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Why I Stopped Trying to Fix Myself and How I Healed by Doing Nothing

By Nicole Barton | Tiny Buddha

“Everything in the universe is within you.” ~Rumi

When I was twenty-three, I lost my job through chronic illness. I thought my life had ended, and I spent the next few years an anxious, panicky mess—often hysterical. Eventually, I took off to scour the globe for well-being techniques and searched far and wide for the meaning of life and how to become well again.

If you’re chronically ill, like I was, whether physically or emotionally, you’ve probably experienced the same misunderstanding, the same crazy-making “well, you look okay to me” comments, the same isolation, depression, and frustration that I felt.

You’ve probably been on a bit of a quest for self-recovery. And so, you’ve probably also felt the same exasperation when trying to figure out which self-help theories actually work. It can be overwhelming, right? I thought so, too, but I came to find it was actually really simple!

Searching the Globe for Self-Help Techniques

So many people are full of advice: “Try CBT/ tai chi/ astrology/ vitamins/ rest more/ exercise more/ zap yourself with electricity/ eat better/ stop being lazy (always helpful!)/ do affirmations/ yoga/ meditation/ wear purple socks…” Okay, so no one ever actually recommended trying purple socks, but there were so many weird and wonderful recommendations that I found myself lost, which might explain why I went away to find myself!

I traveled far and wide with my illness, training in every holistic therapy there was (which I loved; I’m curious, and well-being is my passion). But I was always searching for a ‘cure’ for my brokenness. I connected with yoga, meditation, and mindfulness on my journey, and I heard the very familiar Rumi quote: “Everything in the universe is within you.” This served only to confuse me even more as I struggled to analyze what it meant!

In Bali, though, I felt I had found a home in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. I felt connected to myself. I felt like I understood that all I needed was within. My anxiety had gone, my panic had gone—and my chronic illness had gone, too! Then, I came home to the UK, and it immediately returned.

I was disheartened. I still lived yoga and mindfulness—I loved it and I taught it at home—but the joy had gone from what I had once thought of as the answer. So, how was I absolutely okay in Bali and not at home? Was I a fraud? What was going on? There was so much thinking…

What I Learned About Being Human

It wasn’t until a year later that I discovered why when I heard something different. A colleague introduced me to a mentor who shared some profound insights about how the world really works.

She explained the basic underlying reality of humanity: that underneath all of our thinking about “how to be happier” is a healthy wholeness and perfection that is already innate—without having to do anything. You see, the reason that I had felt any anxiety or panic at all was that I had just forgotten the truth of what it is to be human.

The Power of Thought: All You Need Really Is Within

Our human reality operates entirely through thought at the moment. Everything we feel is a result of our thinking. If we feel anxious, it’s because we are experiencing anxious thinking. If we feel happy, it’s because we are experiencing happy thinking. Our entire reality, therefore, really does come from within! It is an inside-out world.

When we were born, we were perfect and whole, and not anxious. Then, when we gained the beautiful power of thought, we learned that the external comfort blanket was super comforting, because “it made us feel better,” right? Wrong. A blanket is an object, with no capacity to make us feel anything. One hundred percent of the comforting feeling came from our own thinking about the blanket. It’s the same with all of life.

So, when I was in Bali, I thought I was okay because I was enjoying yoga and meditation, which I loved with all my heart. Thinking that the external could impact me, I felt 100 percent whole. I returned from Bali and my thinking about the external changed; it felt like I wasn’t happy because I thought that I needed to be back in Bali. But the thinking came from me: happiness or unhappiness was all dependent on my thinking in each moment.

I didn’t remember this, so I attributed my happiness to the external. But it wasn’t, because we are always living in the feeling of our thinking at any moment. Everything comes from within.

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What a Month of Daily Panic Attacks Taught Me About Anxiety

Image Credit: Tiny Buddha

By Sabrina Wang | Tiny Buddha

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn

It happened in the middle of an intimate moment, about a month before my wedding.

One minute I was enjoying a kiss from my fiancé and the next thing I knew, I was clutching my face and writhing in agony.

At first, there was a loud thud in my chest, as if my heart had skipped a beat.

Then out of nowhere I started getting this strange sensation—like the kind of feeling you’d get on an elevator that’s going down too fast. The feeling was so disorienting I couldn’t help but let out a startled cry.

