Why I'm Grateful for Anxiety
“Anxiety is no one’s friend,” is what my doctor said to me as I broke down in tears in front of her.
I was most certainly NOT grateful for anxiety when it was happening. I was mad at it. I wanted it to go away with every fiber of my being. I blamed it for taking over my life. It felt like a monster holding my body and my brain hostage.
As I’ve mentioned before, I watched every webinar, read every article, and listened to any podcast that promised relief, and in one of the webinars I watched on overcoming anxiety, the teacher offered this mantra as a first step.
“I honor my anxiety. I am willing to feel better. I welcome guidance.”
I learned from attending many a workshop about performance anxiety that our initial inclination when we get nervous before a performance is to fight those feelings and push them away, which of course, only intensifies the symptoms.
I realized my fighting anxiety was like kicking and punching the air. So even though it was hard and did NOT feel genuine, I started repeating this mantra.
I’d go on walks with my husband and repeat it over and over in my head. I’d say it in the shower. I wrote it in my journal daily.
SLOWLY, and again, with the help of medication and therapy, I started to shift my perspective towards anxiety, which involved recognizing my own strength and the acknowledging the good things that were coming out of it.
So here are some of the things I gained from living with anxiety:
· More compassion for others.
I’ve had friends and family members with anxiety, but I didn’t truly understand the severity of it until I experienced it myself. I also gained the understanding that just because a person appears to be fine does not mean that they are.
· A healthier lifestyle.
There is still a lot of room for improvement in this area, but anxiety was the wake-up call that some changes needed to be made. As per my last blog post, I started doing yoga semi-regularly, eating nutritional and filling breakfasts, taking supplements consistently (this used to be a challenge for me, I’d usually stop after a month), and taking more time for myself and the beginning and end of the day.
· A closer relationship with my husband.
I have always been an independent person with an inclination to do things by myself and not ask for help, but when I started having anxiety issues, it was clear to me that I couldn’t handle it on my own, so I leaned on my husband more than ever for support. Now we communicate better, and I am giving up more control (still a work in progress!).
· An appreciation for the average.
After weeks on end of feeling nervous and scared constantly, the first day I had without any anxiety symptoms was such sweet relief! Now that I’m over the anxiety hump – I still appreciate a “so-so” or “average” day, even bad days, because it is truly a blessing to feel calm and at peace.
· Recognition of my own strength.
In the thick of things, mornings were the absolute worst. I was riddled with fear of how each day would turn out, yet despite the fear, I kept going. I kept teaching and working. I kept working on my self-care. I went to therapy. I attended bi-weekly mastermind meetings. I organized and led a beginning flute workshop and an online All-State help session. I was a guest clinician out of state at three different schools, and I launched a website and a course for high school students – 30 Day to All-State. I always knew I could do hard things, but I learned that I can also do things when times are hard.
· A purpose.
When I started opening up about anxiety, I was shocked by how many of you suffer from it or have suffered from it too. And as classically trained musicians, we come out of a culture that demands perfection (which is weird because it’s supposed to be art and all).
More and more people are graduating with masters and doctorates in music, and we’re all competing for jobs that don’t exist. Then we feel like a failure for not having a job. We’re underemployed or working part-time jobs, and we feel bad about that. And then when an opportunity does come along, we feel like the pressure is ON. And if that doesn’t work out, then woah, we really must suck. Oh, and then there’s the student debt.
At least that’s how it was for me. I know not everyone is in that boat, but I *think* A LOT of us are.
I’m tired of hiding my struggles because it might not look “professional.” I’m tired of thinking I’m a failure because I don’t have a “job.” I’m tired of saying yes to things I don’t want to do, or things that I’m not compensated for just to add another line to my CV.
This vicious cycle of toxic thoughts and beliefs blew up in my face with that first anxiety attack and brought me to a place I’d prefer not to visit again. And I don’t want you to go there either if it can be avoided.
We’re in this together, friends.
I am not a mental health professional, but I am here for you. And I want you to be well, so I’m going to keep sharing my journey in hopes that, collectively, we can shift the paradigm and be “sound” musicians.
With peace & compassion,