By Megan Barrow, RUOK Day and Beyond Blue ambassador
For those living with debilitating anxiety and panic disorder, living a balanced life may seem unattainable. But I am here to say it is.
First, I’m not going to tell you there’s some magic key to wellness and anxiety freedom. There’s no manta or diet, nor is there any supplement.
While well-meaning bloggers discuss supposed anxiety solutions, anyone with an anxiety disorder who has trouble functioning in everyday life has tried every magic bullet and failed time and time again.
But a balanced life with anxiety is possible.
How do I know? I’ve lived with anxiety disorder my entire life that culminated in three years of agoraphobia.
12 August 1997, my anxiety diary reads Tram ride with Mum to meet Nanna in the city.
I was 26 years old and four months into seeing a psychiatrist to help me recover from agoraphobia. And this tram ride was excruciating. I remember thinking I was going to freak out and/or pass out. I thought everyone on that tram was looking at me and noticing me freak out. I remember feeling ashamed my Nanna was seeing me like this.
In my psychiatrist’s office every fortnight, I was learning how to live again – to be able to do activities that most people take for granted, like a walk down the street, sit in a café, and get on a tram with my Mum to visit my beloved Nanna for my birthday.
There was no trick or easy solution to my freedom from the 24/7 panic attacks I had lived with for nearly three years. The panic attack leads to agoraphobia that left me afraid to do anything other than lay on a couch for fear of dying. Some days I couldn’t even collect the mail from the letterbox.
The solution to wellness was hard; incredibly hard. So with that in mind – that there’s nothing easy about recovery – my top 8 tips to living a balanced life with anxiety are
- Patience, discipline, acceptance and belief you are worth a happy and healthy life.
- Seeking professional help and having (blind) faith and belief they knew more than you and won’t harm you.
This help should include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT: retraining and challenging your thinking), and graded exposure therapy, if applicable, and maybe medication.
- Trusting the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks (racing heart, heart palpitations, chest pain, trouble breathing, feeling out of the body, choking sensation, nerves, shakes, sweating, hot flushes) will not kill or harm you.
- Asking for support from those who love you to help you conquer your fears.
- Letting go of pain and those who don’t love you.
- Understanding failure is just a moment in time and doesn’t define you or success.
- Accept you will have good and bad days – accept both and continue.
- Know it will take time.
Some 20 years later while living independently, running my own consulting business and doing speaking events about my mental health journey, living with balance is a continual learning process. I’m still learning what’s best for me and my overly sensitive, analytical brain. It’s taken until my 40s to accept my feelings and thoughts aren’t always a bad thing. It makes me a thoughtful, caring and considerate person – even if that’s difficult at times.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I wish I could sell you hope in a jar for anxiety freedom. But, it doesn’t exist. What I can tell you, however, is to have hope for balance and wellness alongside anxiety.
But know it’s worth the hard work.
Some days I lie in the grass and look up at the sky and remember how blessed I am to have balance in my life is. I remember how I had lost it. I tell you, there’s no better feeling than living with that perspective.
About Megan Barrow
Megan Barrow is a marketing consultant and mental health advocate, speaker and ambassador. She writes about her story of agoraphobia and anxiety recovery at http://www.unbuckleyourfears.com