The Self-Inflicted Causes of My Anxiety, and What I’m Doing to Overcome It All

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I will fully acknowledge that when I experience anxiety, it is because I have chosen to do so. Hear me out–I’m not saying that I intentionally choose to feel anxious, but I do indirectly inflict anxiety upon myself through my own thoughts, perceptions and behaviors. For instance, when I’m at work and take a look at the meetings and deadlines on my calendar, I often feel anxious that I won’t be able to complete/prepare all of my work on time. In that moment, my brain is making a choice to perceive my time and abilities as scarce resources that might inevitably let me down. Essentially, this is a thought pattern I’ve developed over the years as a way to motivate myself into getting shit done–ineffective, yes, but a habit nonetheless. The point is that I can consciously choose to re-develop those thought patterns so that the next time I peruse my upcoming to-do’s, I perceive my time and abilities as ample enough to get the job done. I can choose to ward off anxiety by increasing my mental fortitude and intentionally aligning my default thought pattern with an abundance mindset.

Lately, I have been working on doing exactly that–every time I feel anxiety about being good enough at my job, I switch gears and think about the way I want to feel in the day to day of my career–motivated, energized and confident. Then, I envision myself as already being incredibly motivated, energized and confident, and I proceed to act as if I am. By envisioning my current self with the qualities I hope to develop over time, I oddly start to act like that future self, and I’m able to quell the anxiety that threatened to overcome me.

Now this is a pertinent example of how anxiety manifests itself through mental triggers. Additionally, I’ve recently uncovered a physical cause of my anxiety that took my off guard: under eating. This is definitely an odd confession to make, because all my life I’ve been under the impression that I eat too much. I’ve had a big appetite since I was a kid, but I also fell prey to diet culture at a really young age. Throughout multiple seasons of my life, I restricted my food intake in terms of overall calories and in terms of specific types of foods, all the while striving for the illusive perfect body that really doesn’t actually exist. In recent years, I’ve done a lot of inner work to overcome the desire to control the shape and size of my body, to the point where I considered myself to be completely freed of the grips of diet culture. And then I started to notice myself feeling anxious on a daily basis, for no discernible reason. I was low on energy, crabby, and feelingly constantly stressed and overwhelmed by my usual balance of work, fitness, and socialization, but I had no clue why. My current job isn’t particularly stressful, my social life isn’t that poppin’, and I am on a really manageable resistance training regimen that I truly enjoy. Why do I feel like shit?

I took the time to do some reflecting on the progression of my relationship with food. I realized that even though I was no longer mentally obsessed with restricting calories and manipulating my body in a specific way, I was still really terrified to eat. I realized that I had inherently become afraid of over-doing it on any specific macronutrient, particularly carbs and protein, amidst the praise received by high-fat diets. I wasn’t even technically on a high-fat diet and I certainly wasn’t ketogenic, so what in the hell was I so afraid of? Deep down, I think I wanted to be weirdly perfect with the macronutrient ratio of my diet, just as proof that I could control and perfect yet another thing in my life.  None of my logic was backed by any kind of science, I was just applying principles of a specific diet in a manner that was totally out of context and incompatible with the way I was eating. If I really wanted to go keto, I still would have needed tons more calories from fat–and I would have needed to intentionally choose to go keto, doing all of my research and homework along the way. Instead, I wanted to be in this weird middle ground where I ate mostly vegetables and felt superior for it. And as a result, I was kinda miserable.

When you really think about it, of course you’re going to have anxiety about everything in your life when you’re underfed. When I’m low on energy because I haven’t eaten enough, I can’t possibly envision myself showing up to my life, tackling my to-do’s, being nice to people, and getting my workout in. And when I can’t confidently trust and envision that I’ll be able to do these things (as illustrated by the first story in this post), that’s when I get anxious. So if I want to show up to my life energized and ready to embrace the day, I need to eat. I need to eat a lot of food these days in order to feel my best, and I am learning to trust that that’s OK. Moreover, I’m choosing to view eating ample quantities (and macronutrients!) as an act of self care. It is truly in my best interest to fuel my body with the substance it needs to live its fullest life.

And like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, all of the anxiety I experience in my life is self-inflicted–I can easily choose to eat proper amounts of food on a daily basis instead of restricting out of fear. To do so, I have to employ the same strategy as with my more mentally-triggered anxiety–in this case, I need to develop a new thought pattern in which I interpret hunger and energy depletion as signs that my body is in need of nourishment, regardless of how much I’ve already eaten that day. And then I need to actually do the damn thing and EAT! Sounds easy enough, right? In practice, it’s been surprisingly challenge to trust that my body knows what it needs, especially on days where my stomach appears to be a bottomless pit. But since I can intentionally choose to prevent this anxiety from compromising the quality of my life, it’s a no-brainer for me to choose to trust my body in this way. And with this newfound pursuit of trust, I’m absolutely thrilled to see how my relationship with food and body image develops further. A step in the right direction if I do say so myself!

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