CreativeMornings MSP: Let’s talk about anxiety.

It wasn’t until an Uber driver straight called me out for being anxious a few months ago that I realized I might need to assess a few things. The most hilarious part of the story is that I remember consciously trying to channel “chill” and “calm” vibes through engaging in small talk despite feeling a internal tornado brewing. Said tornado looked a little something like this: got caught up at work and officially running late for a meeting I’m supposed to facilitate, already feel inferior to the individuals I’m meeting with, need to prove I’m capable of leading this simple discussion with grace and not like a flustered idiot, meeting is downtown, truly don’t understand that godforsaken place and never know which elevator bank to use which makes me feel like the total hayseed I am, I swear are we missing every light on purpose????

“Do you mind me asking where you’re headed today? You seem pretty anxious.” Given I later learned my driver was a therapist thus keen to such cues, it was quite the wake up call to have a perfect stranger acknowledge your hidden discomfort despite earnest efforts to appear fine. This lesson isn’t to say “You don’t have your shit together and everyone can totally tell! Haha!” Rather, it’s pretty difficult to be the person you want to be when you’re battling constant doubt and self-sabotage. Until recently, I never had the courage to call that tornado what it actually is: anxiety. (Thank you Daniel with the Hyundai Elantra, wherever you are my prince. The ride concluded with encouragement give therapy, meditation, and taking time off social media a try. Spoiler alert: he was right.)

That may have been entirely TMI, however it’s precisely the reason January’s CreativeMornings MSP event piqued my interest. Each month, CreativeMornings features a global theme that local chapters are empowered to create their own program around. January’s theme? Anxiety. The spokesperson selected for the topic at hand was Doug Marshall, self-proclaimed “self-help junkie” and beloved local Minneapolis celebrity. As a CMMSP first-timer, the buzz of a Friday morning event was energizing – not to mention the utter array of people represented spanning age, industry, and discipline. Well-established, professional adults in other fields deal with this shit too? That within itself proved an unspoken solidarity among attendees before Doug even began.

Images by Kianna Notermann & Peter Heidorn, 2018.

“This is one of the highest reserved CreativeMornings in MSP history so I have to know: Are you all here to see me, or just so fucking anxious you need some tips?” With that opening remark, laughter soothed the room and any residing heaviness was lifted.

(I’d like to share a few personal takeaways, however in lieu of merely regurgitating Doug’s presentation, please do yourself a favor and check out his post which serves as an excellent summary of the tactical strategies he shared.

CreativeMornings MSP: Anxiety Takeaways

  1. Don’t fear it, get familiar with it. There’s power in owning your anxiety, and even more power in striving to learn about what sets yours off. From Doug: “Observe your anxiety: witness it without judgment. Discover if there are patterns, triggers and behaviors associated.” Is it the mind tornado? A tight feeling in your chest? Everyone’s looks a little different.
  2. Once you identify cues and your subsequent reactions (mental, physical, and emotional,) you can begin to “get in tune with your feelings of what’s real and what isn’t.” You may discover many of those unsettling thoughts are purely anxiety-driven and not a true reflection of reality.
  3. Self awareness is critical, however only the first step. Do some digging on proven methods to reduce anxiety, then explore and test them until you find a few that stick. Doug shares some great ones in his post. These practices counter the natural progression into that inevitable spiral, or as Doug frames it: “Hooking into the bullshit: that’s what causes anxiety!”
  4. Limit exposure to toxic people, social media outlets, news outlets, or places that fuel your anxiety. Seriously. Give yourself permission! I used to worry this was avoidant and potentially harmful, however considering the sheer inundation of stimuli we receive day in and day out, I’ve learned it’s Mental Wellness 101. Some days we are feeling whole and well enough to bear the weight of the world’s problems; others we need to put NYT and IG down and focus on championing our own in the here and now.

    Images by Kianna Notermann & Peter Heidorn, 2018.
  5. You aren’t alone, but you already knew that. Battling anxiety, depression, or any internal struggle too often drives us into excruciating isolation, often due to shame or not wanting to feel burdensome. Not a truth to revel in, but take solace that these issues affect people regardless of job title, income, family background, social status, you name it. We’re all in this together.
  6. If anxiety feels very paralyzing, don’t discount the help of a professional.” Take it from Doug, Hyundai prince Daniel, and yours truly. If you’ve considered trying therapy, try it. If you haven’t considered it, consider trying it, and then do it. I made tons of excuses for myself until realizing the benefits far outweighed the fears and uncertainties. It’s far more accessible than you’d think:
    • In school? I encourage you to locate your campus counseling center and try as many free sessions out as you’re able.
    • Have insurance? Get on your provider’s website and Google care providers within network, which you can then read up on their approach and philosophies. If you’re nervous about chemistry like I was, most offer cost-free consultations to discuss your goals and test the waters for a good fit.
    • Without insurance? Google care providers near you as many offer “sliding scale” options based on income. This was a great resource for me:
  7. Not quite here myself, but Doug’s last and most favorite strategy: LAUGH. “When in doubt, laugh at the small voice in your head that’s leading you to disaster. As you get better at witnessing, think: OK that’s not going to happen! Thanks for sharing bud, not down with that.”
Images by Kianna Notermann & Peter Heidorn, 2018.

I don’t have enough praise for the inclusive, collaborative environment the CMMSP team works to carve out within our community. And am eternally grateful for rays of light like Doug who set an example of authenticity and vulnerability in a world that desperately needs it. To close, I wander to the big picture: there’s still leaps and bounds to go, but how gratifying is it that a subject emerging from societal taboo can now be the center of a global event series in 2018? Almost everyone experiences anxiety in some way shape or form so let’s talk about it.

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