If you have anxiety, you’re not even a little bit alone—in fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults in the United States every year. But it can still feel wildly lonely. Which, incidentally, is one of the reasons wellness expert, long-time journalist, and founder of I Quit Sugar, Sarah Wilson wrote her most recent book First, We Make the Beast Beautiful.
Behind its stunning cover, Wilson writes, “Anxiety is a very lonely condition; when you’re anxious you’ve got to suffer alone. But we can all reach out and let each other know that we’re not on our own, there’s other people going through the same thing.”
Not every facet of Wilson’s experience with anxiety will ring true for everyone. Not everyone will shower 30 times a night, or run barefoot and braless through the woods. But Wilson’s ultimate message—about fully exploring your anxiety, accepting and embracing it, and discovering what it can teach you about the beauty of life—is something anyone with anxiety can do.
“There’s no point wishing I didn’t have anxiety; it is what it is,” Wilson writes. “Anxiety is the thing that takes you down, this anxiety about not knowing what life is about takes you down. But it’s also the thing that ultimately takes you to where the answer lies.”
Below, Wilson shares 3 strategies for making peace with your anxiety.
1. Discover that you’re in great company
“It’s really helpful to view whatever you’re going through as part of the human experience, something that’s somewhat universal, and as something that actually propels you towards who, what, and where you want to be,” says Wilson. That’s why she suggests doing research and learning about the brilliant minds—including, inventors, artists, and philosophers—who have had anxiety. (A starter list: Lady Gaga, Steve Jobs, John Stewart Mills, Charles Darwin, and Patti Smith.)
“This research has helped me reflect,” she says. “Now, when I turn around and I look at my accomplishments, I can see that it’s actually been my anxiety that has gotten me there. Anxiety has been my car—it’s the thing that takes you down…But it’s also the thing that ultimately takes you to where the answer lies,” she writes in her book. Which is to say, the beast (the term she uses to describe her anxiety) becomes beautiful. And if you can’t (yet) find your own anxiety beautiful, finding others’ anxiety beautiful may help.
2. Turn your anxiety into excitement
Make like Wilson and learn to capitalize off your jitters and frets. “I’ve learned that, at a biological level, anxiety is a lot like excitement. Both anxiety and excitement make my heart quicken and stomach flutter,” she writes in her book. So what do you do with that? You choose excitement, Wilson says. Say it out loud or write it down: “I’m excited,” she suggests.
If you’re about to jump into something new and are feeling anxious, pausing and asking yourself whether it could be excitement that you’re feeling can make new situations fun—instead of horrible.
3. Put pen to paper
You don’t have to be a calligrapher to shift the keyboard aside and grab a pen and notepad. “When I’m feeling anxious, I’ll order a glass of tea, sit, and literally write out what I’m anxious about. The pace and act of writing helps calm me down,” Wilson says.
“Write down what you feel, what you’re anxious about, all of your thoughts and beliefs. This intimate conversation with yourself will show you where your anxiety is taking you… and maybe even why,” she recommends.
Changing the way you think about anxiety is a big part of making it more manageable, giving yourself back the control you may feel you’ve lost. It’s a beast that can be tamed. You’ve got this.
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