It's a pesky little concept.
Anxiety is something I never really thought I struggled with. And, to be fair, I don't have a chronic anxiety problem. It isn't something for which I take medication or see a counselor (though man oh man do I believe in counseling and therapy!). But it is something I've learned more about recently, and I'll tell you why.
First, let me share how anxiety creeps into my world.
Mine is a social anxiety. Sure, I experience other types from time to time - anxiety about work, about money, about big looming life decisions - but the majority of the time, my anxiety shows up in one of the following ways:
- Inviting people over, then stressing to an absurd degree about my house (what it looks like, whether it's nice enough, hosting, etc.).
- Tightness in my chest at the thought of an upcoming social gathering with people I don't know very well and whether people will like me.
- Playing a social interaction back in my head (sometimes over and over) and worrying whether that thing I said or did has made a person start spontaneously disliking me.
- Knowing someone is upset with me and being slowly eaten alive by that information.
Have you been there?
I know many of my friends struggle with anxiety in a more debilitating way: playing back the day's conversations long into the night, restless, unable to sleep until they know beyond a doubt that they didn't offend or upset anyone; that same tight-chestedness, but all the time and spanning from activity to activity; being so racked with doubt and fear that everyday decisions can seem overwhelming.
Do you relate?
I think anxiety, lots of times, is born out of being sensitive. And I don't mean "sensitive" as in, "get your feelings hurt easily." I mean truly sensitive - the definition of the word - a person who senses. If you're a person like me who senses the social balance in a room when you walk into it, or who senses when someone is upset before other people catch on, or who reads about tragedy in the world and feels like it has happened to you: that's sensitivity. And I think that's a great quality (though I'm admittedly a little biased). It makes for creative, loving, intuitive people. But it can also be a tinderbox for anxiety.
This is where my friend Meredith comes in.
There's a concept in carpentry (h/t Glennon Doyle Melton) called that really applies here. When the joists (the weight-bearing pieces of a building that preserve the structural integrity) get overloaded with bearing the weight of the building, carpenters go back in and add reinforcements. They add a board on either side of the joist, creating a stronger, more stable structure. The act of adding those extra boards is called "sistering."
When I first heard this explained, a lightbulb went off in my head. I don't have any biological sisters (hey, Parker!); instead, I have a handful of girlfriends who are more like family. All throughout my life, when I've needed extra support - when the weight of my own world has become too heavy - I have looked to my left and to my right and found my sisters to help me bear the burden.
In this particular case, at this particular juncture in my life, the concepts of sistering and dealing with anxiety fit like a hand in a glove.
Meredith, one of my sisters, has taken her own winding and fascinating path to end up exactly where she is right now. She has done loads of research about anxiety and has dealt with it in very real ways herself. She's a certified yoga instructor and a pharmacist, so she's deeply familiar with the inner-workings of both the mind and the body. Meredith decided a few months ago that she was going to use the work she'd done to overcome her own anxiety toward helping others overcome theirs. Aside from just talking about anxiety, this program involves movement - actual yoga - to accompany the mantras and lessons you learn each session. I took Meredith's pilot program in February and noticed a tangible difference in the way I moved through the world:
Suddenly, I felt lighter, more at peace, less mentally frantic. I wasn't re-tracing my conversational steps. I wasn't freaking out when people came over. I could separate my thoughts from my SELF - the deepest and truest part of me. I could be still. It was world-rocking and incredible.
Since her course, there have been moments when I slip back into my old habits. When that happens, I have a list of mantras (provided by Meredith's coursework) that I return to to remind myself of what's important; of how to stay grounded. It has helped me enormously.
You can get more of an idea of what the course is like by visiting this link and listening to the free workshop Meredith put together to explain the program. Stick with it - if it sounds a little "rah-rah-cheerleader" for you at the beginning, just give it some time. I can guarantee that you'll learn something, be intrigued, and, if you decide to pursue the course, your life will be changed by this important and meaningful work.
Because y'all - we have ONE LIFE. Who wants to live it tied up in knots about things beyond their control??
Life is hard. Anxiety is paralyzing. Sistering is important. So let me lend you one of mine.