Anxiety is not a word I've ever used to describe how I'm feeling. Nervous before presenting at a conference, perhaps. Stressed before exams. Shy at big gatherings and networking events. But not anxious.

Sarah Wilson's (affiliate) First, we make the beast beautiful is a memoir of Sarah's experience of anxiety amongst a seemingly isolated childhood and autoimmune conditions. I was expecting to feel immersed in her story, but her storytelling wove quickly between her experiences, scientific studies related to anxiety, and strategies she has tried. Her voice - both in writing and speaking - has a pragmatic tone and while engrossing it spoke more to my mind than my heart.

This is likely to be largely due to my lack of identification with anxiety. But I found myself expanding in understanding of the experiences of those I care about who live with this every day. And even those of us who experience anxiety in isolated events can benefit from understanding these experiences more, and knowing we are not alone in them. 

During the course of reading the book, I was told a story of a devastating event involving a baby. My fear came up so strongly, that it was clear my vigilance as a mother exists just under the level of anxiety. People have quite rightly commented that I'm a "relaxed" mother - but I'm a mother also who understands the fear of the words "What if...?" Having this experience gave me the realisation of here anxiety exists under the radar in my life, and I felt greater awareness of my emotions in general in listening to the experiences of others.

My favourite ideas from the book

We can all benefit from living more comfortably with our emotional states. The idea I wish we all knew is this - what if, regardless of any diagnosis or issue we may have - we saw ourselves as not needing "fixing". Rather, applying understanding and compassion to ourselves and finding ways to live with ourself.

Sarah describes a lesson from one of her supports, Eugene Veshner, a hypnotist. He says we can't get rid of habits, we build new ones instead. I am a firm believer in this. Eugene explained to Sarah that as we develop a habit it creates a neural pathway. A new habit must be repeated many times to form a new pathway, which will eventually be stronger than the previous habit we are trying to replace. This is an idea I have found to be true when it comes to creating new core beliefs. Sometimes in life we make the alarming discovery that we have been living according to a harmful belief. Instead of trying to just nor believe that thing, I find it useful instead to build up repetition of a healthier belief while allowing ourselves to hold the old belief more loosely.

As well as this gem, here are the other strategies I love and find useful from the book:

  • meditation and mindfulness, and time out from life
  • setting boundaries and manage expectations whether about emailing or social participation or general availability.
  • simplify, own less, have a uniform and set morning routine and meal plans to reduce the anxiety of decisions

So I'd like to hear from you - is anxiety something you experience? Which strategies do you find the most useful? And which ones will you try?

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