Hello! Welcome to my blog. This one is a super special one because today is World Mental Health day and I know that in all my blogs, I share a personal story or example but this particular blogpost is going to be super raw and honest! This is the first time I’m talking about my struggle with anxiety out in the open. So, thank you for reading this today and being with me while I tell you about some of the most vulnerable moments of my life, that I've had while going through anxiety.
Today’s blogpost is about managing high functioning anxiety and how I’ve been able to improve my own mental health over the last 5 years. Now a quick disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional, everything that I am going to talk about in this podcast is from my own experience and from everything I’ve learnt through books that helped me, professionals that helped me and my own practices. If you are going through anxiety and are unable to manage it by yourself, I would highly recommend consulting a professional.
First of all, Anxiety is a completely normal and often healthy emotion. When we face potentially harmful or worrying triggers, feelings of anxiety are not only reasonable but necessary for survival. However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, it might become a medical disorder.
The nervous feeling before an important life event or during a difficult situation is a natural echo of the original ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction in our bodies. But, sometimes the duration and severity of the anxious feeling can be out of proportion to the original trigger.
Okay, let’s talk in examples: Crossing a busy street without signals can cause some amounts of survival anxiety and that’s completely natural. Heading into a big exam or an interview? You’ll probably be feeling some sort of uneasiness in your stomach or even a raised heartbeat. But, looking at how the handle of your cream colored sofa looks dirty and then feeling unable to breathe or move and the need to cry is where it gets serious. And that’s what was happening with me.
The smallest triggers like looking at a shirt fallen on the floor from the shelf for a while would cause reactions similar to how one would feel in a car accident. I was scared to death. I didn’t have any reasonable thoughts but I would just spiral over little things for a good one hour and feel breathless and unable to move. That’s how the full blown panic attacks started back in 2015 & 16.
The first time I felt this way, I went to a general physician, she gave me some medicines and I also remember her giving me a tiny done of fluoxetine - which is an anti depressant. However, I didn’t take it. Because I didn’t want to be dependent on chemicals without properly figuring out what was happening with me.
Around the same time, I moved back home from college and forgot about it. But eventually, I started having heart palpitations that I could physically feel very often. I went through numerous tests including monitoring my heart for 24 hours and finally, upon further examination a heart specialist recommended that I had nothing physiologically wrong with me. And that I needed to figure out the next steps with my mental health.
And again, I let that go, did nothing about it until the next year when I started having more full blown panic attacks. When the triggers got bigger, the panic got bigger. I remember 2 episodes extremely vividly where some unfortunate traumatic triggers in my life led to the worst anxiety I’ve ever had. During the first one, I was so anxious that my brain was hallucinating for 2-3 hours straight. I was seeing things and talking to people that didn’t exist. This was back in 2016. And this was the most horrific episode i’ve ever had. I don’t think even my parents know about this. Sorry mom, if you’re listening.
But again, life happened and mental health got side tracked. Until the second half of 2017, when i decided that no matter what it costs, I need to see a therapist. You see I was just 22, I wasnt making a lot of money, I wasn’t aware of a lot of self care practices that I know today and it took me a while to take this decision to see a professional psychologist.
That’s when I met probably the best psychologist in this country ever: Dr. Prerna Kohli. Like I said, I was just starting out in my career, so I was only able to keep up with therapy for 3-4 sessions but just those many sessions did what seems like a miracle to me today. It’s very important to find therapists that align with you and how you are and that's what happened with Dr. Kohli. She figured me out right off the bat, and my first ever session with her - I cried for 1 hour straight. I can’t believe I did that but her method of communication with me was so nurturing and safe that I could be truly vulnerable.
I can’t emphasize enough on the importance of therapy. Whether you have a mental health problem or not, it’s never a bad idea to see a therapist. You discover so much about yourself, that you may have never known. Dr. Kohli asked me to do a lot of mental as well as simple physical exercises that helped me manage my anxiety. One of which was journaling. She told me to start writing. About my day, about how I was feeling with as much detail as possible. You see a lot of where anxiety comes from, especially for me, is from feeling a lack of control and organization. Journaling helped me feel more organised and in control of things that were in my head.
One of the writing exercises she asked me to do was to write down my 3 Rs. That is: Regrets, Rejections and Resentments. I didn’t know I was holding these back in my head until I started writing. And boy did it help me a lot. So, back in 2017, I was having at least 1 or 2 serious episodes of anxiety and panic per month and in 2021, I’ve had one in 10 months. How did I go from 2 a month to 1 in a year? It’s all been a ton of self awareness and self work for the 3-4 years. To sum it up, here’s what I do differently today: 1. I am not afraid to express. I am extremely open and vulnerable when it helps me and with people that I know care for me immensely. So communication really helps. 2. I journal frequently. I’m not able to journal everyday but I do have 2 journals, one of which I use to write down the day to day updates and things I’m grateful for and the other I use to write my goals, things I love about myself, my practices with self love and about things that make me happy. 3. I practice some or the other form of meditation. Whether its chanting, guided meditation, meditating with music and even repeating affirmations. All of it helps.
4. I am physically active. I work out 5-6 times a week at least.
5. I have set clear boundaries with everyone in my life. Family, friends, clients, colleagues, everyone. There are certain behaviours that are not okay and I have clearly communicated to everyone in my life what I’m okay and not okay with. If you struggle with setting boundaries, do listen to my podcast on how to set healthy boundaries. It came out a couple of weeks back.
6. And finally, I practice a lot of self love: in the form of affirmations, self care, activities that boost my confidence and taking up new skills to learn. Yup, that’s pretty much it and that has been my journey with anxiety. I feel so much more powerful today: I feel in control and I know that next time if I have an anxiety attack, I’ll be able to bounce back quicker. When I do start to feel anxious, I make sure I do some breath-work: I focus on my breath and I get something to eat or drink, and I ask my friends or family to tell me a story so that it can help me pull myself out of a negative spiral. Woah! Talking about this finally felt amazing!! I have never done and I feel so much more empowered today. Thank you so much for reading this and supporting my work. I’m utterly grateful for you! This brings us to the end of this blogpost. I would love to hear your thoughts and about your practices for mental health. Please reach out to me on Instagram at @theayushimathur, let’s help each other feel strong and in control. Do send this blogpost link to someone you think will benefit from this. Let’s reach out to more and more people and help them lead better lives.