A Longer version of the piece that I published in elephant journal called, 4 Places Fear Didn’t Take Me, this piece takes a look at 4 of my life’s greatest challenges and the lessons I’ve learned about my anxiety and fear through overcoming them. These lessons come from my relationships and my current partnership, my time spent traveling through Asia climbing a mountain and scuba diving, my experience in the workplace and the struggles I have with authority figures, and my time as an actor.
I know a few things about my perception of the world:
- Cruelty takes focus over love.
- Life can be frightening, loud, and overwhelming.
- New challenges feel precarious, big, and unpredictable.
- Fear is easy.
Anxiety is a splendid thing: a biological cocktail of protective triggers and signals, and also a dark externality of a world that’s precariously imbalanced. In times like these, with the state of global peace and politics in such upheaval, my physical and mental body reacts in panic. My dreams are filled with darkening possibilities, my mind on fire with doomed outcomes. Even though I have developed countless spiritual and physical ways of dealing with my stress, I default to fear and powerlessness and I feel as though I was wired this way.
And yet, somehow I manage. I find strength to take action. I conquer things that scare me and then I wonder how it felt so impossible. So, why doesn’t it get easier? Why is every new challenge that comes along equally as daunting? Time and time again I prove the strength of my will, the steadfastness of my courage, but it doesn’t seem to lessen my body’s next reaction.
To those of you in the world who suffer from staggering fear and challenging introversion, here are the lessons that I’ve learned. Here are 4 places anxiety couldn’t help me conquer:
1. Center Stage
As a child, I loved to perform. Intimate living room productions in my parent’s clothes (mostly dresses), or in front of an filled auditorium —there is no sense of accomplishment like that which comes from practicing something you are proud of, sharing it, and being applauded for it. Unfortunately, a fear of failure, disappointment, and a fear of revealing my (less than masculine) persona, soon replaced my passion for performance. Now, a professional in my thirties, I often need to speak in front of large groups. Even speaking around a table of colleagues can bring a certain level of physical and mental anxiety: doubt, obsession, sweating palms, stomach troubles, shaking extremities. Underneath all the success I’ve had is the fear that I will not perform to my best and that I will be judged because of it.
Lesson: At their core, our body’s reactions to fear are not dangerous. In fact, they are a sign that we are in a heightened state, and ready for anything. A drama teacher once told me to use my physical nerves as motivation. Rather than trying to defeat my body’s reactions, he challenged me to use them as fuel.
Take action: Next time you are feeling the physical symptoms of fear, take a moment, breathe deep, jump up and down, scream into a pillow, and remind yourself that these symptoms can just as easily be used as fuel to fire you.
2. The Bottom of the Ocean & The Top of the Mountain
When I left to backpack through Asia in my mid 20’s, I promised myself two things: I would get my scuba diving open water certification and I would climb a mount Kinabalu in Borneo. Well, I boarded strange buses, ventured off the beaten path, and ate bizarre concoctions of color and aroma, but I found that as a solo traveler, I was crippled by the thought of overcoming the larger challenges alone.
Lesson: We can’t always know why something scares us, but we are not solitary creatures and we are surrounded by support, even if we can’t always see it. When I’m feeling most trapped, I pray for support. Every time I do, comfort, strength, and assistance eventually come my way.
Take action: Be honest, clear, and committed, but always ask for help. Being in pain is actually a powerful place to be. When blind faith and conviction is all we have, we become willing to make the changes necessary to see possibilities we wouldn’t have otherwise.
3. The Highest Rung of the Ladder
Perhaps where fear has held me back the most, and caused me the most enduring anxiety, is in the workplace. I have a repetitive fear of authority and confrontation, a fear of being reprimanded for not doing something as well as I know I could. Often I have allowed these fears and frustrations to turn into bigger resentments, sleepless nights, and even gut wrenching physical discomfort. Somewhere along the line I decided that I was not good at getting what I wanted. I figured that being honest and asking directly for what I wanted was a negative thing. After all, shouldn’t I just work my ass off and be rewarded accordingly? Wasn’t I owed success?
Lesson: Asking for what you want often gets you exactly what you want. It’s not forward or pushy to be true to your needs as a human being and express them. But don’t expect others to know your needs for you. Find the courage to stand your ground and you will be rewarded with the lightness of honesty.
Take action: Plan ahead, be prepared, and be honest. Determine the things you know are necessary to be truly happy in the workplace and promise yourself to not waver – write them down 100 times or sign a contract with yourself if you have to! Then speak them, read them, or send them in an email.
4. The End of the Aisle
I haven’t been without love. In fact, I’ve been surrounded by loving friends and family my whole life. I’ve had significant loving relationships with men too, all leading up to the life-long partnership that I’m currently in. The difference now, is that I am headed down the aisle for the first time, fearlessly committing the rest of my life to someone. Fears in love and relationships are common. Few among us can honestly say that we haven’t panicked at the thought of spending our lives with one person. The changing landscape of love and dating is frightening. But for me, my fear is that I won’t be seen as perfect by my partner, or that our love will change. I have a need to perform at my best, which is a healthy goal to strive for, but not when it comes with a caveat that any deviation from assumed perfection is destructive.
Lesson: When we fall deeply in love, it can feel as though the world revolves around our partner. It’s possible to think so highly of another that we want to embody them and we elevate them above us, putting them on a pedestal. As beautiful as it is, this can create a lack in us too – highlighting what they have that we don’t. To develop a truly respectful and healthy relationship, we must come together as equals.
Take action: Use visualization to reinforce equality. In meditation, visualize yourself standing across from your partner at equal heights. Next visualize a cord connecting you, exchanging energy between your hearts. Know that you are worthy of equal love and that only in true love would you not be able to disappoint someone by just being your true self.
Originally published on Good Men Project as 4 Lessons in Anxiety Management that Will Change your Life
Trevor Ellestad is a writer, an herbalist, and an ex-yoga teacher who spends his days creating plant-based magic at Vega. Trevor keeps a tidy home with his partner and their as of yet un-named spider monkey of a kitty cat in Vancouver, BC. At night, Trevor likes to surround himself with plants and obsess over the seemingly simple lives of cats and robots.