“Every step taken in mindfulness brings us one step closer to healing ourselves and the planet.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
When I returned from an extended stay in India at the beginning of this year, I was full of worries and uncertainty. Since I was coming back to a very different life, I had no idea what was next.
I was without a job but determined to build my coaching business full-time. However, I felt lost as to where I was going to be within the next few months and how I was going to figure things out.
Eventually, I settled down and started to think. I desperately wanted to go back, but I knew I had to take care of my responsibilities in the states before I could leave again.
I started to work on my business and was lucky to get a few yoga classes to teach. However, the uncertainty of finances was weighing on me.
I was always a person who planned my life and took only the safest steps. Suddenly, I was living day by day, not knowing what was going to happen or how I was going to take care of myself. It felt incredibly liberating and scary at the same time.
After a few months, I got a severe infection in my tooth. Since, at that time, I was without insurance, I did anything I could to avoid visiting a dentist. One night it got so bad, I almost ran to an emergency room.
At the same time, I developed tremors in my body while becoming increasingly fatigued and lethargic. This got me worried. At first, I thought it was due to the infection in my tooth. However, once the tooth was out, lethargy, fatigue, and shaking persisted.
A couple of weeks later, my entire chest and face developed some allergic reaction that had no logical explanation.
Due to all these unexpected and unexplainable health events, I felt desperate and powerless. One day, after another episode of intense tremors and lethargy, I drove to my friend to measure my blood pressure. After she told me my pressure was in perfect condition, I broke down crying. I had no idea what was going on.
Although I knew that googling my symptoms was the last thing I should do, I did it anyway. No matter what I put in a search, anxiety seemed to be on the top of the list. I reflected on the past couple of months and realized I had been under tremendous pressure. I became increasingly pessimistic and afraid, always turning to a worst-case scenario.
It was no surprise that this took a toll on my body.
Since I had some knowledge and understanding of neuroscience and how negative thoughts affect the body, I realized something. If I can make myself sick and anxious by thoughts alone, I can make myself healthy, can’t I?
Here is what I decided to do.
1. I began a daily mindfulness practice.
I knew that to heal my anxiety, I had to be super conscious of what was going on in my head. One thing I understood was that anxiety is worrying about the future, which hasn’t happened yet.
To sharpen my awareness, I set an alarm for every hour of the day to check in with myself. Once the alarm went off, I asked myself, “How am I feeling? What am I thinking?”
This allowed me to become more aware of subtle thoughts of worries and negativity.
Through this daily exercise, I realized how negative I could be. The moment things didn’t go as I wanted them to, it threw me off course and created internal panic.
I also incorporated mindfulness meditation and pranayama into my daily yoga and meditation practice. First, I would do different breathing exercises I learned in India to activate my parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. Then, I would sit in silence while focusing on my breath and observing my thoughts.
Every time a thought of worry entered my mind, I reminded myself that this was only a thought, and it wouldn’t have a meaning unless I gave it one.
2. I focused on possibilities instead of obstacles.
Although I was less than thrilled about my fear and anxiety, I understood that these emotions were here to tell me something. If it wasn’t for them, I would never have begun paying such close attention to the way I think.
After recognizing how I was bringing myself down, I decided to create a more uplifting and positive environment around me.
I have a big chalkboard above my worktable that I use to write positive affirmations, simple reminders, or quotes that feel empowering. I took a sock from my drawer and wiped everything on it clean.
Then I grabbed my white chalk marker and wrote in giant letters, “What is the BEST thing that could happen?”
This question was a reminder for me every day that where my focus goes, energy flows. If I wanted to heal my anxiety, I had to learn to better self-regulate.
I also understood that instead of pushing my ‘negative’ thoughts away, I could attune to them, listen to them, and understand where they were coming from. They weren’t barriers but healing opportunities.
For example, I had lots of negative thoughts regarding finances. I felt like a victim because my parents weren’t able to support me through difficult times. Once I ended my pity party, I realized I was holding many limiting beliefs about money and that I didn’t believe I was worthy of having more. So I started learning about investing and the mindset needed for financial health, and it’s changed the way I view and handle money ever since.
3. I welcomed solitude.
After realizing that anxiety has been a big part of my life for years, I decided to spend more time in solitude.
The interesting thing about this was that it felt natural. I didn’t feel as if I was missing out on something. As a matter of fact, it gave me space to reflect on my past. I realized there were so many wounds I’d never healed and pains I’d never acknowledged.
I also understood that living in a state of anxiety was my normal way of being. My mind and body were accustomed to feeling the emotions of stress and worry, and I didn’t even know it.
My time in solitude allowed me to see when my anxiety spiked and what kept it alive. Aside from understanding the link between anxiety and my thoughts, I noticed other situations that brought stress. For example, I worried about what people thought of me, placed my worth on reaching my goals, was inauthentic to be liked, or wanted to control things outside of myself.
When I uncovered these blind spots, I fell in love with solitude. It also gave me more space and time to practice mindfulness and become much better at recognizing when anxiety was creeping in.
4. I incorporated mindfulness into my regular tasks.
One of my habits was scrolling through recipes on social media while eating. Although I live alone and there isn’t anyone to distract me with conversations, I realized that I wasn’t mindful of eating at all.
I decided to put my phone down and observe the taste of the food, the texture, how many times I chewed it, and how I enjoyed it.
When I went for my evening walk, instead of listening to music or an audiobook, I simply walked. I observed my breath, heartbeat, and the world around me—houses I passed by or palm trees, which were everywhere.
This intentional mindfulness practice helped me grasp the present moment while realizing that now is all that’s here. As my guru often says, we can’t change this moment; we can only accept it. However, the next moment contains a million possibilities, and if we are present and aware, we can choose how to proceed.
After about a month of following these steps, something amazing happened.
I realized that my anxiety was almost gone and my skin rash had completely disappeared, and I was full of energy and optimism. Although my outside situation hadn’t changed much, the way I perceived life and how much I trusted myself had.
Since then, I sometimes sense anxiety wanting to come in. I immediately feel a slight vibration in my limbs, and my heartbeat rises.
The moment I observe it, I know it’s time to pause and turn inward because that’s where my healing always takes place.