About 7 years ago, I was free, creating and doing the things I wanted to do. I was also began battling loneliness. While I did have many friends that I could call upon, I often felt like I was burdening them. I also felt like they couldn’t relate. My girlfriends had met great guys, and were getting engaged and starting families. I wasn’t on that path, I didn’t even know how to get on that path and just felt ashamed.
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I used work as my escape route, throwing myself into everything I did. It was fulfilling, and it helped me hide from those whom I thought were judging me. I started to feel a little better until I began internalizing everything: a small criticism, sarcastic remark or disapproving look. I’d start to feel like I couldn’t do anything right. My heart would start to race. So I’d quietly leave work in the middle of the day, rush to my car, jump in, drive off and burst into tears. When I had run out of tears, I’d return, and get back to work.
No one knew what was going on. I didn’t even understand what was going on. Nothing made me happy. I just felt lost, lonely, and anxious all the time.
I tried to talk myself through it. I tried to have a positive outlook on life. I tried to be thankful. I ate well and exercised. But none of it helped.
So I reached out to an expert, a psychologist. She said that I mostly suffered from anxiety, and because I was highly functional I wouldn’t need any medication. She suggested a combination of psychotherapy and life coaching techniques to help me manage my anxiety. Her strategies helped me take control and understand the challenges I needed to face.
Challenge one: Focusing on the present
For me, the future was filled with fear. Most of my anxiety came from anticipating what would happen in a week, a month, or a year. My psychologist asked me to practice letting things come to me. It was quite a challenge, because I was so used to pushing hard to get what I needed. But when I had to wait it made me focus on the present.
Challenge two: Growing thicker skin.
With her help, I learned I needed to detach myself from other people’s expectations, comparisons and drama. This was hard since so much of my happiness had come from pleasing others or competing against others. I needed to get comfortable with setbacks both large and small and even recognize when I was taking an all or nothing attitude.
These steps helped me feel stronger and have thicker skin.
Challenge three: Learning to love myself
I took stock of all the most trying moments in my life, and realized how much I was capable of. Even if others didn’t recognize or appreciate what I had done, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t capable. This process helped me learn how to value and respect myself.
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As entrepreneurs, we might confuse suffering with paying our dues, that it’s a badge of honor or something to brag about later. But I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with high levels of anxiety. I wanted to live a full life, be calm, and present.
When anxiety interferes with how you want to live your life, you have to seek help. Sometimes social stigma holds us back from finding support. We’re afraid we’ll be judged or that people will think we have ‘issues.’ But seeing a therapist is like hiring a personal trainer: It’s about working on getting healthy.
I’m not saying you need therapy or counseling – not everyone does. I’m here to tell you that I hated the way I felt and did something about it. Therapy gave me the tools I needed to manage my anxiety and self-doubt. Two years later, I was strong enough to strike out on my own, start a business, and handle the setbacks and rejection that are common to running and growing one.
We make time for our physical health – we can do the same for our mental health. We owe it to those around us, our dreams and ourselves.
If you’re open to sharing, I’d like to ask: how have you helped others you have struggled with self-doubt or anxiety or yourself? Please let me know in the comments below.