For Cinderella’s third secret blog post, she decided to delve into a more serious topic in sharing her struggles with anxiety. I admire her for her honesty and am going to step away from the light, letting her do all the talking. I hope this entry helps you as much as it did me. (Please remember that neither Cinderella or I am a medical doctor. Check with your doctor to ensure that the activities listed here are safe for you.)
I went through an extremely dark time when I realized that I was alone. Totally alone. It’s no secret that the prince and I became distant and the remaining threads of our relationship became fretted with discord. I knew that he slept with other women, but I kept quiet for the longest time, blaming myself for his bad behavior.
But what I haven’t shared before is the anxiety I dealt with during that last year. How I second guessed all my decisions and wondered what I could have done differently to keep my marriage together. There were days in which I would get up and be paralyzed with anxiety. I would cough and cough, sometimes coming to the point of near vomiting as I could not control myself. The sweat would build on my forehead and stomach would cramp. The worse I felt, the more anxious I would become. I hid for a long time, ashamed, and would take my toilet alone, casting out any help.
But what I want to share with you are the things I learned that helped me during the worst of my anxiety. Now that I am older (and hopefully wiser), I understand that many people feel this way and suffer in solitude because they are ashamed too. I know that I feared that people would judge me and that only made my anxiety worse. In my darkest time, I had become unraveled and my mind would race and I could not grasp a sense of calm. I suffered in secret and did not know how to find my way.
By luck, an elderly maid found me one morning in the midst of my worst bout of anxiety. I paced across my room, back and forth, and coughed nervously, holding my stomach to stem off pain. My belly rebelled as did my lungs and I did not know what to do.
When my maid Mary found me, she rushed over and took me by the hand. I tried to fight her off because I was embarrassed, but she gave me a knowing stare and brought me into my private washroom. She locked the door and took me in her arms, like a mother would a babe, and whispered in my ear. She did not judge me, but only held me and spoke low into my ear like a mother would to her daughter.
What did she tell me? It was the simplest of things. She told me to breathe in deep and slow, to hold my breath and then to exhale a little at a time. The day that Mary stopped to help me changed my life.
Before Mary passed, she taught me many great coping techniques that have helped me greatly manage and deal with my struggles with anxiety. To help you, I’ll going to list the top ones here so that they can hopefully be of benefit to you:
Mantra, Mantra, Mantra
If you’re trying to get through a difficult bout of anxiety and you cannot focus your mind on anything, then find a simple mantra and repeat it. I know that this might sound nonsensical, but the repetitive use of a phrase, or even a word, has helped settle me in my darkest of times.
When I have time to concentrate, I typically use “I know I can,” but when I’m not in the best of shape and am having a difficult time focusing, then I simply say, “Yes, yes, yes!” By focusing on the positive, I’ve learned that I can help alter my perspective and fight off the fears that hold me back. Do not underestimate the power of being able to see through a difficult time and knowing that you can make it through.
When I cannot sleep at night, I lie on my back, take a big deep breath, and like Mary taught me, I inhale slowly, hold the air in my lungs for a few seconds and then exhale slowly. I’ve learned that it’s important that I pay attention to my body. When I’m tired, I need to sleep. If hungry, then eat. But denying, suppressing or ignoring how I feel, I am then not paying attention to key information that my body is sending to me.
With mindfulness, I focus on the moment, clear my mind of worry and to let go. I want to be present in the moment and understand where I’m at, what I’m doing and who I am. All of this might be more complicated than what I mean so let me simplify: I have focused more on the here and now rather than the past or the future. I cannot change either of those times, but I can affect the present. Being mindful of the present time, and thankful for it, helps me to ground myself.
I have never been much of a runner, but I do like to walk. I can walk through the gardens or the surrounding countryside for hours at a time. I see the importance of it all and know that the exercise focuses more on how I feel. The more that I am in touch with my body, the better.
When I exercise, I’m able to let go of my current worries and just think. There are no judgments on how I feel, what I am thinking and I just allow myself to be. At first, I found this extremely difficult to put into practice. When I walked, I stressed about the choices I had made in life or my problems would spin around in my head and I had no way to release them.
But over time, I found a better way to relax my mind and to enjoy the time I had to be alone. I embraced solitude and used it more for a means to heal than to work out problems.
Talk to a Friend
When I first dealt with my anxiety, I hid my condition. I was afraid that if I shared my feelings with anyone they would laugh at me, or worse, commit me to an asylum. Before I had a friend to trust, I simply wrote down how I felt. I started a journal and put all of my thoughts down on paper.
