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Anxiety And The World Around Me

My hands were sweating and visibly shaking as I stared out into the oncoming waves and the rising sun just peeking through the horizon. How did I agree to go on a snorkeling trip when I knew full well I had never swum off the beach past my waist. Measuring 5’2, that wasn’t very deep at all. But there I was, putting myself in situations for the sole purpose of growth, a promise I had made to myself years prior.

My hands were sweating and visibly shaking as I stared out into the oncoming waves and the rising sun just peeking through the horizon. How did I agree to go on a snorkeling trip when I knew full well I had never swum off the beach past my waist. Measuring 5’2, that wasn’t very deep at all. But there I was, putting myself in situations for the sole purpose of growth, a promise I had made to myself years prior.

My happy place when anxiety starts creeping into my body and my mind starts racing. Looking into the ocean I feel my worries being washed away. Dania Beach, FL

You see, it wasn’t long before this trip that I decided I was not going to let fear control my life anymore. As a person living with anxiety, I would think about every possible scenario and how it could go wrong, terribly wrong. Nearly 15% of adults in the United States have experienced some form of generalized anxiety in the last two weeks, so I knew I wasn’t alone in my anxiety and depression, but it sure felt like I was.

Let me repeat: you are not alone, either.

There was a point in my life where I threw up in the bathroom nearly every morning, my stomach in knots, anticipating the day ahead. Deep in the throes of anxiety, feeling fear and overwhelmed. My nights seemed never ending, and the exhaustion from the whole ordeal would leave me paralyzed in bed for days on end. It felt like an out-of-body experience, and I lived this way on repeat for a long time. I became a stranger to myself and those around me. I felt unfulfilled, lonely, and yearning for a different me. I was a slave to my emotions: when things felt safe, I was on top of the world, but when they didn’t, I fell equally as hard. And I kept it all hidden and well compartmentalized from my loved ones. It was a never-ending cycle that didn’t stop until I sought professional help and took back control over my mind and body, but this didn’t happen overnight. It was and still is a journey.

You see, it wasn’t long before this trip that I decided I was not going to let fear control my life anymore. As a person living with anxiety, I would think about every possible scenario and how it could go wrong, terribly wrong. Nearly 15% of adults in the United States have experienced some form of generalized anxiety in the last two weeks, so I knew I wasn’t alone in my anxiety and depression, but it sure felt like I was.

Let me repeat: you are not alone, either.

There was a point in my life where I threw up in the bathroom nearly every morning, my stomach in knots, anticipating the day ahead. Deep in the throes of anxiety, feeling fear and overwhelmed. My nights seemed never ending, and the exhaustion from the whole ordeal would leave me paralyzed in bed for days on end. It felt like an out-of-body experience, and I lived this way on repeat for a long time. I became a stranger to myself and those around me. I felt unfulfilled, lonely, and yearning for a different me. I was a slave to my emotions: when things felt safe, I was on top of the world, but when they didn’t, I fell equally as hard. And I kept it all hidden and well compartmentalized from my loved ones. It was a never-ending cycle that didn’t stop until I sought professional help and took back control over my mind and body, but this didn’t happen overnight. It was and still is a journey.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry that is difficult to control. In 2001-2003, the National Institute of Mental health estimated that 5.7% of U.S. adults experience GAD at some time in their lives, but emerging research suggests that GAD rates have climbed significantly during the pandemic.

It first started with truly owning and acknowledging my anxiety instead of pushing it away and wondering how everyone else could do the things I couldn’t seem to do. I reflected on how much I let fear control my every move, how it kept me thinking small and not pursuing my goals in life. I started seeing a therapist to process my anxious feelings and began creating my “toolbox” for maintaining my mental health. My toolbox is a plethora of positive coping mechanisms that I reach into regularly when I feel I need extra support in an area. This also greatly helped me reduce the frequency of panic attacks in my life. When I started to unravel and reflect on my trauma, past behaviors, and patterns I began learning about neuroplasticity and how it can help rewire your brain and improve anxiety. It is defined as the brain’s ability to adapt to a changing environment by forming new connections. Our subconscious and conscious mind are incredibly powerful, and by practicing mindfulness, we can tap into ourselves and make positive improvements in our lives.

