My Anxiety and How Yoga & Meditation Changed Everything Part One: The Worry Journal
Part One: The Worry Journal
I never really thought I was someone who struggled with anxiety. I instead identified as someone who worried a lot, got overwhelmed easily, endured “meltdowns” from time to time, and was debilitatingly afraid of some things. If you understand anxiety and are reading this, you may be chuckling right now because as it turns out, my struggles might’ve been anxiety.
I only made this conscious connection in the last year. I’ve been teaching yoga and meditation longer than that, have been working with individuals with anxiety and have always felt like I could relate to their experiences without really realizing why. Then last year I was talking in depth with a friend about her anxiety and I was seeing my own experience through that lens when it all became clear to me.
This blog post is one of four, detailing my story with anxiety and how meditation and yoga has transformed my life.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been aware of the things around me and have been curious to understand them.
My grandma loves to tell the story of how she first discovered this about me when I was three. She and I were playing with cardboard multicolored blocks in the waiting room of a doctor’s office as my mom was sick and inside with the doctor.
We were stacking the blocks when suddenly my three-year-old self kicked them over, put my little hands on my hips, looked at my grandma with a pouty face and said, “let’s talk about feelings”. She was amazed that someone so young not only knew what was going on, but wanted to talk about it.
Going to daycare for me was agony as I tried to separate from my mother each morning. My poor teachers had to hold me as I screamed for her. I remember hearing one of the teachers in my kindergarten class tell my mom as she picked me up one day how it wasn’t normal how hard I cried for her each morning. That comment made me feel alone, different, and only made me want to cry harder.
Years later I was sitting in a black metal chair thumbing the rough cloth of the cushioning underneath my thighs in the basement of a church as a therapist talked to me about worries. She assigned me homework to keep a “worry journal”, where I had to make a list of all my worries and bring it back in to her to talk about.
I still remember the little leather journal my parents gave me with narrow paper and tiny lines for writing.
My young, perfectionist self even then, tried to be so careful and neat as I wrote down my worries in the dark lines of the paper with a sticky ballpoint pen.
It seemed like worries had been a part of who I was, and while I wanted to talk about it as a three-year-old, as I got older it was more difficult. I often kept it to myself, shoving it down.
I was quiet and shy, and yet the worry journal seemed to be a simple way to let my feelings out.
I remembered the concept of my worry journal as an adult four years ago when I was working a lot, grieving the death of my father, and had a very difficult time getting through a full night’s sleep without a nightmare. I tried different supplements to help me sleep, chamomile tea before bed, hot baths, and no matter what as soon as my head hit the pillow, my thoughts ran through everything I had avoided all day.
I thought I’d give the worry journal a try once again. I kept a small journal – soft brown faux leather with warm manila-colored pages and large spaces – and would jot down everything I was worried about before bed, without editing or monitoring the words.
I put pen to paper and let myself word-vomit everything that was a source of stress from the smallest detail to the largest. Some days it was a short list, others a few pages, yet the act of putting pen to paper then closing the book and setting it aside, allowed my brain to acknowledge, process, and gently release my concerns enough so I could finally get some much needed rest.
My nightmares stopped, and sleep got easier. I no longer use a worry journal regularly today, but every time I start to feel like my mind races too fast when I try to go to sleep, it is a tool I pull out and put to good use.
I used the worry journal only a few times as a kid in my memory, though I wonder how much it could have helped me if it had it evolved into a daily habit. I wonder if it would’ve eased my experience through years of sickness or even prevented me from getting sick.
Get a worry journal cheat sheet below, including ideas on how to start one for adults and kids!
When I entered middle school something shifted for me. I went from a kid who worried but still was happy a lot of the time, to feeling like I was too tired to face the world. Like all the worrying had finally caught up to me, even though I wasn’t aware of that at the time.
I remember being in the hallway of school, kneeling down stuffing books from my locker into my backpack and feeling like the weight of my arm was too heavy to carry, I let it drop down to the ground and took a deep breath in confusion.
Not long after that I developed mono and a tick-borne disease that kept me home from school. Once I was sick, it was easy to focus on only that; the physical symptoms of nausea, pain, discomfort, and could continue shoving down the emotional worry, which is exactly what I did.
I got sick again in seventh grade, eight grade, and again in tenth grade. I missed a lot of school, got homeschooled during that time and spent a lot of my life watching movies inside in pajamas, eating small amounts of bland foods.
The situation made my anxiety feel better and kept it worse at the same time. I was left alone, allowed to be in whatever mood I was in because I was sick. I didn’t have to put on a smile if I didn’t feel like it, because no one expected it.
Being sick saved me from having to face things that made me anxious or worried, but in the same token, I didn’t develop any other coping skill – being sick was my coping skill.
Sickness as a coping skill – a break from life, something physical to focus on instead of harder emotions, was something that stayed with me, even after I got healthy, into my adult life.
Whenever I didn’t take care of myself in the way I needed, took on more than I desired, said yes to too many things, I’d get a cold, sinus infection, stomach flu. The year after my father passed away, I got one cold after another.
Then I deepened my yoga practice, and began a daily meditation practice and that all began to change.
Tune in to next week’s blog post to learn how sickness affected my life, how I found healthier coping skills, and more about my journey with anxiety for Part Two: What Are Healthy Coping Skills?