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Anxiety cure? 'I decided instead to stop trying to run away from my anxiety and accept it'

Instead of attacking your anxiety like the enemy, you have to work with it, dealing with both the physical and the emotional symptoms, writes Caroline Foran.

Caroline Foran Editor and author

IT HASN’T QUITE sunken in yet that I’ve written and published a book; my guess is it will require several pinches as the next few weeks unfold.

Why did I write it? As a former sufferer myself, it’s the very thing I needed – or felt was lacking – when anxiety came along and knocked me off my feet, seemingly out of the blue. I figured it might make a difference for someone like me.

In it, I offer my own experiences, what it felt like, what happened to me, what worked for me and what didn’t, because it’s hugely comforting to know that someone else understands. There’s also a whole lot of research and expert input from some of the most inspiring health care professionals in the country. But it’s less a book about me and more a tool for you.

I so wanted to hear from somebody like me

You see when I began suffering with acute anxiety to the point that I couldn’t leave my house, I wanted so desperately to hear from someone who wasn’t a professional but instead, someone who was just like me, and had lived to tell the tale.

Aside from all of the resources and tools and apps, and all of which the various and well-meaning professionals I met with, I really craved an empathetic voice who could wrap their arms around me and tell me everything would be okay. My essential caveat? It had to be someone who knew just how debilitating it can be.

Anxiety is mind-boggling enough without having to navigate your way through heavy theoretical texts. I wanted to reassure others who are facing the same fears that I was dealing with, and that I get it. I’ve been there, and there is most certainly a way to get yourself back to a point of living a life that isn’t entirely defined by this rather disconcerting sensation.

Both for the book and for my own learnings, I did a lot of work to wrap my head around both the inner and outer mechanisms that promote and give rise to anxiety, which in and of itself helped to dissipate a lot of what I was feeling.

What did I learn?

While you’ll find every single nugget of useful information chronicled throughout the book, there are a few key standouts, on which Owning It is based. For starters, I’ve learned that trying desperately to unearth a “cure” will get you nowhere. In fact, for me, it only exacerbated my symptoms.

Although it wasn’t easy, things made a turn for the better when I gave up this struggle; it was getting me nowhere. I decided instead to stop trying to run away from my anxiety or live a life devoid of it entirely.

I accepted it and said “alright, anxiety is something I’m dealing with, it’s not fun, but it’s here, and the more I resist it, the more it rears its ugly head.”

I stumbled upon a Pinterest quote – this was another thing I devoured daily for some kind of lift – that said “Darling, just fucking own it” and something sort of clicked. I then discovered a TED Talk by the incredible Professor Kelly McGonigal who spoke about the fact that it’s not the presence of anxiety or stress in our body that really matters, but our perception of it. Give it a watch. It was a major eye-opener for me.

So instead of trying to hide away from anything that might bring about stress or anxiety, or looking at anxiety as public enemy number one, what if I worked on my perception of it, and befriended it instead? That, I learned, was a lot more doable – and fruitful – than searching endlessly for this elusive “cure” and then berating myself for not being able to just “get over it”.

From there, I devised a two-step coping technique around which I’ve structured the book: the Assess and Address approach. It’s something I turn to again and again, though anxiety is less of a sinister presence in my life since I learned the art of owning it.

Assess (Or as I like to call it, the What-the-f*ck-is going-on? part)

Beyond your own set of circumstances, you first need to understand what anxiety is, how it functions, why we feel it, why so many of us experience it, and why the presence of stress or anxiety in our bodies is actually nothing to worry about.

You also need to wrap your head around something known as the “negativity bias”. Having a firm grasp of exactly what anxiety is and precisely why you’re feeling it is half the battle. It really is. Most of my own suffering was born from not having the faintest clue about what was going on, an unwillingness to address why I was feeling it (out of fear, naturally) and just totally panicking about the fact that I was panicking, which, as you can imagine, was a fairly self-perpetuating quandary.

Then you need to look at your own personal circumstances. What’s going on? Did it really come out of the blue? How long have you been feeling this way? What’s happening in your life, eg healthy or unhealthy relationships, exams on the horizon, mounting pressure at work?

At first this can be quite a hard task. We tend to look for really obvious, traumatic life events to justify our anxiety – such as a bereavement – but anxiety can slowly creep up on you as a result of what seems like the most insignificant set of reasons; remember, anxiety is really just an exaggerated form of stress.

When your nervous system is worn out, it can take very little to push you over from prolonged stress to anxiety and the feeling of not being able to cope. Whatever the reasons that have contributed towards your struggling right now, you have every right to feel the way you do. Your body can’t tell the difference between potential triggers.

The What-the-f*ck-am-I-going-to-do about-it? part

The first time you educate yourself about anxiety is always the toughest because it’s when you tend to feel the worst and the most overwhelmed. When you’ve got a general understanding of it, it’s then a matter of assessing individual bouts of anxiety as they arise, and eventually you’ll get really good at saying, “Oh yes, I can see why I feel this way, that makes total sense”, before practically addressing it by employing the specific anti-anxiety tools that you know will work for you.

This too requires patience and time. For me, addressing it can involve just one or a mixture of many things, from acupuncture to increased mindfulness to adapting my diet. It’s important here to explore all options, from what you put into your body to the many treatments and tools that are available to you.

Instead of attacking your anxiety like the enemy, you have to work with it, dealing with both the physical and the emotional symptoms on the road to Owning It.

Caroline Foran is the author of Owning It: Your Bullshit Free Guide To Living With Anxiety, published with Hachette Ireland, and available nationwide from May 11th.

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Caroline Foran  / Editor and author

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