Living as a highly-functioning anxious person

To support Mental Health Awareness Week, I said yes to what is now in one of my top 5 scariest moments ever. I shared what it’s REALLY like living with anxiety. Not just with my friends. Or my family. But with the world wide web on women’s lifestyle website Miss FQ. Classic ‘all or nothing’ kinda gal behaviour. Although sharing it induced heart palpitations, a sweat moustache, clammy palms and nausea, it was like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. That’s the amazing thing about sharing our struggles, once they’re out of our brain and into the world, we take back some of our power.

So here’s me, taking back my power. Original piece appeared in Miss FQ here

What if I said the wrong thing?
What if I never have children?
What if I don’t know anyone at that party?
What if I made the wrong decision?
What if I never get through my to-do list?
What if something happens to my parents?
What if there is something seriously wrong with my health?

Welcome to my brain.

My name is Victoria. I’m a PR director, certified health coach, part-time natural medicine student, wanderlust sufferer, chocolate fiend and yoga enthusiast who loves a good child’s pose.

I’m also a highly functioning anxious person.

You’d never know it though. Like thousands of women, I’ve hidden my stress with a smile and from the outside lived a happy, healthy, confident, ‘she would never have anxiety’ life while grappling with one of the most common mental health disorders.

Up until a year ago, I had no idea that anxiety was a real, diagnosable health condition. I told myself that everyone feels anxious, worried, scared and overwhelmed sometimes. However, these ‘sometimes’ feelings became daily feelings. I pushed through, ignoring the warning signs.

That was until I found myself in full meltdown mode at the doctor’s. I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and became one of the one in four Kiwis who experience anxiety. Generalised anxiety disorder is persistent and excessive worry and over-thinking about a range of different things. It is letting one tiny trickle of a thought cascade into a waterfall (or landslide!) of worry, fear or overwhelm. I can worry about anything and everything, from something small like the tone of an email I’ve sent, to not knowing anyone at an event to something awful happening to loved ones.

Anxiety makes itself known most days in varying degrees, either physically or mentally. Often, both. Consistent worry about the future, replaying past or possible situations in my head, feeling overwhelmed, putting pressure on myself to get things right and ‘perfect’, worrying what people think of me and catastrophising events like road trips where a fear of crashing can turn into me imagining people speaking at my funeral.

On a physical level, when I am feeling anxious, I struggle to breathe properly. I have an extreme sensitivity to noise. I feel light-headed and dizzy. I find it difficult to sleep. I get tired and irritated easily.

At the root of my anxious feelings is a fear of the unknown, the fear of not being or doing enough, and the fear of losing people I love.

Despite these anxious feelings, I still live a happy, fun, productive and successful life. After overhauling my lifestyle, I’ve found a holistic approach that reduces triggers and increases calm. I’ve replaced fad diets with regular balanced meals, and excessive high-intensity exercise with yoga, Pilates and walking. I prioritise sleep, practice meditation and mindfulness, get out in nature, seek professional help, have learned to say no to obligations, use natural medicines to calm my nervous system and actively face my fears. I’m also much kinder to myself and don’t give my inner-critic as much power anymore.

The worrying (excuse the pun) thing about anxiety is that, as with many mental illnesses, it’s so easy to hide from the world and just ‘push through’ the feelings. It has become the silent epidemic for the modern woman where admitting we need support is a seen as a sign of weakness. That needs to change. My fellow anxious friends and I are hoping to reduce that stigma through our Anxiety Anonymous events where we share our own stories and experiences with anxiety.

I am slowly making peace with the unknown. I constantly remind myself that my best is all I can do; perfect truly doesn’t exist and worrying about the future is robbing me of enjoying today.

Each day, I have to reframe my negative ‘what ifs’ with:
What if I do better than I thought?
What if that wrong decision is leading me down the right path?
What if everything works out in the end?.