I haven’t felt anxious in months, but that doesn’t mean the anxiety has gone away. In every way, my life has to remain as balanced as possible in order to cope with the anxious feelings and depression that plagued me for years.
While I’ve kept quiet about it for a while now for the sake of others, I’ve decided it’s time to come clean. I’m done. I don’t care if my discussing anxiety makes others uncomfortable. I no longer view anxiety as my enemy, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many people keep this dark secret locked inside, unaware that they aren’t alone.
We are not alone.
I’m not famous, and I probably never will be. So, for those who doubt that anxiety is a real problem (I know there are some self-righteous skeptics out there), here’s some semi-famous people that I can identify with, and who I respect for sharing their story with the world:
Nomadic Matt: Read the number-one travel blogger’s article about how he is dealing with anxiety by changing his life, and what led him to do so.
Michelle Phan: Who recently returned to rebrand her company, Em Cosmetics, from an extensive digital and business detox in order to ‘heal herself.’
KevJumba: Popular YouTube star almost since the beginning of YouTube stardom. He disappeared from the Net for almost four years and has recently revealed that he was in a serious car accident and–from his return video, it sounds like Kev was severely depressed and perhaps even considered self-harm.
Lauren of Never Ending Footsteps: A traveler who had to step down from the tireless, exhausting “full-time travel” lifestyle. She has suffered from panic attacks, as I have, yet we share the same view: that even anxiety should not prevent you from traveling.
So what’s the key?
This post has been swimming around my head for a year now, since my blog was founded. The blog has taken many different shapes and is continuing to mold itself into a totally different monster than I originally conceived.
Doubtless, there are many avenues I can take with this, and many more follow-up articles to be written. Including, but not limited to, the issues of living abroad with a health problem or how to deal with travel-induced depression.
Those who follow my blog have already learned a few of my anxiety-related weaknesses:
- I don’t cope well with corporate-induced stress.
- I have repatriated myself once, and I hope never to again.
- I struggle to maintain a schedule and healthy habits.
Therefore, I’ve had to reshape my entire life in order to compensate for my weaknesses.
The key is finding balance.
I know myself pretty well, at least as far as my limited energy reserve. So I try to keep track of how I feel from day to day and compensate when I feel weaker or stronger.
For example, I was so busy over the past two weeks that today is the first I’ve been able to devote the entire day to working and relaxing at home. And it’s taken me all day–until 5 PM–to get started on this article.
Did you catch that? I have a busy life with responsibilities outside of the home, but when I need a day at home, I am still being productive. How’s that for balanced?
Where anxiety comes from
It’s my understanding that some people always have had anxiety and perhaps always will, while others suffer from situation-related or tragedy-induced anxiety.
As far as I know, my anxiety was the latter. I never knew anxiety until the car accident happened. (I feel you, Kevjumba.)
Unfortunately, the timing was so ironic. The accident was a mere 16 days after I returned from my first big Asia trip. Yes–after 85 days surviving seven foreign countries, I get injured upon my homecoming.
Physically, the results were plenty. I had severe pain every day and my neurological condition began to steadily degrade. I had insomnia, and on a rare night when I could sleep at all, I could only fall asleep on my right side.
The events the car accident set in motion made everything worse. I was stuck in the States, for who knew how long. Repatriation was killing me, but I couldn’t go back to Asia as soon as I had planned. I lost a client in the business I was attempting to build at that time, due to my degrading mental abilities. I had to drop my part-time job which was suddenly far too physical.
Ten months after the accident, I got in another car accident (also not my fault–I was rear-ended). This one was worse. I had a concussion that time, plus a more serious whiplash.
Everything went even further downhill. From customers at the restaurant thinking I was bonkers for forgetting to bring them their water five times (I was unaware of this at the time but was informed later), to me having emotional outbursts and anxiety attacks that drove everyone around me away from me.
It was all a blur, but finally, I began to realize that I needed to see a counselor.
Talking things out with a counselor might have helped a bit, but I figured out how to deal with depression and anxiety on my own.
To let go.
I let go of the connections that had been damaged and focused on building new ones instead.
I let go of my self-centeredness and tried to focus on anything but myself instead.
I let go of my job, which was increasing the stress and worsening my health even further.
My secrets to coping with anxiety
I live abroad, rather than constantly travel abroad. Wherever I go, I settle down, get an apartment, make friends, and learn the language as best I can. If I was constantly on the go, I’m sure I would have eventually had to slow down as Lauren has. You can only go so long without stopping for a breather or companionship.
I recognize my limits and don’t push myself. I learned the hard way that I have to strike the balance between being social and spending time with myself. I get a lot of energy from being around people, as an extrovert. But I still need time to recharge in-between “extrovert cycles,” if that makes sense.
I try to stay healthy to keep hormones, stress, and physical pain in check. I keep stocked with chemical-free supplies from the States. Otherwise, I use food-grade products like vinegar and baking soda as cleaning supplies. I buy organic vegetables and natural meats as much as possible (especially when in Vietnam, the number one country for pesticide issues). I seek out a competent chiropractor as soon as possible. I get massages as often as I can afford or have time for. I do Pilates and stretches every day, to keep my neck, back, and hip pain at bay. I always try to locate a Western health-food store, where possible, as well. I decorate my apartment with air-flitering plants to fight the effects of air pollution (so I can breathe and sleep easier).
I do my best to keep in touch. I have friends around the world who have my back. (Even if it’s been years since they’ve seen my back…) We have each other to vent to, and complain about stuff, etc. It helps a ton, especially when you feel culturally isolated, to talk with people from back home.
I do my best to let go of perfectionism. Self-imposed pressure can be damaging. There’s no better cure for perfectionism when traveling and learning a language! Mistakes are bound to happen–and are no big deal. Shrug them off, laugh them off, and move on. They say that you’re only afraid of something until it happens–so the more mistakes you make, the less they will matter to you in the long run. Even if it’s a very long run.
I keep high expectations between myself and my clients. It’s not easy being a perfectionist. Since I impose such high standards upon myself, though, I don’t need a corporate office scheduling my every shift and looking over my shoulder. I have developed a fool-proof yet procrastination-friendly work schedule that keeps my company rolling just enough to keep me fed, clothed, and sheltered.
I enjoy traveling alone. Soon, I will be publishing an article that focuses on the best aspects of traveling alone and why everyone needs to do it at least once in their life. But for now I’ll just say that there’s no better way to boost your creativity, confidence, and self-acceptance than by learning how to travel independently. You’ll change as a person–in countless amazing ways!