It first started with truly owning and acknowledging my anxiety instead of pushing it away and wondering how everyone else could do the things I couldn’t seem to do. I reflected on how much I let fear control my every move, how it kept me thinking small and not pursuing my goals in life. I started seeing a therapist to process my anxious feelings and began creating my “toolbox” for maintaining my mental health. My toolbox is a plethora of positive coping mechanisms that I reach into regularly when I feel I need extra support in an area. This also greatly helped me reduce the frequency of panic attacks in my life. When I started to unravel and reflect on my trauma, past behaviors, and patterns I began learning about neuroplasticity and how it can help rewire your brain and improve anxiety. It is defined as the brain’s ability to adapt to a changing environment by forming new connections. Our subconscious and conscious mind are incredibly powerful, and by practicing mindfulness, we can tap into ourselves and make positive improvements in our lives.

Art therapy is one of my favorite ways to relieve stress and relax after a busy week. I try to find pockets of time to watercolor day or night, just a few minutes puts my mind at ease.

Art therapy is one of my favorite ways to relieve stress and relax after a busy week. I try to find pockets of time to watercolor day or night, just a few minutes puts my mind at ease.

I had generally played it safe up until this point in my life. I followed my childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian and with the help of my mom, by the time I was 22 I had successfully co-opened a full service dog resort in my hometown. Despite this, after the newness wore away I felt deeply unfulfilled. While grateful for what we had created together, I wanted more, and for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about that one science teacher in my high school, Mrs. Reyes, and how we simulated tectonic plate movement by using melted marshmallows and graham crackers as an activity. Her class was the first time my curiosity for our oceans truly sparked, but my fear of it, and my subsequent tunnel vision of pursuing veterinary medicine took over completely. It wasn’t until years into entrepreneurship and after letting my veterinarian dreams go for personal reasons, that I decided to take one more marine biology course. I felt that spark instantly reignite, my heart and eyes lit up every single day during Mrs. LaBerge’s class at my local college. I wanted to soak in as much knowledge as possible from her years of experience and stayed after class to chat nearly every week discussing the various career paths I could take. By the end of the semester my curiosity for exploring the ocean had grown more than my fear of it and I was ready to tackle it head on.

So I made the conscious decision at 26 years old to start over, return to university, and pursue marine biology as a career. I finally decided to dream big, bigger than I had ever done before, because I had started doing the work on myself. I started cultivating experiences and connections that would encourage me to keep growing and help rewire my brain to a more positive mindset.

I had generally played it safe up until this point in my life. I followed my childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian and with the help of my mom, by the time I was 22 I had successfully co-opened a full service dog resort in my hometown. Despite this, after the newness wore away I felt deeply unfulfilled. While grateful for what we had created together, I wanted more, and for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking about that one science teacher in my high school, Mrs. Reyes, and how we simulated tectonic plate movement by using melted marshmallows and graham crackers as an activity. Her class was the first time my curiosity for our oceans truly sparked, but my fear of it, and my subsequent tunnel vision of pursuing veterinary medicine took over completely. It wasn’t until years into entrepreneurship and after letting my veterinarian dreams go for personal reasons, that I decided to take one more marine biology course. I felt that spark instantly reignite, my heart and eyes lit up every single day during Mrs. LaBerge’s class at my local college. I wanted to soak in as much knowledge as possible from her years of experience and stayed after class to chat nearly every week discussing the various career paths I could take. By the end of the semester my curiosity for exploring the ocean had grown more than my fear of it and I was ready to tackle it head on.

So I made the conscious decision at 26 years old to start over, return to university, and pursue marine biology as a career. I finally decided to dream big, bigger than I had ever done before, because I had started doing the work on myself. I started cultivating experiences and connections that would encourage me to keep growing and help rewire my brain to a more positive mindset.

One of my biggest supporters is my fiancé, Ben. He has been my rock for the last 5 years giving me space to process my anxiety while encouraging growth and acceptance. Photo credit: Jckc & Co

It is that process that led me to this very moment on the beach with clammy hands and an upset stomach in front of four humans I had recently met studying at Florida International University. It’s still hard to believe I swam 500m off the beach to an artificial reef site and didn’t look back once!

On the days leading up to this snorkel trip I named my fear of swimming off the beach. I thoroughly examined where and why I had this aversion to swimming into deeper water, and I proposed a thought to myself: what can I gain from this experience and how can I bring more joy instead of fear into this moment?

