are you an anxious vegan?
okay – then this here is for you..
so right off that bat, i’m going to emphasize that i am talking about anxiety as a disorder and not the occasional, temporary anxieties that we all experience in life. severe anxiety, or chronic worrying, is more the kind of stuff that doesn’t go away and instead will often just get worse over time – leading to situations where it really interferes with your capacity to live life (thus the need for a word like “disorder” to describe it). so like how depression isn’t simply feeling sad now and then, when bad luck comes your way, having anxiety isn’t simply feeling stressed and worried when you experience conflict and big challenges.
okay – there tend to be 3 prominent ways to experience severe, or disordered, anxiety:
- generalized anxiety disorder – encompassing a wider range of symptoms like an inability to concentrate, relax and/or to fall and stay asleep. though people with this disorder can and do live mostly “normal” lives, there can be episodes of more acute anxiety that bring on higher severity in these symptoms.
- chronic panic attacks – sudden and often repeated attacks of fear, to the extent that your own body begins to act outside of your control and your mind becomes fixated on intense worries that repeatedly loop in your head.
- social anxiety disorder – being very self-conscious, afraid and/or nauseous when interacting or being around other people, so much so that you avoid places and situations where you may have to talk and socialize with another (family, friend or stranger).
anxious vegans can live with any of the above experiences. social anxiety seems to be the most expected form, given how many vegans (myself included) tend to enjoy the company of non-humans far more often than a human. because it is easier to relate with quiet, cuddly, non-judgemental animals than people, a lot of anxiety can arise among vegans when having to interact with a person or large crowds of people (like those seen at vegan restaurants, protests and animal rights demonstrations). whereas the general anxiety disorder tends to be broader in symptoms, it best matches the daily reality of anxious vegans having to function in a speciesist capitalist world. going to school or work each day to interact with semi-strangers, or to keep up relations with family members and friends – all this can make relaxing near impossible, and emotions of heightened anxiety a regular feeling in our bodies.
as for panic attacks, they tend to show up when either social anxiety & general anxiety amass into a situation that is too overwhelming for you to cope with in that moment. this looks a day when you are met with more direct conflict and worries, which for one reason or another (maybe you’re behind on sleep, or are too hungry and/or dehydrated), it is all just too much for you and so you’re body begins to panic. whichever way anxiety is being expressed, severe anxiety as a mental illness is super common. and so anxiety needs to be better understood, so that we can all offer more support to ourselves and others – in life generally and in life as vegans.
while anxiety can manifest in any & all of these versions, the disorder as a whole tends to couple with other physical and mental illnesses. so when dealing with chronic anxiety, you may notice it is awfully similar to chronic depression in many ways. both anxiety and depression are linked to various factors outside of your control (a mixture of hereditary and personality traits and life events). and both illnesses rely upon tapping into your mental state and behavioural habits, meaning that both feeds off of the ways you have (a) learned to think and (b) the ways you have learned to respond to the ways in which you think.
for example, both anxiety & depression rely on vulnerability and uncertainty. how so? by twisting our memories (so that we only remember the awkward, embarrassing mistakes of our past) and undermining our goals (so that our future looks too daunting, too overwhelming to deal with and succeed in). if you struggle to cope with your own personal vulnerabilities and uncertainties, then this is where severe anxiety can step in, causing you to become emotionally over-charged, spiralling away as you struggle to stay calm, stay grounded, with ever-intensifying feelings of panic and despair.
but here’s an important difference between the two illnesses that may help clarify more of the disorder for you in better understanding and treating:
depression lives in your Past, whereas anxiety is living in your Future.
so with depression, you give your attention to reliving the trauma, re-enacting mistakes, and repeating harmful thoughts-and-behaviour that fan emotions of anger, frustration, resentment, regret, guilt, shame, sadness, despair, and loneliness. with anxiety, however, you give your attention to pre-emptively reacting to anticipated trauma, mistakes and harmful thoughts-and-behaviour that fan emotions of worry, uncertainty, confusion, fear, panic, and terror. (okay yes, your depression can make you think the future is bleak and pointless, and yes, your anxiety can make you think that your past failings are going to endlessly repeat themselves – but you get the point)
as a vegan with severe anxiety, you are most likely a fast-thinker, the type of person who can very easily get carried away on a series of thoughts and jumps-to-conclusions. in the span of a few seconds, after something is said or something has happened, you & your mind have run off to some other alternate reality, far into the future. while some people are moving from A to B, us anxious folk have already moved from A to K, or O, or W. and it’s really understandable for why our minds do this, especially as vegans given that we live in a world of short-term pleasures over long-term harm, a world denial towards the inherent value of our Earth and Animals. but still, there is always a difference between offering attention to the consequences of in/actions, and fixating upon a single unlikely potential happening in our futures.
