Immediately after my father passed, I started waking up in the mornings in the midst of intense anxiety attacks. I’d wake UP and immediately be in that space. My chest would be tight. A growing and huge lump blocking my throat. Feeling overwhelmed to the point that I couldn't move. The intensity would fluctuate and up until not that long ago, if it stretched out and grew day after day, over time I’d find myself in a depressive episode.
In the two years since these anxiety attacks began, I have learned how to live with the feelings. If I’m doing my other practices and am grounded within myself I can reason my way out of an attack’s grips. But there have been periods, up until now, that manage to grab me hard and drag me into the depression.
I recently went on a road trip with the dearest of friends. Going in the first place was me stepping out of my comfort zone and habitual thinking (who goes on vacation in the middle of the week for no reason?). But I had consciously been working on challenging my habitual thoughts and went just to see what I could see. Plus, I get to spend quality time with one of my favorite humans.
We started off with a pretty lengthy road trip which was great to bring me into the present. I soaked up the conversation and journey and already, when I awoke the first morning in my new surroundings, the anxiety attack was quiet...there, but distanced. Very manageable.
By morning 2 and 3, it was gone.
Then, the final day of the trip came and like a vengeance there was the anxiety attack. And she was angry and grippy and when my friend asked me to join him for breakfast, I passed on an opportunity for fellowship and possibility, to wrestle with my anxiety.
We did our familiar dance until I reached for what I know works for me and made myself get up and let the sun in.
When my friend returned I shared my struggle. I shared that I thought it was tied to me being sad about returning home and being “alone again.”
My dear friend, with love, said to me simply “Or you could not be sad about it.”
In my head, “Not be sad? I’m not choosing this. I AM SAD!”
After observing my silence during which I’m sure every thought was written on my face (cause I definitely have that kind of face)., he continued “Instead, why not think about all the good times we just had over the last few days”.
As part of my work at The Inner Fitness Project, I'm always in conversation about the power of CHOICE. So the concept was not new to me and was something I work on consciously in my practice. But in that moment I saw my dance with anxiety for what it was. I saw it for the habit I have allowed it to become. I can choose to focus on the anxiety and sadness and grief OR I can choose to SHIFT my attention to gratitude. In this instance, gratitude that I can in fact go on vacation in the middle of the week. Grateful how allowing that possibility allowed me to replenish my cup. Gratitude for having meaningful friendships where I feel safe, seen, and heard. And instead of judging why I didn't see it before, shift that thought to being grateful that I can now see my habit. Grateful because that now allows me to choose.
For me, another part of the inner fitness work is seeing the thought “I AM SAD!” before it flew away. I am experiencing sadness. So if after the “I AM…” is not the truth (that I am creative, resilient, empowered to choose, whole and worthy) then I know a lie is present. I then have an opportunity to get curious. And in that act I might allow myself to catch sight of an unconscious habit that has up until that moment limited my growth. And for me it's something to be grateful for that I can see it. Because what I can see I can change.
The shift is real because now everytime I feel sad or lonely I look for the choice and do everything in my power to put my attention to the one that lets more space and possibilities grow. During the weeks between this experience and today I have not woken up to the anxiety. And that doesn't mean the anxiety won't come back. I fully expect it to! But when it does, consistently working on my inner fitness will empower me to meet that moment looking for the choice. And that's kinda exciting!
Morgan Stiff is a Jill of all trades. A professor, film producer, editor, and talent manager in previous iterations of her life, this dedicated yogi and seeker is committed to the mission of The Inner Fitness Project and helping others tap into their inner source of resilience and power. As the co-founder and Chief Productions Officer of Morgan’s Mark, she helped writers and directors develop their voice and express their vision through producing and editing a diverse slate of films. In her capacity as the Chief Operating Officer for The Inner Fitness Project she hopes to help many listen to their inner voice as they do the work necessary to grow and thrive.