My first intimate encounter with Anxiety, which remains clearly etched in my memory, occurred shortly before my 26th birthday. I sat with my mother in the doctor’s office waiting room after completing a neurological consultation and awaiting further testing. Turning to me, my mother’s voice was gentle, “Do you want to know what we think it is?” My father, a physician aware of my symptoms, had previously volunteered no diagnosis.
Before the words, “You have Multiple Sclerosis” finished crossing her lips, tears poured from my eyes. That very moment, Anxiety rushed at me and took firm hold.
These early days of our relationship, when Anxiety first barged into my life, every encounter brought shortness of breath and uncontrollable sobs. Anxiety, pushy and socially inept, ignored my distress and plunged ahead, brazenly spending the night, uninvited, refusing to let me sleep and draining me of all passion, confidence, and motivation.
I couldn’t even leave the house alone anymore. Being in crowds was so uncomfortable with Anxiety pressed so tightly against me that I stopped going out.
Isolated, I fell deeper under Anxiety’s spell.
I foolishly thought once the MS symptoms were under control, Anxiety would grow bored with me and move on. Instead, as I controlled my symptoms and my life expanded again both personally and professionally, Anxiety grew jealous.
Visits became more frequent and increasingly intolerable. Eventually Anxiety never let me out of view or allowed me to make any decisions without first being consulted.
Suffocating under Anxiety’s embrace and desperate to put healthy boundaries around it, I discovered my 1-10 Method for managing this unrelenting tormentor. The 1-10 Method has helped me befriend Anxiety and turn it into my greatest ally.
Let me explain. Anxiety is not always destructive. When I’m doing something new or exciting, Anxiety reminds me that I’m pushing myself past previous limits. Anxiety signals I’m learning and growing.
This level of Anxiety, when its presence is front and center in my life, is what I refer to as being at 10: I am on, full of focus, creativity, problem-solving and even a degree of warmth, charm, and compassion. I’m on high alert, all cylinders are firing. Ten is a sprint, and many aspects within the day require a 10.
But many more do not. Anxiety, who thrives at 10, tells me otherwise, and for years, I believed it. Like many Type A’s, I naturally exist at 10 much of the time. But, being at 10 as a baseline knocks me out of balance and allows Anxiety to turn toxic.
That’s because while Anxiety can maintain a 10 all day long, I cannot. The frequency is too high, and eventually life breaks down under the strain. The 1-10 Method eases the weight.
I now look at my day and sort Anxiety’s expectations from my reality. For example, yoga practice is important to me, but I don’t need to exist there at a 10. I can show up on my mat as a 0 if I like. Leading a workshop or seminar may require an 8 or 9; alone time works best under 5.
Of course, Anxiety doesn’t understand this scale. Anxiety fights to stay full force. It’s up to me to balance how much Anxiety and I see of each other.
I do this by controlling my breath through consciously slowing it down. Slowing my breath breaks Anxiety’s grip.
The 1-10 Method entails building into my day a rhythm of planned ups and downs on a schedule I control and enjoy.
I relish the taste of afternoon tea, which is a 2 on the scale, and I navigate the after-hours business or social events at a 6, where I feel relaxed, yet I am still able to network with appropriate clarity and attention.
Recognizing and embracing these varying currents makes my day easier. When the time to be at a 10 rolls in, I’m recharged and ready to begin with sharper focus.
The contrast within the day of when I am at a 10 and when I am not provides a clearer perspective on everything I do. Anxiety no longer hijacks my entire day.
Now that I’m empowered to architect my day, breathe mindfully, and slow down even when doing so is counter-intuitive, Anxiety has transformed into a friend who is fabulous but only in small doses.
I actually enjoy an occasional visit from Anxiety. It brings a welcome energetic burst into my day, forcing me into action and fine-tuning my focus.
With my 1-10 Method, Anxiety and I peacefully coexist, comfortable allies who respect each other’s needs. I set the boundaries and expectations, and although Anxiety has no patience for my cup of tea, yoga, and deep breathing, it allows me these necessities.
Anxiety will likely never completely abandon me, but I also know I don’t want to hang out with it 24/7. The 1-10 Method makes balance possible and has empowered me to reclaim my life.