trip gave me what I needed to get there. But I had to do the work. I had to want to get better. There was no magic trick to getting better. I wanted to do the work and I did. Today, I am breathing my full breath in Ireland, enjoying each minute of what was a dream 25 years ago. I am lucky that I made it through this battle with anxiety.
I am not naïve to believe it won’t come back. But now I have the ability and skills to fight for my life back. It was so worth it and the view I have now makes me realize how much I could have lost if I had given up. But I didn’t and that is all that matters at this moment.
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Thinkstock photo via ivan101