I felt what I would later describe as “the draining”—it was as if all the blood had poured out of my body in a split second and I was left with an icy, numb, and shaky shell.

I was convinced that I was going to die.

But I wasn’t dying. Ten minutes and many repetitions of long, deep breaths later, I calmed down enough to shake off the fear and I was able to see the ordeal for what it really was—a panic attack.

It Wasn’t My First Time

I was no stranger to panic attacks—I’d already had a few in my life up till then. The first one hit me shortly after I was diagnosed with Leukemia at age nineteen. From then on it would rear its ugly head from time to time when things get overwhelming.

So when I had this panic attack a month before my wedding, I didn’t think much of it at first. I chalked it up to excitement over the impending wedding. I thought once I rested up for the weekend, everything would go back to normal.

But I was wrong.

I went on to have another panic attack, and then another one—until I lost count.

I continued to have panic attacks every day for an entire month. The experience opened my eyes about anxiety—I learned a few valuable lessons in this journey that taught me how to cope with anxiety and helped me get to a better place.

And I’m here to share those lessons in the hopes that my experience may be able to help someone else who’s suffering from anxiety.

3 Important Lessons About Anxiety from My Month of Panic Attacks

1. You don’t need a reason to explain or validate your anxiety.

I used to think that anxiety was something you’d only feel if there was a good reason for it.

For example, just right before an important exam or after a life-changing diagnosis.

So when I first started having those daily panic attacks, I kept asking myself why?

I know what you’re probably thinking: Maybe it was the wedding planning?

After all, many brides do get stressed just before their wedding. But I assure you that wasn’t the reason. I was a happy, relaxed bride-to-be who already had everything planned out months in advance. There was little left for me to do except to wait for the day to arrive.

Perhaps there were other stressful things going on at the time? No, not a thing.

My job was wonderful, my health was better than ever, and I was having a great time with my family and friends. I’d been through rough waters before and in comparison, this period of my life was all smooth-sailing.

Could it be from chronic stress that had been building over time? I doubt it.

I was practicing Tai Chi and Qigong meditation for at least forty-five minutes on a daily basis—a habit that I’d kept up for a couple of years already by then. I was in a good place mentally and physically. In fact, I hadn’t had an obsessive thought or lost sleep over anything in a long time.

I was feeling on top of the world.

But despite all of this, I began to experience some of the most terrifying symptoms of anxiety I’d ever experienced in my life. And the more I tried to look for an explanation, the worse I felt. As my mind desperately searched for an answer, it became more and more fixated on the anxiety itself.

I started to examine myself inch by inch—with a giant imaginary magnifying glass—for any clues that would explain the tightness in my chest, the tingling in my hands, or the throbbing in my neck. Soon, my anxiety was all I could think about.

In order for me to stop ruminating over my anxiety, I had to surrender to the fact that I didn’t know the explanation.

I had to accept that anxiety can strike at any time for no reason.

I came to realize we don’t need a reason to explain our anxiety, as if a solid explanation would somehow validate the way we feel. Sometimes anxiety just shows up. And once I accepted this fact, I felt more at peace with myself.

So if you’re stuck running in circles wondering why you feel the way you do, try this:

Instead of beating yourself up looking for a reason for your anxiety, accept that it is happening and you may never know why.

The sooner we make peace with the fact that there is no clear answer, the sooner we can stop scrutinizing our anxiety—and concentrate on healing.

2. Incredible things can happen when we open up about our anxiety.

I used to think having anxiety was embarrassing.

My family never talked about mental health when I was growing up. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. A couple of my relatives had mental health issues, and everyone in our extended family treated them like they were the family shame.

So when I started having the daily panic attacks, I felt I had to keep up the act that nothing was wrong.

I’m fine,” I told my friends and coworkers when they noticed I wasn’t my usual cheery self. “I’ve got it under control.”

But as the days went by, it began to dawn on me that I was not fine. I was rapidly loosing grip on my normal life. I needed help.

I finally opened up to my friends and coworkers about my anxiety. I was skeptical and nervous at first. I’d imagined I’d get a lot of caring but suffocating questions, plenty of warm but generic words of comfort, and a few well-intended but over-simplified comments like “just relax.” I expected some people would want to jump in right away and try to “fix” me. But to my surprise, I got a very different kind of response.

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