*Disclaimer: Please note, I am not a mental health professional, and this article is not intended to serve as medical or therapeutic advice. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, please talk to your doctor or seek out a certified mental health professional.
I have anxiety.
Not just the “I worry about things sometimes” anxiety.
Actual, diagnosed anxiety.
It’s not something I talk about much in this space. But lately, I’ve realized how important it is to be transparent about not only the successes we achieve in business but, perhaps more importantly, the unique struggles we each face as entrepreneurs.
Because while, on the surface, it may seem like I always have it all together with the right systems, ops, and rhythms to build successful creative businesses– there’s more to my journey than meets the eye.
Fortunately, I’ve gotten the help I need, put in the work, and do a pretty darn good job of managing my anxiety these days, if I may say so myself.
BUT…that wasn’t always the case.
In fact, I didn’t even realize that the level of anxiety and worrying I experienced wasn’t completely 100% “normal” until recently.
Like…only after I had kids.
When people casually say, “don’t worry about it,”…I literally can’t NOT worry about it.
And when I say “No worries!” I actually mean all the worries…I’m just not going to put that on you. (Which, I now acknowledge, means I end up shouldering the burden alone).
Can you relate?!
In this blog, I hope to share a bit about my experience with anxiety to shine a light on the challenges and gifts it has presented in my life. I also aim to share some of the resources and tools that have helped me manage my anxiety and allow me to live in harmony with it today.
With the proper support, I am now able to continue achieving my goals and mindfully leveraging my “type A” nature while also honoring and caring for myself in the process.
If you walk away from this blog feeling a little more seen and a little less alone, then being vulnerable and sharing my story will have been worth it.
I didn’t know that feeling the way I felt WASN’T normal.
I guess when you live a certain way for your entire life, you assume everyone must feel that way too.
So, it wasn’t until after I had my kids, well into my early 30’s, that I actually realized something was off.
Postpartum support, open communication around mental health, and honest, vulnerable, and loving conversations with close friends and family saved me.
These conversations with trusted confidants started to signal that something wasn’t quite right. Things could be easier. I could get support and help…and so (finally) I did.
I sought out professional help, and my eyes opened wider.
I quickly learned that I had been dealing with anxiety MY WHOLE LIFE.
It wasn’t until my therapist helped me pull back the “metaphorical curtain” that I started to see anxiety-induced patterns I’d established early on that I’d carried into adulthood.
Specifically, I was made aware of a habit that began as far back as elementary school!
As a kid, I was never able to answer a question off the cuff. While others were sharing their thoughts and comments, I would spend the whole time mentally rehearsing what I was going to say over and over until it was my turn.
When it came to read-alouds, I was already skimming ahead in case I got called on so I could be ready to read the text and not mess up!
Yeah… that was anxiety.
Fun fact: I still do this EVERY TIME I’m at an event, and we have to go around to share out and introduce ourselves. I’m so worried about what I’m going to say that I never know the name of anyone else or what they said as their fun fact! I’m trying to be better about it and am still a work in progress!
It’s interesting to think about how much of a role anxiety has played in my life. Without even realizing it, anxiety was hard at work shaping my experiences, approaches, and even my personality.
Once I started therapy, I realized many of the patterns associated with my anxiety were unhealthy. However, I was also able to acknowledge the positive things in my life that had come about BECAUSE OF my anxiety.
Without anxiety, I don’t know that I would be where I am today.
→ Anxiety likely fueled my straight A’s in school. I worried about ever getting anything wrong, so I studied hard. I never wanted to miss an assignment or forget to hand anything in, so I was hyper-organized.
Anxiety, I’m looking at you.
Being super organized made me feel more in control and less anxious, so I cut out a bunch of those “what-ifs” by getting ahead of them. I managed my anxiety by overmanaging my schoolwork.
→ I even see anxiety’s hand in the college I chose to attend. I was determined to attend the BEST school because I believed that would give me the best chance of getting a job and being employable after graduation. Because, anxiety taunted me, “what was I going to do if I couldn’t get a job after college?”
So I made every choice I could with the goal of checking that worry off my list.
My anxiety followed me from my school and college days into my professional life.
Looking back, my career was so clearly guided by anxiety.
I successfully climbed the corporate ladder from designer to project manager, to Director of Client Services & Director of Ops, to Chief Operations Officer (COO).
I went from managing projects to accounts to portfolios to entire multi-million dollar businesses because I was REALLY freakin’ good at it.
And you know why I was so damn good at it…?
Because I had a plan A, B, C, D, E, F, and G… for EVERYTHING. Every single scenario.
And you know why I had those plans?
BECAUSE MY ANXIETY MADE ME.
My anxiety played out every scenario and made me worry constantly. So I planned for every possible outcome to feel more prepared and less anxious.
I could masterfully keep the details of everything I was juggling straight because I was hyper-organized. At the same time, I was so stressed about potentially dropping the ball or forgetting something, so my fear kept me vigilant.
Anxiety, I learned, is both my curse and my superpower.
The interesting thing is, I’ve been REWARDED for my anxiety throughout my life. So, it’s no wonder I never looked at it as a problem until much later in life.
