Learning to Grow from Anxiety

It’s only a few hours into your work day and the stomach cramps start. By lunchtime, IBS has taken you to and from the bathroom half a dozen times. In addition to IBS, you feel nauseated. Feeling faint, you hold onto your desk while you’re sitting down. You shake it off, tell your colleagues you’re just feeling a bit dizzy. And you keep your head down, hoping that your 8.5 hour day doesn’t turn into another 10 or 11 hour day. Hoping that nobody notices you’re barely holding it together.

The next morning, you’re woken up by a terrifying jolt as your brain runs through all the work-related tasks for the day ahead. It’s like any other day, but today you have a particular pain in your chest. Your breath is short, shallow and just doesn’t seem to be able to ‘catch up’. The tightness in your chest spreads and intensifies. You try to inhale but you can’t. A churning in your stomach matches the whirling of your lightheadedness. You’ve felt this before and you ask yourself again, why am I here, why does this keep happening?


Image from Ryan McGuire

From one Rut to Another

Not so long ago, I found myself in a bit of a rut. Not an uncommon rut, and certainly not an unfamiliar one. I was between temp roles and teaching yoga, trying to make ends meet – and starting to struggle. That kind of stress starts to impact your feelings of self-worth. You start to worry you’ve made bad choices, that you’re not cut out for this. So, I decided I would go back to what I ‘know best’. You know, return to that corporate world I’ve always told myself would be the end of me one day. It was just another kind of familiar rut.

And now, here I am, a little way into this new full-time role I’ve been working so hard at, giving it my everything. The hours are long and the salary is small – and I’m waiting for that ‘good feeling’ that’s supposed to come from jobs that sacrifice salary for enjoyment. I’m feeling this intense pressure building – internally and externally. The anxiety returns.

Who Invited Anxiety to the Party Anyway?

So here we are. I’m back in this particular kind of work environment and I know it well. It’s that familiar place, where anxiety is standing in the corner – like someone at a party that you don’t want to make eye contact with. But eventually you do make eye contact and just as you start to walk over to the buffet table they intercept you. And all you can think is; “Why am I caught up in this conversation, who invited this dude?”.

Ok, I admit, probably not the best metaphor – but it illustrates a familiar scenario and how anxiety doesn’t just ‘go away’. And the very fact that I’ve been in this situation before makes me think – why am I back here again?

They say that we come back to situations because there is still something to learn, that there’s a lesson in every experience. Usually, I find these sayings unhelpful. But in this case, maybe there is some truth in it.

Why am I back here in this situation? What choices led me here? What can I do differently? What is it about living with anxiety that I’m yet to learn? And, how can I grow from this experience?

Learning to Grow from the Experience

As many times as I’ve endured these experiences with anxiety, whether it’s socially or work-stress related, I’ve always learned something new. It might be a new trigger, a new physical or emotional response, or a new way of coping. There’s always something new.

In this most recent experience I was humbled by the thought that, as much as I think I’ve grown and learned to manage or handle anxiety, I haven’t changed quite as much as I thought I had. If the environment is the same and I had changed, then perhaps things might play out differently. But given two variables of me and my environment, if the outcome is the same, then nothing has changed. And here lies the opportunity to grow from the experience.

In the past, my first point of creating change has been to look externally. I’ve asked myself ‘what can I change around me to help me with this?’. And more often I have made life-changing decisions as a result. Quit that job, leave that relationship, move out of that house. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to look internally at what changes needed to come from me.

I had been living with a certain expectation or a certain idea. The idea that I could have my one ‘great’ lightbulb moment with anxiety and, like a caterpillar, emerge from a transformational experience as an entirely different person. What seems more appropriate, and more accurate to me now, is the idea that each experience forces me to outgrow my old self. Perhaps more like a snake that moves through the roughage of its habitat to shed its skin. And the reality is the human experience of constant change.

Coming up next…

In the next few posts, I’m sharing more about learning from the anxiety experience. I’ll also share my story of healing with compassion, listening to our inner voice and how the 9-5 life actually helped my yoga journey.


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