I learned my fear wasn’t that I couldn’t swim. I knew I could doggy paddle well enough. My fear was not keeping up with my new friends and what they would think about me. I was also afraid of the unknown and what I could potentially see out there that could hurt or sting me. Because of course, we should all have a healthy respect for the ocean and its inhabitants.

It is that process that led me to this very moment on the beach with clammy hands and an upset stomach in front of four humans I had recently met studying at Florida International University. It’s still hard to believe I swam 500m off the beach to an artificial reef site and didn’t look back once!

On the days leading up to this snorkel trip I named my fear of swimming off the beach. I thoroughly examined where and why I had this aversion to swimming into deeper water, and I proposed a thought to myself: what can I gain from this experience and how can I bring more joy instead of fear into this moment?

I learned my fear wasn’t that I couldn’t swim. I knew I could doggy paddle well enough. My fear was not keeping up with my new friends and what they would think about me. I was also afraid of the unknown and what I could potentially see out there that could hurt or sting me. Because of course, we should all have a healthy respect for the ocean and its inhabitants.

Friends from Florida International University during a debris clean-up dive at Cary’s lighthouse for Project AWARE in 2019.

Friends from Florida International University during a debris clean-up dive at Cary’s lighthouse for Project AWARE in 2019.

After clearly seeing a pattern in my anxious fears surrounding my snorkel trip: 1) not feeling good enough and 2) fearing the unknown, I knew I had to step into my discomfort and grow from it. Since I had already been seeing a therapist to help me process my overwhelming emotions, I reached into my trusted toolbox for support. I employed the breathing exercises my therapist showed me to calm my anxiousness before entering the water that morning. I closed my eyes and took five deep belly breaths that ended with a long exhale out of my mouth. For a moment I felt ready, and before a second thought could creep in I took the plunge, step after step until I couldn’t reach the sand beneath me anymore. I kept my gaze towards the horizon and just kept swimming.

After clearly seeing a pattern in my anxious fears surrounding my snorkel trip: 1) not feeling good enough and 2) fearing the unknown, I knew I had to step into my discomfort and grow from it. Since I had already been seeing a therapist to help me process my overwhelming emotions, I reached into my trusted toolbox for support. I employed the breathing exercises my therapist showed me to calm my anxiousness before entering the water that morning. I closed my eyes and took five deep belly breaths that ended with a long exhale out of my mouth. For a moment I felt ready, and before a second thought could creep in I took the plunge, step after step until I couldn’t reach the sand beneath me anymore. I kept my gaze towards the horizon and just kept swimming.

When there's too much noise above the water there's only one place that can bring me this much serenity, the Big Blue

When there's too much noise above the water there's only one place that can bring me this much serenity, the Big Blue

What I learned in therapy actually helped me. I was finally ready to explore the ocean I had become so passionate about protecting. I gained a truly memorable experience with lifelong friends, and we even saw a manta ray on one of our subsequent snorkeling trips. New doors opened up the more I started reflecting on what kept me from knocking on them in the first place. I started saying yes to more adventures that led me to lush tropical locations around the world. Slowly but surely, I was making my dreams come true. I jumped at the opportunity to study nesting sea turtles in Costa Rica, a trip I would have never taken alone if I had not started my self-awareness journey to a country I still hold deep emotional ties with. These experiences boosted my confidence and helped me grow as a budding marine biologist and as a person. It all started because I decided to get honest with myself and finally seek support.

What I learned in therapy actually helped me. I was finally ready to explore the ocean I had become so passionate about protecting. I gained a truly memorable experience with lifelong friends, and we even saw a manta ray on one of our subsequent snorkeling trips. New doors opened up the more I started reflecting on what kept me from knocking on them in the first place. I started saying yes to more adventures that led me to lush tropical locations around the world. Slowly but surely, I was making my dreams come true. I jumped at the opportunity to study nesting sea turtles in Costa Rica, a trip I would have never taken alone if I had not started my self-awareness journey to a country I still hold deep emotional ties with. These experiences boosted my confidence and helped me grow as a budding marine biologist and as a person. It all started because I decided to get honest with myself and finally seek support.

Forever grateful to the friends that have stayed by my side through it all.

