Anxiety. Have you ever struggled with it?
It shows up differently for everyone, but it always feels terrible. When I’m anxious, I feel an emptiness in my stomach, swirling energy in my chest, a lump in my throat, and fatigue behind my eyeballs. I also feel tired physically and mentally, and my negative self-talk goes into overdrive—the fear and self-doubt become impossible to ignore.
For a long time, I felt ashamed of my anxiety, and I wished it would go away. I saw anxiety as a barrier to living the vibrant life I wanted. I also viewed it as my own personal failure. As someone in the health and wellness industry who taught group fitness and inspired others to take care of themselves, I thought: “Shouldn’t I be able to figure this out?”
I saw anxiety as a barrier to living the vibrant life I wanted. I also viewed it as my own personal failure.
Throughout my 20s, I looked for answers and attempted to fix my anxiety by chasing perfection. I thought if I took excellent care of myself—if I managed my stress, ate whole foods, moved my body in a way that felt really good—then an anxiety-free life would be mine for the taking. The funny thing is, the harder I tried, the worse things got, and the more relentless my anxiety became. It was only when I had a series of panic attacks at work—ones that had me crying uncontrollably for what felt like hours on end—that I realized I needed a new game plan.
Enter, meditation. Meditation was something I had rejected for years. It sounded boring, hard, and I didn’t believe it would work for me. But in this low moment, even though I was skeptical, I gave it a try. I had nothing to lose.
It didn’t take long to realize that meditation offered me something that nothing else could: clarity, inner strength, and a deeper connection with myself. Meditation gave me a space to come into relationship with my anxiety on a daily basis. It allowed me to reach deeper into the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that showed up for me every day.
By getting curious and creating a safe container to feel everything during my meditation sessions, I developed an inner confidence and steadiness I hadn’t felt before. I also began to trust myself and I started to see things how they really were rather than get swept up in stories or perceptions. My biggest aha! in those first few months of practicing meditation was that my anxiety wasn’t the enemy. It wasn’t something bad that could take me down—actually, it was my body talking to me and giving me information to help guide me.
That’s when everything shifted for me. Once I understood my anxiety to be something that was part of me, something that sharpened my intuition, I started to feel grateful for it. I began to think of my anxiety as an alarm system. When my thinking mind wasn’t able to get the memo, my anxiety would step in to make sure I didn’t miss something important.
My anxiety wasn’t the enemy: It was my body talking to me and giving me information to help guide me.
For example: Those anxiety attacks at work? That was my body telling me it’s time to move on and start my own business. The lump in my throat? A sign to speak up and use my voice. The exhaustion behind my eyes? Girl, step away from the computer and get some boundaries. The negative self talk? I most recently took that as an opportunity to explore some limiting beliefs I had about myself. By getting curious and feeling deeper into the limiting beliefs, I could let them flow through me and move on.
I know this is hard to believe, but I wouldn’t trade my anxiety for anything. It’s a gift, and it’s part of me. It points me in the right direction. It helps me lead from my heart. I certainly don’t expect you to see your anxiety as a gift. And if you’re reading this thinking I’m telling you to be grateful for your anxiety, too—I’m not. I know firsthand how debilitating and draining anxiety can be. What I do want you to know is this: If you struggle like I have, you are not weak. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You also aren’t alone.
So the next time you feel wound up and overwhelmed—like anxiety is swallowing up your whole body—can you try something for me? Can you get really quiet and see if there’s any wisdom in your panic? Your anxiety just might be telling you something very important, something that will help you grow, thrive, and live the life you want.
Kait Hurley is a movement and meditation teacher and entrepreneur based in Portland, OR. She recently launched kaithurley.com, an online training program that delivers do-anywhere workout and meditation classes. Combining yoga, strength training, and heart-pumping aerobic work with meditation, Kait encourages you every step of the way and meets you where you are, both physically and mentally.