Anxiety: some lessons on how to deal with it
Reflections from our wellbeing advisor
Leigh-Ann Ing, Director of Global Wellness & Benefits Strategy
May 28, 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes
As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, I’m reflecting on one of the most challenging years of my adult life. For so many of us, this pandemic has felt like teetering over the edge. For some, the edge gave way all together resulting into a freefall with little to no safety net.
This past year has been hard for most of us, and because of that, I feel it’s important to be open about my personal story. Even as an organizational wellbeing advisor, I experience anxiety and have been dealing with it (hiding it) for quite some time. In 2020, I had a breakdown triggered by my unmanaged anxiety and depression.
What my anxiety felt like.
Sometimes in the movies, you see very dramatic portrayals of breakdowns and panic attacks — but mine was not like that. It was a subtle erosion of my once prided mental fortitudes. It started with minor workplace worries that somehow entrenched themselves into every single thought of my waking consciousness. Many times, these thoughts interrupted my sleep. This was followed by heighted irritability, numbness, crumbling self-confidence, and the loss of feeling and experiencing joy and happiness. Then came the daily headaches and migraines, heart palpitations, uncontrolled body tremors and crying episodes; until I could no longer mentally nor physically function in a healthy manner.
I thought I had failed.
While the walls were crashing in, the prominent feeling was failure. I’m a wellness specialist — I was supposed to have known better. I should have recognized the warning signs. I had thoughts of failure in all aspects of my life: as a co-worker, trusted advisor, friend, sister, daughter, and most importantly, as an equal partner to my husband and owner to my two cherished pups.
The lightbulb moment - it’s okay to not be okay.
Despite the trials from last year, I am full of gratitude for the experience. It served as a tremendous wake-up call. It forced me to ruthlessly appraise my values and re-establish my priorities. I accessed professional mental health support and was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder with depressive episodes. In receiving my diagnosis, I’ve learned we are not the sum of our parts and that a mental health diagnosis does not define any one person.
The road to recovery and improving mental health is not easy. Therapy, for me, is hard work and involves a lot of self-reflection and ownership. Almost a year afterwards, there are extremely easy-going and relaxed days, and days where my anxiety takes over to the point where I sometimes forget to breathe — but the journey towards health and self-improvement is entirely worth it.
If you experience similar feelings — whether that means a clinical diagnosis or simply going through a tough time — try to take the following actions.
Question your thought patterns: Ask yourself, where did these thoughts come from? Did they come from a rational place? Are they facts or just thoughts? Recognize those times when your thoughts feel worse than they are; maybe those middle-of-the-night thoughts are not as bad in the morning.
Let go of the notion of being in control: Understand that everything does not need to be perfect. Now, more than ever, we recognize that situations can be beyond our reach and we need to adapt. Give space to observe the emotions you’re feeling without any judgement.
Create and own your boundaries: As the lines between work and home becoming increasingly more blurred, remember to set time apart from thoughts of work. Try to be present in each moment; focused deep breathing and daily meditation can help with this.
Stay healthy: Engage in daily physical activity, eat healthy nutritious foods, get enough uninterrupted sleep, and find time for joy and laughter.
Seek out help: You don't need to be struggling to receive professional mental health support. Having a qualified health care practitioner to talk to can make a world of difference.
"By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 50 per cent have — or have had — a mental illness."
I recognize that it’s not always easy to navigate mental health resources during times of need, but I strongly encourage everyone to take stock of what’s available to you — whether through your employer and/or community. You never know when you’ll need it until you do.
Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica.
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