When I finally took the reins of my life back, instead of letting things happen to me, I sought help and community. The tools I've learned from this process are game changers for realigning my life in the direction that fulfills my highest potential. They help me feel less alone and give me actionable steps to take when I feel anxiety’s ugly head creeping back, and proved vital when the Covid-19 Pandemic spread early last year and we all had to self-isolate for months on end.

To take the deep dive within yourself, it’s crucial to create your toolbox within a container that you feel safe and fully supported in. It’s no easy feat, but you will be rewarded in the end with a life you can feel genuinely proud of because you are fully living it. Not all tools will work for everyone, so it’s essential to take what helps and drop what doesn’t. Some of my toolbox items today include checking-in with myself daily and honoring where I am every morning, daily meditation and journaling to help me process life’s intricacies, and nourishing my body mentally, physically, and spiritually.

When I finally took the reins of my life back, instead of letting things happen to me, I sought help and community. The tools I've learned from this process are game changers for realigning my life in the direction that fulfills my highest potential. They help me feel less alone and give me actionable steps to take when I feel anxiety’s ugly head creeping back, and proved vital when the Covid-19 Pandemic spread early last year and we all had to self-isolate for months on end.

To take the deep dive within yourself, it’s crucial to create your toolbox within a container that you feel safe and fully supported in. It’s no easy feat, but you will be rewarded in the end with a life you can feel genuinely proud of because you are fully living it. Not all tools will work for everyone, so it’s essential to take what helps and drop what doesn’t. Some of my toolbox items today include checking-in with myself daily and honoring where I am every morning, daily meditation and journaling to help me process life’s intricacies, and nourishing my body mentally, physically, and spiritually.

My first poster presentation at the 71st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Conference in San Andres, Colombia in 2018.

My first poster presentation at the 71st Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Conference in San Andres, Colombia in 2018.

I took a leap of faith when I decided to study marine biology. I may have held my breath at the beginning, but after stepping in to take control of my life from anxiety, I was able to flourish. It led me to a fulfilling career communicating science, working in the field, and networking with individuals that are truly making a difference in this world. And while my life is in constant flux with ebbs and flows, I have committed myself to grow and become a better version of myself with each step. Today, I take every experience as a chance to learn more about myself, others, and how we interact with the world around us. Anxiety is still very much part of my daily life, but I’ve learned how to live with it and thrive despite it by developing healthy boundaries, seeking support, and being intentional about everything I do.

And YOU are capable of it too.

 

For those navigating anxiety, here are some resources for counseling: Anxiety & Depression Association of America, American Psychological Association, Black and Emotional Mental Health Collective, Inclusive Therapists

Resources for online counseling: Better Help and Talk Space

I took a leap of faith when I decided to study marine biology. I may have held my breath at the beginning, but after stepping in to take control of my life from anxiety, I was able to flourish. It led me to a fulfilling career communicating science, working in the field, and networking with individuals that are truly making a difference in this world. And while my life is in constant flux with ebbs and flows, I have committed myself to grow and become a better version of myself with each step. Today, I take every experience as a chance to learn more about myself, others, and how we interact with the world around us. Anxiety is still very much part of my daily life, but I’ve learned how to live with it and thrive despite it by developing healthy boundaries, seeking support, and being intentional about everything I do.

And YOU are capable of it too.

 

For those navigating anxiety, here are some resources for counseling: Anxiety & Depression Association of America, American Psychological Association, Black and Emotional Mental Health Collective, Inclusive Therapists

Resources for online counseling: Better Help and Talk Space

Monica Gabrielle is a multi-passionate entrepreneur born and raised in sunny South Florida. She is a freelance science and sustainability content creator and writer with a focus on marine science, and a small business owner at a luxury pet resort in Miami, Florida. When she's not writing or covered in dog hair, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her fiance and two rescue pups in tow. Her hobbies include diving, watercoloring, and gardening.


1 Response

Marie Grace
Marie Grace

June 27, 2021

Thank you for sharing your experience with anxiety. I too suffer from that and also have a BIG ASS toolbox to help me navigate through it. Im a self employed sign maker / graphic artist / reiki practiccioner. I was a rescue and rehab volunteer for the New England Aquarium and loved it ! They did away with that volunteer program unfortunately. I have re-located from Boston to Fort Meyers FL and looking to volunteer 1 or 2 days a week depending on my work schedule. Thanks again for sharing…..

Marie

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