the important thing to note here is that the power of your thoughts and your behaviour come directly through whatever emotions your feeling. so if your emotions of anxiety are making you feel panicked about something that is going to (or might) happens in your near future, the emotions of fear and worry will be exaggerated by your thoughts (“i’m not going to survive this!”, “this is going to be so awful!” “the world is ending!”) and your behaviour (heart rate increasing, sweating, light-headed, nausea, shortness of breath). this leads to cyclical thinking – where you cannot move past a particular thought-worry – and experiences of a sensory overload – where you become too panicked to process information because you feel as though you are drowning in your own emotions.
to illustrate what anxiety in thoughts looks like in life:
“my boss didn’t act nice to me a few seconds ago — my boss doesn’t like me anymore — is it because i am vegan? — my boss is going to fire me soon — i won’t have a good reference to find another job — i won’t be able to afford rent next month — i am going to be homeless and unemployed before i know it — how will i stay vegan without any money? — and my debt is too much already — everyone will think i am a failure — i am going to die alone.”
that escalated quickly right?
and to illustrate what anxiety in behaviour looks like in life:
“you have a job interview tomorrow — you really need more money to feed yourself and your animal companions — you worry about the consequences of failing this challenge of getting hired — your worrying creates less time for you to prepare for the actual interview — you eat little food because you don’t have time and you worry about money more than usual — you start to have a sore stomach as result — you have a bad sleep because of your stomach pains — you wake up on the morning of the interview feeling sick — you call in to cancel because of illness — you feel guilty about failing when others are depending on you — you panic even more about becoming impoverished and becoming a failure.”
a vicious circle, right?
but what you can see the above examples is that a lot of anxiety is not really about responding to a legitimate problem – it is often about responding to the fears you associate to a legitimate problem. in the 1st example, those thoughts were trying to react and problem-solve and cope with something (fears of being a failure) that only might happen from the original trigger (boss not acting nice). and in the 2nd example, the behaviour was causing both thoughts and feelings to become worse, almost in a way to validate what the person feared.
so with that, when trying to cope with anxiety, try practising with “what if?” questions, followed by “then what?” questions. essentially, what if this fear came true for you, then what would actually happen as result? in answering this aloud, you will likely either see that this then-what scenario is very unlikely (e.g., my dog will hate me forever because i forgot to pick up more dog food), or that this fear now seems a lot less intimidating to you because you’ve actually named it (e.g., i’m scared that i am not good enough to help care for my dog).
and sometimes you find you don’t have a clear trigger that causes you to start feeling anxious. this can be either a sign that your anxiety is caused by some internal neurological process, or it might mean you will need to practice at being more mindful of the thoughts-behaviours that you are overlooking and not giving enough attention to (examples for me include, “oh, i forgot to eat food today, so i think my blood sugar levels have dropped” and “oh, i tend to get anxious when i see this person, so i think i need to work on how i relate to them”). so while triggers can be real – and when you have legitimate triggers like situations of abuse, bullying, and harm, these need to be addressed with safety and control, or otherwise you need to escape that situation as best you can – the triggers do not create the anxiety. the anxiety is within you, and it uses a trigger to grow itself like a balloon so much so that it distorts your perception of an experience.
okay now here is feel-good, “it gets better”, you-can-do-it portion.
- first, living with anxiety does not mean learning tricks to deny or repress your feelings that come along with anticipation. no, your feelings are always valid and legitimate, okay? instead, living with anxiety means learning to tolerate discomfort. learning to accept that sensation and to acknowledge that there are always reasons for why you feel that way.
- second, coping with anxiety looks like making appropriate adjustments available to you in your life, each day, in each moment, to ease that pressure and stress. coping with emotions of panic and worry means learning how to anchor yourself amidst the rain and waves, and reminding yourself that this experience too will pass.
- third, to strengthen your anchors, try practising at your breath. doing intentional breathing can interrupt the thought-cycles running through your mind. repeat a phrase to help focus your thoughts on positive, affirming ideas. so pick something simple for you to be able to repeat when experiencing a panic attack or acute anxiety episode. and pick something that you can believe – this is really important because you need to truly embrace the words you will be repeating over and over. instead of saying a very broad statement, or something difficult to trust in, choose words that are clear and which best represent your current potential. as an example, try replacing phrases like “my problems will be solved today” or “i will not let myself be upset today”, with affirmations like “i will do my best to solve some of my problems today” and “i will do my best to not be upset for too long today”. personally, i like something like “i breathe. i feel. i’m trying to do my best.”
- fourth, be kind to yourself. be patient with yourself. but this isn’t as easy as it may look. you’ve likely spent a majority of your life now becoming skilled at unhealthy self-talk, and so your going to need to make a conscious effort every day to work at practising a new way to talk and relate to yourself.
- finally, please please remember –
you are more than your regrets.
you are more than your fears.
you are enough.
you are abundant.
okay, that’s about it.
until next time.
(image credit to Emm’s Positivity Blog)