Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Hey beautiful soul,
Mental health stigma and trendy hashtags have got us confused about what anxiety really is. Google tells us it’s an "intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations." Biology tells us that this can manifest in a number of different ways, such as: sweaty palms, racing hearts, teeth grinding, rapid breathing, and even fatigue amongst other signs. Psychology (or should I say the study of the mind for those that still don't think psychology is a science) tells us that anxiety can manifest in our lives as compulsive thinking, which can sound a lot like, "I can’t seem to meditate or sit still for 5 minutes without needing to do something" or even "I can't stop thinking about X scenario and it makes me nervous."
Our thoughts go on overdrive when we worry or fear as it is our mind's primal response through the medulla and hindbrain that keeps us quick on our toes when we are in danger. Though, when we remember that our minds can only operate on past assumptions and conditioning, it becomes a lot more clear why the choices we make in the present moment are so important. In other words, the ways we've been conditioned by our caregivers and the societies we inhabit, influence much of our fears and worries.
Which of my fears are mine? Which of my fears are my mother's? Father's? Family's? Friends'?
Let's dive deeper using a real example: If money was tight in your home growing up as it was in mine, your parents probably subconsciously told you to be very careful about your money...if they talked to you about money at all. This conditioning manifests itself as an insecurity about the money you have (or think you don't have) and an embodiment of The Scarcity Mindset. Lack of resources can also manifest in a hoarding of resources as a way to "secure" future stability. Choosing different thoughts can literally rewire the ways our neurons snap in our brain to create new connections, and these connections are strengthened by consistency. We have to choose a different perspective in order for our brains to create new connections. I personally turn to gratitude for the money and abundance I have, and do my best to write "thank you, God" on every single check I receive and bill I get to pay. In this way, my actions tell my mind that we are choosing a different narrative, which helps me master my insecurity about money. Make sense? Good, let's move on. :)
I had my first conscious anxiety attack last week, and wow was it scary. In the midst of confronting family and old acquaintances about my old trauma, I also got some devastating news, and have found myself in yet another challenging work environment. Self-awareness has taught me that I have an extremely hard time asking for help and because I truly believe I am part superhuman (lol), I have the irrational belief that I can do everything on my own. While my track record certainly proves this to be true (hello data, #nochattin), it doesn't mean that I am forced to go through everything alone. Acknowledging my anxiety has enabled me to ask for help, to be vocal about my feelings, advocate for my needs, and prioritize my mental health because I know that my truest self is the one who is honest about her needs without fear of being labeled as "less than".
What does your truest self require from you?
Though I have qualms about the lack of Black representation in shows like Jane the Virgin and One Day at a Time (because we were all just one different stop on the same slave ship), I'm enamored by their portrayal of mental health within Latinx communities. During my own anxiety attack, I was able to think about what I learned from these shows and leveraged their tips to get me through the experience. Jane the Virgin taught me how to use my hands as activators of meridian points, and One Day at a Time taught me that telling someone I trusted about my anxiety would not only keep me safe, but also provide a different method of support.
There I was alone in my kitchen, crying, frantically trying to recall the meridian points that Jane's therapist showed her in the episode I'd watched that morning. Not to mention, I felt MEGA crazy while doing so. The irony here is not lost on me, and as my friend Juliet would say, the Universe's sense of humor is uncanny. Though my background in psychology and social work allows me to help all of my loved ones identify and work through their anxiety, when it comes to my own compulsive thinking I'm as lost as my dog Emmett when he can't find his favorite orange chew toy. I was desperate for my heart to calm down, for my breathing to slow, for the tears to stop falling, and for my mind to just shut the f*** up. It was this moment of desperation that encouraged me to try something new. It was also this moment of desperation that caused me to say, "I'm having an anxiety attack," out loud for the very first time in my life.
Almost immediately I felt a switch. All of a sudden I began talking to myself the same way I talk to my friends, saying things like "you can get through this", "you're here and I need you to breathe", "come back down, you are safe", "you're in the kitchen", and a bunch of other reassuring sensory-focused phrases. I managed to feel my legs and realized that I could barely move them. I made my way to the living room, shooketh and afraid, but proud of myself for being there... for myself. I did that, and if I could defeat my own mind as it tried to drive me insane (literally), there's nothing I can't do.
What's your relationship to your thoughts? Do you actually take the time to understand them? Do you operate on auto-pilot? How can you become more aware?
While we may not all be diagnosed with anxiety disorders, anxiety attacks can happen to anyone and are triggered by compulsive thinking. Mastering our compulsive thinking through awareness, meditation and time with self helps us rise to the occasion when the time comes for us to be there for ourselves. Additionally, those of us who are high-functioning despite our anxiety-driven habits also have to be mindful about the reason behind our actions (I'm looking at all of you who have to plan every second of the day, it's okay I was there once too). We can visit therapists, healers, tarot readers, herbalists, and even Abuelita's altar, but ultimately only we can choose a new narrative.
I'm grateful for the writers of Jane the Virgin because that technique, as silly as I felt, helped my body regulate itself. I also felt empowered by the fact that there was something I could do for myself instead of always having to rely on a friend or family member to help me calm down. Admitting that my mind was taking over my body was empowering because it told my fear to take a damn seat, and my truest self showed out. Afterwards I got to debrief with my circle of sisters, and now I'm sitting on my couch, writing about it, so that maybe you can learn from it, and perhaps even be there for yourself, too.
The choice is yours.
With lots of love 'cause you are loved,
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