By Jessie Douglass-Smith McGraw
10 min read
Up until my early 30’s, I spent most of my life living with varying degrees of anxiety. I vacillated from extreme anxiety when I was little because I was always worried my parents were going to divorce, to a low hum of anxiety that was my constant, back to extreme anxiety as a professional dancer in my twenties that got so bad that I would throw up before auditions and performances; I spent my entire life believing that my anxiety, my suffering inside, was caused by what was going on around me. When finally, amidst a level of anxiety that got so bad it spiraled into a depression while working in the entertainment industry as an agent, I had a realization that would change my life forever and become my life’s work to share with the world… with you.
That realization came when I was stuck in a spiral of habitual thinking after work – thoughts about my happiness (or lack thereof), thoughts of feeling lost without a purpose, thoughts of how was I ever going to be successful – ugh, the loop. The spiral turned into a full-blown anxiety attack when I decided to get in the shower to try and feel better (changing my outsides to try and feel better INSIDE). I felt a wave of exhaustion come over me, not just physical exasperation, but more so, mental. It’s as if I kept going to the graveyard of my dead thoughts looking for aliveness…looking for something new, something fresh, something that would help me feel better. I hung my head and let the water run over me when BAM! An insight… “Everything you’re feeling is coming from your thoughts, not the world around you.” My breath was instantly taken away. If my suffering was always up to me, if it was always coming from WITHIN ME, that meant it didn’t matter what was going on around me, EVER. I could be content and peaceful at any given moment, if I didn’t take my thoughts so seriously.
On my journey of understanding what had happened to me in that moment of life-changing realization, I discovered what thought is actually made of. Have you ever thought about that? What is a thought made of? Well, it’s made of the same thing that powers our entire body up. Energy. It makes sense because we don’t have to think to ourselves “heart, beat, heart, beat” all day long, do we? No! Because while the biochemistry of our body is always at work, without the energy behind it to get it working, to give our body aliveness, we’re a skin suit with a bunch of meat inside not doing anything.
So if each and every thought is made of the same thing, “What should I have for lunch today” and “How am I ever going to be successful?” is actually made of the same thing!! So how and why do we get stuck on the heavy ones? Because the moment we believe a thought means something about us or our lives, we grab ahold of it, then we’re hypnotized by the thought storm that follows.
So how can you tell when a thought isn’t helpful to you? You have a built-in alert system in your body that is consistently letting you know where you are in the quality of your thinking. ANY time that you feel upset in any capacity, from tense and tight, to full blown anxiety attack or depression – that is your body very simply letting you know that you’re believing a bunch of thought that isn’t helping you. It’s warning you that you aren’t seeing life clearly.
Now here’s the kicker, have you ever experienced a lightness or an ease in life? Maybe when you’re on vacation or spending time with family, while you’re with your friends or enjoying your favorite meal? That is you experiencing your well-being, your wisdom, that is your CONSTANT. It doesn’t go anywhere, ever. It can’t be damaged, it can’t be lost. The only reason you feel upset in other situations or in your ‘regular’ life, is because you’re being distracted by your unhelpful thoughts. Period.
So if you find yourself in a thought storm, remember that you have the free will to choose to believe or not believe what’s moving through your brain. It doesn’t mean anything about you, it’s merely throwing a bunch of ideas at you to see what sticks.
I hope this sheds some light on how ordinary the experience of anxious thoughts can be, and how peaceful you are underneath it all.
Jessie Douglass-Smith McGraw is a Mindful Health practitioner and speaker with a thriving practice helping humans from all backgrounds, all over the globe. She has been featured in Goop, created a Mindful Health program at the prestigious Bloc Talent Agency and hosts her own podcast, What Moves You with Jessie on iTunes and Spotify. You can follow her at whatmovesyoula.com and @whatmovesyoula
Having anxiety is a battle that is hard to fight alone. Please check out some of these other articles and resources:
Black Mental Health Resources & Networks
The What, Why, And How Of Perfectionism
Mental Health as a Priority in the Workplace
CRISIS AND SUPPORT PHONE/TEXT LINES
Mental Health is a Team Sport: I Have Anxiety/Depression and my Husband Doesn’t, But We Both Fight It.