But in order to continue to function at that level, I created coping mechanisms to ease my anxiety that have become inextricably linked with my identity. And I’ve sacrificed a lot to satisfy my anxiety.
While the outcomes of my anxiety were often seen as positive traits, I slowly but surely started to see the darker side of my anxious nature.
Anxiety kept me from being fully present in those early days of motherhood. My obsession with planning, organizing, and anticipating everything caused me to miss out on some special moments AND kept me from properly caring for myself during those crucial postpartum days.
And it didn’t stop with my personal life.
One of the biggest ways anxiety held me back professionally may actually surprise you:
My anxiety stopped me from launching my business for SO long.
It was too uncertain.
Too much risk.
But then, I reframed it.
With the right coaching and support I finally decided to bet on myself. And I’d bet on myself any day because, ironically, I know I’m always prepared (thanks again, anxiety).
So no, anxiety doesn’t make me who I am. But it has shaped my life and my business. It’s like my sidekick, always along for the ride for better or worse.
Do I like laying up at night worrying about worst-case scenarios?
(thankfully, I’ve mostly got that under control now)
But, do I love that it’s helped drive me to reach the level I have?
So how can you reframe your “curses” or burdens?
How can you see them as an opportunity or maybe even your superpower?
Because a shift in perspective paired with the right support can make all the difference.
Working with a therapist has really helped me manage my anxiety in both my personal and professional life. As a result, I’m in a much better place today.
She’s given me tools, techniques, exercises, and perspectives that empower me to make choices to support my mental health while balancing the parts of me that make me so good at the work I do. My therapist has helped me see my patterns and triggers, so I can manage my anxiety in a productive and positive way.
Here are some of my favorite exercises.
Please consult your doctor or certified mental health professional before introducing any new exercises into your regimen. These are simply meant to be informative in nature, and I hope you find them helpful.
I use this technique anytime I feel myself spiraling out of control or worrying about a specific situation, decision, or choice. Instead of allowing myself to start generating hundreds of different scenarios (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), I focus on thinking through ONE worst-case scenario.
And then, instead of just dwelling on that like I would have in the past, I take steps to create a plan around that scenario. This allows me to understand how I will handle the situation should it arise and leaves me feeling more empowered and reassured moving forward.
Plus, most times, this exercise will help me see that the worst-case scenario is highly unlikely.
For example, I leaned on this exercise recently when my husband and I were in the process of planning for him to leave his job and start his own business!
We determined that these factors would be the worst-case scenario:
→ the business doesn’t go as planned and we don’t make any money in X amount of time (we chose 6 months).
Our solution and plan forward was:
→ If (after 6 months) this happens, he would look for a job.
Having clear, time-based expectations and a plan to handle that worst-case scenario made me feel more confident in our decision and made me realize that the worst case really wasn’t as scary as it seemed at first.
Try this the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed about a big choice or transition in your creative business.
The purpose of this exercise is to avoid or stop an anxiety-induced spiral.
When I feel anxiety coming on, I record each and every thought that pops into my brain. I use a journal, but you can even use a quick voice memo on your phone if you’re on the go!
This simple but impactful tool can help you track your spiral and trace it back to the root before you build it up into something bigger than it really is.
I find this to be a powerful way to prevent the spiral before it happens or stop it in its tracks before it escalates.
By capturing these thoughts you’re not only acknowledging them and becoming more aware of your thought patterns, but you’re also able to weigh them and create a plan to overcome whatever prompted the spiral.
You can take this a step further and brainstorm objections against each concern that arises. It’s my way of “logic-ing” myself out of an emotional spiral.
It actually reminds me of a sales exercise where you think through the objections people are likely to have related to your product, service, or offer and try to combat those objections proactively.
However, instead of selling a product to someone, you’re looking at the stories you’re telling yourself that aren’t serving you and disqualifying those thoughts by proving them wrong.
The beauty of it is, all you need is a journal (or even a post it) and the intention to keep your anxiety in check!
Diet and exercise have made a huge impact on my anxiety levels. I’ve found that moving my body and nourishing myself well can help me reduce my anxiety.
I build this into my daily life intentionally, and it’s one of the things I value most about being an entrepreneur and working for myself from home!
I take daily morning and mid-day walks. Not only is the movement good for my body, but it’s an opportunity to be outside, connect with nature, and clear my thoughts.
I prepare meals and snacks ahead of time whenever possible, so I can eat regularly throughout the day to ensure I have the energy I need to handle stressful situations or decisions that arise. I also make an effort to stay hydrated and always keep my water bottle handy!
My journey with anxiety has shown me that there is NOTHING wrong with me. Anxiety is something I have that I am managing.
I often think of it in the same way I treat my asthma. There are times when I can prevent it or reduce it with the right choices (lung exercises, proactively using my inhaler, cleaning my air vents). However, I can’t control everything, and once it hits, I cannot just push through an asthma attack OR an anxiety attack!
I am grateful to have the resources and tools to make living with anxiety as a mom and an entrepreneur more manageable, sustainable, and healthy.
If you or a loved one are in need of anxiety support, please reach out to a trusted healthcare provider or call the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) at 240-485-1001.