wellness — By casey field
Hi. My name is Casey, and I have anxiety.
That isn’t how I introduce myself, but sometimes it feels like I should. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues around the world, yet many people are apprehensive to highlight it as something they struggle with. Given that it is Mental Health Awareness month, I’d like to offer my experiences and advice on living and dealing with anxiety.
My name is Casey and I do struggle with anxiety, but that’s not what defines me. I am 28 years old, teach fitness classes at Barry’s Bootcamp, am a model with Wilhelmina agency, and am engaged to be married this coming fall. In many aspects, I have what people would consider to be “a dream life” and in some ways it is. What may not be obvious on the surface is that my anxiety has changed very little as my life has evolved. The same way it is said, “Money can’t buy happiness,” it is true that success does not eliminate anxiety. I still periodically feel anxious, but I don’t let it control my life. I’m not a psychiatrist or expert, but having anxiety for most of my life has introduced me to many tricks and tips on how to deal with it.
I first want to describe and define anxiety in how I feel and experience it. Everyone is different, but I imagine a lot of you reading this will identify closely with my experiences. When I experience anxiety, it feels as if my body is constantly in fight-or-flight mode. I could have 100 things to do that day, or I could have all day to lounge and watch “The Office”, but regardless, my brain and body feel as if at any moment there could be an alarm and I’ll need to sprint out of the house, fight off an attacker, or deal with some sort of disaster.
If you feel a similar emotion there are many triggers that could be causing it. Your first tip: Figure out a source of your anxiety. Notice I say ‘a’ source, not ‘the’ source. Anxiety is often not caused by a singular stressor, but a combination of a few things. Once you’ve identified that you’re feeling anxious I find it helps significantly just to tell someone. I live with my fiancé, Leah, and she is so helpful by just listening. If I have a class the next day and I feel anxious I may tell her, “I’m feeling a bit anxious today about my class tomorrow. I don’t know if the workout is perfect.” Just speaking it and identifying it helps significantly because you’ve acknowledged and shed a light on the issue. If you can’t figure out specifically why you’re feeling anxious, start with these simple internal questions:
“Am I hungry?” It’s a simple but often overlooked contributor to anxiety. Just like you may get “hangry”, or a bit grumpy when hungry, you may get “hanxious” or feel that way because your body needs some fuel. Think about your body as having an infant’s mentality. If you haven’t eaten in a bit, your body is hungry and doesn’t know when the next meal will be, so it starts to panic. That fight-or-flight moment kicks in and won’t stop until you get some food. Often, you’ll notice that you’ll immediately calm down after eating.
“Am I tired?” A rough night’s sleep or not enough rest can definitely cause your body to feel anxious. If you’re operating with less-than-ideal rest, it can be reflected in your inability to focus, perform, or relax without feeling anxious. If you exercise frequently and don’t give yourself enough rest, this could be a reason too. Overtraining your body can eventually catch up in the form of negative moods, sluggish feeling, or anxiety.
“Is there an obvious reason?” Sometimes identifying the cause is easy. Maybe you have a big interview, a big life event, or a fight with a significant other. If this is the case, speak on it. Tell someone that you’re feeling anxious and why. Keeping a light on exactly what is causing you to feel this way keeps it in focus so you can work towards dealing with it.
“Could it be positive?” Sometimes your anxiety could be trying to drive you to make a change. Before I found myself in the fitness industry I worked in medical sales. I traveled around New York City speaking with doctors about cardiac imaging technology. The money was great but I wasn’t fulfilled. Many mornings I would physically shake in bed with anxiety because I felt trapped. I didn’t enjoy my job, but how could I leave? I made great money and had awesome perks. Thinking back, I was anxious because I knew I was meant to do something else. When I finally listened to that inner voice, I quit my job and worked to put myself where I am today. I remember seeing a video of an older man relating anxiety to a lobster. He spoke about how a lobster would grow inside of its shell until it couldn’t fit anymore and had to shed it, creating a new, more suitable shell. He related that cycle to anxiety, saying how your anxiety may just be a reaction to you getting too big for your shell. Shedding that shell, or maybe a lifestyle, job, habit, etc., and creating a stronger environment may be just what you need. In this situation, listening and analyzing your anxiety could lead you to make a positive change for the future.
“Is there an outside influence?” Social media is a tricky beast. For many, including myself, social media can give you a platform to influence others in a positive way. On the other spectrum, social media has been linked to causing anxiety and depression, specifically in teens and young adults. The exposure to someone’s “life” can cause you to compare yourself to people you see, possibly enabling a yearning to live a similar lifestyle. Personally, I try to be as authentic as possible on Instagram. If I have a bad day I’ll often post about it and make sure my followers see it. It helps me to speak out about it, which helps me, and hopefully helps those watching see that not everything is perfect. I remind them that Instagram is what someone wants you to see. It is often just highlights of someone’s life, making you wonder why you’re not traveling the world, signing big deals, or doing amazing things every day. While this may be the true lifestyle of some, most of the time it comes from albums of ready-to-post photos to keep the content flowing. Negative self-talk is dangerous and knowing your limits with social media is extremely important, especially when dealing with anxiety. If this becomes an issue for you, do your best to limit your time on social media. Set a strict time limit for yourself if you need to.