But later in life, once I found true friends I could connect with again, I took the time to listen to their concerns and then could share mine. Just by admitting and talking about my problems helped me to accept them. Once I had accepted them and gave them life, then I had a better means to stand up and make choices to heal myself. My closest friends know me well and I can trust them. There is nothing better in life than being able to be your true self with someone—warts and all.
I might be laughed at for this option, but being with the person you love is a tender and precious moment in life. A hug, or a kiss, is soothing to the spirit and one can find solace there. In my time, admitting that sex is a healing force in my life is tantamount to a heresy, but women of the 21st century have more freedom than I.
I have made stupid mistakes over the years in choosing men, but one thing I do know: When you find the person you love, embrace them and often. Do not take them for granted. Often the problems that you are going through will not be solved by being intimate with another person. You will still need to solve your own problems. Throwing yourself into love will get you nowhere, trust me, I should know.
Listen to Nature
When your mind is at rest, so shall you be. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If you’re looking for a way to relax and center yourself to help deal with your anxiety, try taking a walk outside in the woods by a creek or a river. Leave your phone and any other device home (or just keep it off) so that you can enjoy the beauty around you.
When I was younger, I used to often walk through the woods, listen to the birds chirping, feel the cooler air underneath the canopy of the tree cover and smell the vibrant flow of the forest’s life. But I expect many of you cannot easily take a walk in a wooded area. The first time I used the dreamline to travel to present day I was shocked to see so few trees.
If you cannot walk in the woods, then try a beach. If all of those options are out and you are surrounded by high buildings on all sides, then listen to the falling rain. In a pinch, I’ve known people who simply take a shower, listening to the steady fall of the water on their backs to help calm them.
Have a difficult time ahead? A simple way to stem off your nerves is to close your eyes and imagine yourself getting through the event. Anytime I needed to confront the prince during our falling apart, I would close my eyes and imagine getting through the meeting. I’d see myself holding my own in any argument we had and then moving on to another place where I would be happier.
Dreading a situation but not preparing for the fear, only sets me up to have a panic attack. When I’m rushed, if I try to ignore how I feel, then I’m only setting myself up for failure. Take a few minutes, imagine the anxious situation you’ll be in and visualize yourself getting through it. Trust me, it’ll help.
In my time, we did not have therapists or counselors to talk to, but many of us simply hid how we truly felt. But that’s not the case any longer. Talk to a therapist and share with her what’s on your mind. The sessions can provide a healthy and stress-free environment where you can be yourself and not be judged.
If you pick the right type of therapist, you might also be able to work with someone who will help teach you the skills you need to confront your anxiety and overcome the worst of it. There is no magic cure, but working hard to deal with your anxious feelings, understanding what triggers them and providing a network of support to help you overcome them will change the way you handle your problems.
I hated this advice when I first started on my journey to helping myself. I used to think that stress and anxiety were normal, but I learned, slowly at first, that if I let go of situations outside of my control I would feel better.
Letting go is an active process. It’s not me forgetting someone or suppressing how I feel, but simply moving on and allowing myself the room to grow and heal. This takes time. Understanding the triggers that cause your anxiety, will help you produce healthy behaviors that will be your support in your time of need.
I still struggle with acceptance nearly every day. I will never be perfect. I simply won’t and that’s okay. The real struggle is coming to terms with my own imperfections and embracing them through acceptance. I am not like anyone else. Each of us is unique. We have our own strengths and quirks. If I struggle with anxiety, I’ve learned that I often am extremely hard on myself. I weigh myself down with “shoulds” or am afraid that I’m missing out in life.
I cannot tell you how many times I compared myself to my friends and wondered what was “wrong with me”? What I didn’t know is that behind closed doors my friends had their own problems. I only saw the outside view of their perfect lives and unfairly judged myself against that. The anxiety I felt in trying to live up to impossible expectations nearly overwhelmed me.
But I know better now because I’m not only more open to the world around me, but I’m also more aware.
I hope these tips are helpful to you. Try some of them out, see if they work for you, and if not, try another one. Over the years, I’ve used a combination of several and have found that when I’m honest with myself that the struggle I have with anxiety ebbs and flows. When I do not take care of myself, that’s when I’m at my worst. But I’m learning not only how to be more aware of the triggers that set me off, but I also now know what works to help me overcome my anxiety.