It happens. Short of breath, feeling like you're gonna die, feeling like blacking out and so on. Anxiety is a real, visceral feeling. It's not just in your head. It's chemistry flooding through your whole body. I know... I've been there. Once while sitting on my living room couch with a blood pressure monitor around one arm and a diagnosis from the doctor about my heart problems in the other arm. The other time I experienced anxiety like this, I was sitting on my horse, her nose inches from the water's surface and her legs deep in mud beneath the surface. Both times, I lived. And it turns out, most every time a person experiences anxiety, they live. Generally, and you can ask your doctor about this, anxiety doesn't kill you, even when you are afraid it will.
Anxiety is however a big problem, worth finding solutions for because it can paralyze you and keep you from doing what you want. If you know you'll have it during certain situations, you'll avoid those situations. Like my dear friend who doesn't drive her car, because she knows she'll have anxiety in the car. Or my other dear friend who won't ride her horse, because she knows she'll have anxiety on her horse. Without the consent of every doctor and background of every medical journal on the subject of anxiety, I can't possibly pretend to give you advice if you are experiencing anxiety yourself. So I won't. Instead I'll just say, I've been there, and this is how I got out of there.
The first example, when I sat on my living room couch, wondering if I was going to die because my heart felt funny, was mitigated by finally going to the hospital and discovering the truth about the underlying problem. It cost me an emergency room visit to be certain my heart wasn't quitting on me, but once I was certain and after many tests to be certain that I was certain, I could let go of the anxiety. Now when my heart sputters a little, I don't hyperventilate and exaggerate the situation. Now I breathe. The solution I came up with to overcome my anxiety was to find professional help to ensure I was going to be okay. Professional help is important.
The second example was during that moment where I nearly drowned my horse in the water, which of course, could have led to my own drowning if I got stuck there with my horse. My heart raced, my life flashed before me and, by the grace of God, my brain kicked in gear long enough to turn my horse around and back to shore. From there it was her job to jump up and down frantically until her feet became free and inch by inch we made it back to shore where both of us nearly collapsed with exhaustion. In that moment of fearing for my life I learned something about myself. I learned that my mind can look for solutions, even in the heat of battle. If I just don't get paralyzed, I can think through the situation and turn around or forge ahead. The point is to not get paralyzed and when I feel it coming on, I have to say to myself, "Breathe, find a way. Don't just stay stuck."
I've since used these strategies for many of my students. If I see them struggling, I invite them to ask for support. Getting professional help gives you a confidence boost you can't imagine. I also encourage movement because movement prevents getting locked up. Imagine standing on the mounting block, trying to convince yourself to get on your horse but you can't. You can't step down from the block either because then you feel defeated. So you're stuck. In that moment I've helped students remember to move, even subtle movements like stepping down and back up, over and over, prevent the mind blocking and the heart from racing toward an anxiety attack. I invite the student to touch there horse then immediately touch the horse in a different spot from the first touch, over and over, until the mind clears and the heart settles. Eventually, the door opens for riding and the rider will be confident.
What I don't like is when a rider, stands still waiting for confidence to come. You can work on getting instead of waiting. But even worse, is when I see a student willing there way forward only. Two things could happen if you force yourself deeper into your fearful situation. One, you will get on that horse, using your will power, and fail to read the signs of the horse telling you he's not ready, all because you're so involved in your own progress. Which of course could lead to the horse throwing you away and making your chances of enjoying riding diminish to zero from that day forward.
The other thing that can happen is you do get on, and your horse is fine, and you fall into a false sense of confidence because you never tested yourself, your body, and your horse for quick movements. In other words, by moving back and forth, up and down, in and out, you train your body to adapt to any kind of horse movement. But by moving only forward, only up, only in... you never truly learn to adapt and be a free moving rider or leader. Movement is, in my experience, a great key to avoiding anxiety. With movement comes breath, new ideas, resourcefulness and mindfulness.
As always, I love your comments. I'd love to hear from you. Comment below and share this article with anyone you feel could benefit.
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