The Mindset Shift That Ended My 20-Year Struggle With Anxiety
An old friend reached out to me recently to tell me he'd found a letter and poem I had written for him when I was 13. "You always know how to make people feel special," he said, along with a photo of the letter and poem. Little did he know how special it was to me that he'd sent me that note.
When I read the letter, I flashed back in time to 13-year-old me—the one who loved writing and expressing herself through words. I didn't know it then, but I was an extremely sensitive and empathic child, and by my teenage years, I had lost myself.
Falling out of touch with my true nature.
I believe we all have natural gifts, which stem from what I call our true nature—that unique aspect of us that brings us immense joy and peace. For me, it has always been writing and helping people feel better. Thank goodness this is now what I do for a career as an author and empowerment coach, but it was a long, windy road to return to me.
My 13-year-old self didn't know this was my true essence, and fitting in and being liked became a bigger priority than liking myself or doing what I enjoyed. When I was younger, I had a learning disability that made it difficult for me to learn how to read, spell, and write efficiently, and other kids made fun of me for this.
The bullying continued each year, so in order to feel safe from the ridicule, I gave up my natural expressions of self and quit writing and being there for people. By age 14, I had fallen away from myself. It's no coincidence that my eating disorders started then, as well as my negative self-talk, self-hate, and three-decade-long struggle with anxiety stemming from social pressure.
This story isn't just my story.
It's no secret that we live in a world that invites us to abandon our true selves in the pursuit of fitting in. We want so desperately to be liked that we sacrifice our real self, never asking, Who am I really?
For over three decades, my need to be liked and to fit in, along with my concern about what others thought about me, overshadowed my ability to be my true self. I call this the split: It's the moment our soul falls away from its whole self in an effort to maintain safety and the status quo.
It works for a while; we feel safe as we morph ourselves to fit the standards set by the outside world—until it doesn't anymore. For me, it turned into eating disorders, drug addiction, toxic relationships, self-hate, corporate burnout, clinical depression, anxiety attacks, and multiple rock bottoms.
It wasn't until I looked at this tendency of trying to fit in that I saw what was really happening—the quiet death of my soul and spirit.
Finding my way back.
I knew I needed to find a way back to me, but I couldn't ignore all of the experiences I had suffered through. I wanted to know why I went through what I did, and in studying Eastern philosophy and Buddhist tradition, it became clear that life is a classroom and everything is our teacher.
I learned the more we resist life and push against what is, the more we struggle. The outside world will do everything it can to keep us hooked on the, "You're not good enough" narrative. But when we focus outside of ourselves on what others think about us, or what is wrong and needs to be changed or fixed, we don't give ourselves a chance to go within and honor our true self.
One day, I found myself trapped in an intense worry spiral, clicking headlines and diving deep into the dark, obsessive news rabbit hole of trauma and drama. My social media feed had been full of negativity and blame, and the news stations were spreading more doom and gloom.
As I logged off, my energy plummeted. I felt helpless, but in that moment my inner voice said, Go to your bookshelf, and then, the most interesting thing happened. I went directly to my big blue book, A Course in Miracles. I had only ever skimmed the pages, never really letting the content sink in—but this day was different.
My inner voice said, Open the book! And to my surprise, the page I opened up to was lesson 31: "I am not a victim to the world I see." In that instant, I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me, as a calm, loving presence took over.
I learned to let go.
I realized I had been giving my power away by feeling like a victim of the world, and the lack of control was causing me to feel anxious all the time. I was focusing on the things I couldn't control in the outside world, and as long as I stayed stuck in that cycle, I would feel angst.
It became clear to me that we don't have control over what happens outside of us, but we have 100% control of what happens inside of us. This mindset shift radically changed my life.
I declared, "I want peace. I am ready to return to me." By aligning to this perspective and letting it be my guiding principle, everything that no longer served or supported me fell away. The toxic relationships, limiting beliefs, some extra body weight, habits, and anxious tendencies—all replaced with compassion, love, and wisdom.
I then created a daily mantra or prayer to repeat, which has helped me stay aligned and balanced.
A prayer for peace
I detach from anything that seeks to separate.
Anything that says "us vs. them."
Anything that says "my way or the highway."
Anything that seeks to destroy, condemn, shame, or blame.
Instead, I choose unity.
I choose kindness, compassion.
I choose love.
We all have the power to feel better and choose love over fear and let go of our need to control anything outside of ourselves. As Stephen Richards said, "Our level of love or our level of fear determines the state of our reality."
Adapted and excerpted from Shannon Kaiser's book Return to You: 11 Spiritual Lessons for Unshakable Inner Peace published by Sounds True.
Shannon Kaiser is the best-selling author of 5 books on the psychology of happiness and fulfillment including The Self-Love Experiment and Adventures for Your Soul, Joy Seeker, and Unshakable Inner Peace Oracle card deck, and the forthcoming book Return to You. She has a B.A. in journalism and communications from the University of Oregon. As an international life coach, speaker, and retreat leader, she helps people awaken and align with their true selves so they can live their highest potential.
She's been named top 100 Women to Watch in wellness by mindbodygreen, alongside Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kris Carr and Gabriel Bernstein, and was listed as of the freshest voices in mental health and wellness by Chicken Soup for The Women's Soul. She's been named one of Entrepreneurs Must-Follow Instagram Accounts for Inspiration and Top Facebook Accounts for Daily Motivation by Mind Body Green.
Her website Playwiththeworld.com has been names top 75 Personal development websites and top 100 self-help websites by the institute for the Psychology of Eating. She's an international life coach and author mentor, and a full time world traveler with a home base in Portland, Oregon with her best friend, her Golden Retriever Chance, who she flew to China to Rescue.