By Alexa Noel Dyrness
Okay, so you may be wondering—who the fuck would love their anxiety? Well, I do, or at least I am working on it. Maybe you are wondering why the heck would you WANT to love your anxiety? I will share with you my experience in the hopes of helping you learn to love your anxiety as well.
I promise you there is a good reason. A reason that will help you become more aware of your anxiety, manage your anxiety, and learn to appreciate your anxiety. It can be very hard work, but the outcome is life-changing.
My Anxiety Story
I always grew up as an anxious child. I’d often worry about whether I was bothering my friends, whether I was disappointing my family, when/if I would see my dad, and whether or not I would get straight A’s in school. Additionally, I was the only child of a protective single mother, so safety anxiety (i.e. stranger danger and earthquake danger) was always a significant presence as well.
When I entered high school, this anxiety only increased. I had difficulty waking up and going to school in the morning, as I found it easier to sleep than to deal with my anxiety. Although I had many friends, my social anxiety grew. I would be quiet in large groups for fear of appearing dumb when speaking. I hated having attention on me. It would make me feel embarrassed of myself. Then I would feel even more embarrassed for being quiet.
I hated my anxiety for making me feel socially incompetent. I was silly and outgoing with my friends. I was myself with my friends. But, I was awkward and uncomfortable around others.
In college, my anxiety hit a peak after being in an emotionally abusive relationship. I failed two classes, which I had never done in my life. I moved back home for a year, as I was anxious and depressed. I still felt like my anxiety was holding me back from having successful relationships and it made me hate my true self.
Three years later, in grad school, my anxiety hit another peak after I suffered an awful panic attack in which I thought I was actually going insane (one of the many symptoms you can have from a panic attack). After this panic attack, I was on edge for months—thinking I was on the verge of going insane. I began to fear driving on freeways, being on high floors in buildings, having health problems, and going to public spaces. It was spiraling.
Mindfulness as Self-Revolution
My anxiety was the bane of my existence. It wasn’t until I began working with a mindfulness therapist that I learned to garner a new perspective on my anxiety.
When I began working with this therapist, she told me I would have to work through the 5 A’s: Awareness, Acknowledgement, Acceptance, Appreciation, and Action. It was difficult enough to even sit with my anxiety let alone try to appreciate it. It sounded like an extremely daunting, scary task.
But I also knew that I wanted to get better and would need to allow myself to be vulnerable to alleviate my symptoms. So, I decided to try. I needed more than anything to decrease these symptoms, as I was miserable. I was too fearful to even talk to others about my anxiety. I feared that talking about it would make it more real and trigger more panic. But I felt safe with my therapist, so I gave it a shot.
The first task was allowing myself to be aware of where I felt the emotion in my body and in my mind (Awareness). The next task was acknowledging the emotion by giving it a name—anxiety (Acknowledgement). Then, the following task was to accept what I was feeling as something that was valid (Acceptance). Subsequently, my next task was to learn to appreciate and be okay with the emotion I was feeling (Appreciation). My final task was to make a plan of how I was going to manage my anxiety (Action).
Sounds easy, right? Wrong. These were some of the hardest steps I had ever had to take in my life. I was forced to feel —not suppress. I was forced to change my whole perspective on something that I had viewed as a menace my entire life. How could I learn to appreciate and love anxiety when it had held me back so many times? How could I love anxiety when it caused me to suffer so much that I did not want to function?
Anxiety as an Asset
My therapist asked me, “How has anxiety helped you in your life?” At first, I was taken aback. My immediate thought was, “Of course it hasn’t helped me, lady! Are you crazy?!” But after taking some time to think about it, I realized that perhaps anxiety has helped me in some ways.
First, anxiety has helped me become a successful student and worker. I would not have been able to get into my undergraduate or graduate programs without my anxiety helping me keep on task and do the best I could. Second, anxiety has helped me prepare for and be aware of dangerous situations. For example, living in Los Angeles, there is always the threat of a large earthquake, so I make sure I have supplies available in case there were ever to be a significant earthquake. Third, anxiety has made me a very thoughtful and analytical person. I am able to see things from many perspectives, and it fosters diversity in my thinking.
My therapist noted that anxiety will always be a part of me, but that it does not have to be the monster that it had become. That I had to learn to love anxiety, because it was a part of me. I needed to love my whole self. She said that I needed to learn to not be afraid of my anxiety, as it does serve a purpose for us humans. And that, if I was able to use the 5 A’s, I would be able to manage my anxiety.
And guess what? It worked! My anxiety decreased significantly and I now live a very manageable life.
Patience and Non-judgement
Going through those steps took a lot of time, patience, and non-judgment. I had to work through a lot of self-critical thoughts and judgments, as I felt like a failure for not being able to follow the 5 A’s perfectly. But once I began to be kind to myself, acknowledge that I was not perfect, and kept on fighting, I began to heal.
My anxiety did not go away completely, and it never will. But now I am able to manage it. I am able to see how it impacts my life in a positive way. I recognize it as it happens and allow myself to feel it. I am no longer scared of my anxiety because I know it is a piece of me. And I love myself. Therefore, I have learned to love my anxiety.
Every person has their own ways of managing anxiety. However, I hope my story will encourage you to reach out for support. I know how difficult it can be. Anxiety can be paralyzing, but I also know how rewarding it can be to work through it. You, too, deserve to love every piece of yourself. You are worth it.
If you are suffering from anxiety and have had thoughts of harming yourself, please reach out to the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800.273.8255). If you are looking for mental health provider, you may find them through the National Institute of Mental Health, Psychology Today, or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
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About the Author
Alexa Noel Dyrness is a Publishing Fellow for Adios Barbie and also a Marriage and Family Therapy Trainee at Hillside Wellness Center in Los Angeles, CA where she specializes in trauma work. Alexa is an intersectional feminist, eating disorder survivor, dog and cat mom, and an advocate for all. She believes that empathy, warmth, and authenticity are the key to successful living.