It’s Sunday. Outside, light rain is washing away all traces of the season’s first snow. The sky is grey and the windows of the cafe I’m in are completely steamed over with condensation. Vintage style lamps and candles are flickering on every surface and the vibe is most definitely autumnal. Right now, as I type these letters, my mind is calm. My tummy is settled. I’m ready for the day. But this morning when I woke up, it was a very different story.
Tonight, I’ll hold my first ever Yoga Nidra event. It’s a practice I personally love and am excited to share, but my god, the nerves. When I announced the event, I wasn’t sure anybody would sign up, but its full. It’ll be the most amount of people I’ve ever had to lead in anything yoga related and all weekend, anxiety has been building. Dreams of talking and even shouting without being heard, where chaos is reigning and foiling my plans to make the event super special, have plagued my mind. I woke in the middle of the night hot and sweaty, waking up my partner in the process and when I woke again this morning, my stomach felt as if I’d been riding a rollercoaster all night.
Oh, hello, anxiety.
Now I won’t pretend my anxiety is a heavy one, because it’s not. There are many of you who combat it on a seriously crippling level, whether alone or combined with depression or other mental health issues and each of us will feel it differently. Like so many things, it has no prejudice. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, white, black, male or female. And once it hits, it can be hard or even seemingly impossible to shake it off.
A lot of people ask me how I cope with fear because on the outside, the things I’ve done can seem to be fearless. Leaving my comfortable job, travelling alone, moving to a country where I couldn’t speak a word of the language…it can seem so courageous when viewed from afar and especially through a social media lens but the truth is. I’m a naturally fearful person. Put me on a plane and I’ll worry about it falling out of the sky. The irrational fear associated with my emetophobia kicks in as soon as I hear someone mentioning that someone they know caught the norovirus. I used to have terrifying dreams of the apocalypse where I knew I’d had the same dream before and so was convicted this was the real thing. I worry about my family’s health, about my relationship ending, about eating in a restaurant and getting food poisoning. I worry about dying and what happens when we do. When you worry as much as I do, it can be overwhelming just trying not to fall into a negative, half-empty doomsday frame of mind. The things that help?
Breathing. Symptoms of anxiety are very much linked to our nervous system. That adrenaline swirling in the tummy, the panic attacks, the need to get the hell away from the source or the cause of feeling frozen and unable to do anything about it - that’s your fight or flight response. Sometimes, it can feel like we don’t have any control over what our bodies do, but we CAN help our nervous systems to slow down. Taking a few deep breaths to re-centre literally tells our brains that we’re not in any real danger, that it’s not a matter of life or death, and give us precious time to think. I also love Nadhi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), a beautiful pranayama technique that helps do just this by quietening the mind. I do this when my flying nerves get too much and I also did it this morning to combat my pre-Yoga Nidra nerves.
Moving. Sometimes, moving our bodies is a great way to help calm our anxiety down. For me, it’s yoga. It doesn’t have to be a full on class or flow - this morning it was a simple sun salutation and some general ‘stretching’. For you it might be running or swimming, Tai Chi or just going for a walk. When we move our bodies, we tend to get out of our heads and therefore out of the terrifying movie -like doomsday scenarios that run through the mind when we’re at our most fearful.
Writing. I’m a writer. It’s a part of my life I’ve put on hold for almost a year, but in my heart, I’m a writer. I’ll share more about that with you soon enough, but for now it’s enough to say that for me at least, getting thoughts from my mind onto paper or on screen is a great way to release my worries. It doesn’t matter what I write or if it even makes sense because very often, it doesn’t. At least, not at first. Journalling is a great way to get underlying fears and worries out into the open instead of letting them take up space in the mind.
Allowing it to be there. It sounds strange, I know. But my boyfriend was right when he said it this morning: anxiety isn’t something you can get rid of. Not really. Living a life with absolutely zero anxiety or fear or worry is not achievable for most humans so its counter-intuitive to try. Having fears is part of the human experience, it’s how we know we have something we value and care about, whether its our job, friends, family or our own life itself. The mind is a master manipulator. It likes to grab onto the things we’re the most afraid of and amplify them until they feel insurmountable. What helps me, is to practicing loving kindness and compassion towards myself. To really tell myself, it’s okay. To be less self-judgmental and less harsh on myself. And that means, to stop fighting with myself.
Surrender. We cannot always control things or know the outcome. Knowing that - really understanding that - is for me, what helps the most. It’s what helps me to get on a plane instead of never going anywhere. It’s what helped me to move to Germany, to leave my job. It’s like swimming with the tide, instead of against it which is, in the end, infinitely easier.
It’s okay to feel anxious about things. It’s okay not to perform perfectly, to make mistakes. It’s okay to be worried or to not have all the answers. Sometimes it can feel like there’s so much out there about only having a ‘good’ and ‘clear’ mind, that we should have ‘positive vibes only’. That being on a spiritual path is supposed to be all nice and light. It isn’t. Very often it can feel like all out war between yourself and your mind, and all the things you used to know about your life. Know and understand that it is okay to feel like you do.
It is deeply, deeply okay.