It’s estimated that 40 million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder—and I’m one of them.
Some might say I’m just a worrier, or fidgety at times. Trust me, it’s more than that.
It took me years to accept that I would be dealing with an anxiety disorder for the rest of my life. Ironically, it wasn’t until I embraced my anxiety that I was truly able to practice living in the present moment.
As I came to terms with the rogue chemistry in my brain, I sought productive ways to manage my anxiety.
A dance class during my senior year of college was the beginning. Our twice-a-week gatherings became my sanctuary. We learned breathing techniques, cross-lateral and parallel movements. I also actively practiced meditation using both class sessions and writing assignments as a medium.
Fast forward two years: Stress was at an all-time high after completing an Americorps term of service and moving across the country. Once again, my anxiety reared its head, but in ways that I could no longer ignore.
While seeking the help of medical professionals, I also sought out things that once made me feel at peace. I found solace by practicing mindful meditation and by reading a number of books by the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. As I read one of his books, this quote stopped me suddenly:
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
All I could do was sit there, recognizing this in myself. I was scared of feeling good and happy, because I truly did not know what it would feel like.
Each day, I carried these words with me—the understanding that I deserve genuine happiness, and that achieving it requires facing the unknown. And suddenly, the road ahead wasn’t so blurred by anxiety.
I found joy in things I had once dreamed of. I began writing almost every day, sharing myself with strangers and friends. Taking the time to enjoy an amazing (and often far too expensive) cup of coffee without distraction became a calming ritual. Spending time in nature, observing the world around me, became a soulful and uplifting experience rather than a workout.
I began taking chances.
I quit a consistent and stable teaching position to spend more time writing. I began to explore and re-evaluate my relationships—with myself, my family, and friends. I sought out experiences rather than waiting for them to find me.
Finally, I felt that I was spending my time productively and joyfully. Each evening, I made myself dinner, drank a glass of wine, and smiled. Life was changing fast and for the better, because I was living in the present.
By living life in real-time and enjoying every moment, I finally found myself happy. Anxiety does not just disappear, but I have discovered ways to not only lessen my anxieties but also to truly live in the present moment.
I’ve moved passed the comfort that comes with dwelling in something familiar. I have become a person who strives to live with intention.
Author: R.R. Noall
Image: @rrnoall Instagram
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Emily Bartran
Social editor: Leah Sugerman