For me, the slow days where I’m not busy are the ones where I get most anxious. My mind will latch onto something I emailed my agent, a text I send to my fiancé or some project I need to do the next week. Then the “what if?” starts. What if I offended my agent? What if I hurt my fiancé’s feelings? What if something goes wrong and I can’t complete my project? The feelings can get overwhelming quickly. My heart will race. I feel tired because my body has been tensed all day. My self-confidence crumbles and self-doubt about everything controls my emotions. The busy days are what I love. Ever heard the phrase, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? I believe an idle mind is anxiety’s playground. Keeping yourself mentally and physically busy helps keep you focused on the present, preventing overthinking from creeping in. So, here’s your next tip: Keep your mind and body busy!
I love working out, running, and being active. If I’m not teaching classes or training clients, I’m often lifting weights or out for a run. There have been many scientific studies proving that exercising has a direct correlation to serotonin metabolism and release, meaning a more positive mental state. Your activity, however, doesn’t need to be exercise. It could be a puzzle, a good book, an engaging movie, or anything that captures and holds your attention. Most of us work in highly competitive fields where there is someone constantly chasing for our position. For me, my internal response is “If they want it, they’ll have to outwork me!” If I start getting doubtful feelings about whether I deserve to be in the position I’m in, I’ll refocus my doubts. Choose something that you love and give a 100% effort so that by the time you’re finished you’re too tired to be anxious. After I put in a good workout, I often regain the confidence knowing that I’m actively pushing myself to get stronger and better at my trade. Next tip: Give 100%. Self-doubt has a hard time creeping in if you know that you’re doing everything you can to remain on top of your game.
Okay, but what if that still doesn’t work? Well, you’ve already identified a cause for the anxiety, so let’s talk about tricks I’ve learned to be effective in dealing with it. For me, anxiety makes me feel like I’m in a bubble. Whatever is on my mind is the only thing I can think of and I zone out from the outside world. A simple trick I’ve learned: LOOK UP. And I don’t mean “Keep your chin up, son. You’ll be okay.” I mean go outside and actually look up. Visualize what someone would see if they were looking down at you from very high up. This helps me visualize the space, buildings, and people around me. Then I keep visualizing the view from higher and higher up until I realize how small I am compared to the space around me. It helps me pop that bubble and bring things into perspective. Give it a try!
Another simple trick I’ve learned is visualization. I’ve used the app “Headspace” for guided meditation sessions and one of the lessons involved a specific visualization. Often during anxious episodes different thoughts and feelings shoot back and forth in your brain. You zip in and out of each emotion or “what if” and it gets exhausting, right? “Headspace” (specifically the gentleman with the lovely accent in the app) asked me to visualize sitting on the side of the road with cars driving by. Each car represents a feeling, thought, or emotion in your mind. Instead of chasing these cars, simply sit still. You know the cars are passing, but you don’t need to pay them attention. They’ll drive past and not influence your day while you sit calmly on the side of the road. I go back to this visualization often when I feel overwhelmed by my internal voice. Give it a try, and maybe try the app for yourself!
Breathing! You do it every day, right? But do you focus on it? Try counting to six as you breathe in, then count to six as you breathe out. Repeat for 10 to 20 breaths and see how you feel. It’s a common practice in meditation and yoga (both also fantastic ways to deal with anxiety) and you can do it literally anywhere at any time. I like to do it during my morning shower when I can sense every thought and worry about the day ready to creep in as soon as I wake up. I’ll focus my breathing and count in my head, bringing my focus back to the counting if it wanders.
Professional help. It may seem scary, but seeking out a professional (therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist) to talk to about your issues can be a big help. I tried it once and while I did not connect with the professional, there are many other professionals out there worth seeing. And while we may not have connected, I quickly realized that just speaking to a professional gave me a renewed energy to find solutions on my own. It made me work harder to deal with the anxiety on my own terms and to find solutions that would work for me. This may be the case for you, or you might find someone you click with that becomes the catalyst to you overcoming this mental strain.
The last tip I’ll give you is just to WAIT IT OUT. “Hang in there! Keep it up! One foot in front of the other!” So cliché, right? However, think about a time when you’ve been extremely anxious with a problem you didn’t think would ever go away. My guess is you made it through that episode and are still here, reading this article. You’ve made it through each and every struggle, obstacle, or event in your life. Have confidence in yourself that you’ll figure this out, regardless of how. Know that you are strong enough to deal with whatever is making you doubt yourself, and if you ever need someone to offer support, tips, or just listen, shoot me a message on Instagram and let’s work it out together.