Anxiety can range from butterflies in your stomach to full-blown panic attacks. I experienced symptoms all along the spectrum in relation to several triggers including heights, traffic, flying, tornadoes, confined spaces, and public speaking.
For many years, everything in my body told me to avoid any situation that might put me in an anxious state. I didn’t go on a family trip because I was afraid of being on the subway. My career suffered due to not wanting to speak up in meetings. I missed the amazing experience of taking an elevator down to a canyon waterfall.
Eventually, I realized that while I was avoiding anxiety, the joys of life were passing me by. I wasn’t spending time with the people I loved and I wasn’t pushing myself to be my best. I knew I had to make a change.
A therapist friend taught me about immersion therapy where you force yourself to go through whatever you are most afraid of. Terrifying, right? But I wanted to cure myself of paralyzing thoughts once and for all.
This is when I decided I needed a healing journey. I set a date for a solo trip across the US through crowded cities, over huge mountain passes, and across the tornado-prone plains of Oklahoma.
I planned out a series of challenges for myself such as walking across the second highest bridge in the country at Hoover Dam. Prior to each activity, I would meditate about the worst things that could happen. I questioned my irrational thoughts and how likely it was those bad results would actually materialize. While I imagined my car careening off the side of the mountain, I asked myself “Why do you think that will happen versus staying on the road and reaching your destination?”
The first week, I spent more time in tears than anything else. But slowly, each challenge began to build my confidence. My competitive nature helped me push through and keep going whenever I thought I couldn’t finish. I soon found myself surpassing my own challenges. Instead of just walking across the Hoover Dam bridge, I leaned against the railing and put my head over the edge. Instead of just driving through Los Angeles, I chose to drive during rush hour. And that was what made all the difference – deciding the experiences of living were worth the risks.