Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

 

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I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer’s panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.

It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I  had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie’s, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.

I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.

I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It’s lovely.

But I’ve started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.

This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.

The thing is, these days, we don’t see many woolly mammoths.

We see public speaking.
Or an uncomfortable conversation.
Or a group of strangers.
Or an opportunity that is unnerving.
Or a situation we can’t control.
Or an outcome that is unknown.

But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.

What if there was a third way?

This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.

I do hot yoga. That’s the one that is 90 minutes in a room that is heated to 100 degrees.

It’s hard. But it’s not nearly as hard as life.

So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me – and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this – I hear my teacher’s voice in my head:

Meet resistance with breath.

Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I’m stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath – then decide how I want to respond.

So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak – the spinning started:

What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.

And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.

So, I said:

“Hi. My name is Lisa Jakub. Thanks for being here today. I’m a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it’s different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time.”

And then they laughed and then I loved them.

That’s what can happen when we don’t operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It’s not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run – the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.

Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we’re rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.

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17 thoughts on “Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

  1. This is so well written and so true. Being a therapist by trade, i have had to teach people how to be “grey” . It is a skill set i believe. This may actually have been a piece you lost being a child actor. Before the age of 12, we learn to just copy our parents as role models and after the age of 12 we learn that ability to reason and use logic. In acting, i think you end up having so many parents so to speak, Producers, Directors, other actors agents and oh yes, parents.. that it gets confusing who to model and literally how to grow up . So breaking free from acting and trying to live, now allows you to use logic and reason and try to “grow up”. This i think is where the wooly mammoth comes from. Yoga allows you the time to process and make decisions… ok yes they all invited me.. they want to hear from me. It really is a tool that is helpful to anyone who is sorting out these anxious issues. Your brain so to speak has a history of being trained to be told what to do when you hit the stage. The stage is the trigger. Again you processed it perfectly and each time you do that you are retraining the brain to not be anxious. I think you have stumbled onto the core of why many “child stars” do not continue as adult stars.. Their development has been different that people who get thru their teens and then chose acting. I think this is also true of people who have other disruptions in their early childhood development. You could help many people by being public about your process. Anxiety is such a crippling symptom. Kudos to you for pushing thru it and for writing it so well. alan

    • I love that – be “grey”! What you wrote was all really fascinating and really consistent with my experience. I hope that I can at least make people feel a little less alone with all this stuff. That is worth staring down the Woolly Mammoth to me!
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  2. I love this Lisa. You always seem to write what I am needing to hear. I am sure many others feel this way too. I personally am dealing with some resistance, on a couple fronts… Your advice is exactly what I needed. Thank you for sharing!

    • Brenden – I’m so happy it’s meaningful for you! It’s always hard when the resistance is coming form a few places….wishing you the best and thanks for reading.

  3. My fiancé and I are having a long weekend break in Falmouth (very pretty seaside town in the UK). We were getting ready to go out last night and I always get anxious before a night out – even more so when I don’t know the place. My stomach was in knots as I worried if I’d be over-dressed or under-dressed for wherever we ended up and I always feel a bit sick with before heading out anyway- always have done! I happened to read your piece above before heading out and literally took a deep breath and attempted to dispell the negative thoughts and it truly worked!! I remembered it was a mini-break to be enjoyed and we’d be home to the familiar and boring very soon and to embrace the evening, and we really did!! Sage advice, thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for sharing that! How wonderful that you were able to do that – those kinds of things make me anxious, too. I’m thrilled that my experience could help you through a little bit!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing Lisa! As always you convey yourself so brilliantly through your words with both humour, honesty and amazing insight. I absolutely love reading your blogs and can relate on so many levels as I am very introverted and struggle with Social Anxiety and low self esteem which I am working through. Your words bring me great encouragement and it is so reassuring to know that there is someone out there like yourself (and many others I’m sure) who I can relate to!

    • Thank you so much! Good for you for working through that stuff – that takes a lot of courage. We’ll all get through this! 🙂

  5. I love this! Being 31 and still not knowing what I want in life is a scary thing but just reading this one blog post makes me want to hear what else you have to say in your book. I think it will really shine a light onto my world and help me start figuring out what I want and start living without the fear.

    • I’ve decided that figuring out what you want in life is a constant process, and it’s always changing. No need to put timelines on that – what’s great is that you’re asking the questions. Sending lots of light your way!

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I’ve recently discovered your blog (after coming across a “where are they now?” post on Facebook. I love reading your thoughts! I also suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, depression, etc. I’m often labeled as shy & quiet, but I think I roll more towards introverted. Anyway–I’m really enjoying your blog and I’ve already added a few books from your Goodreads selection about dealing with anxiety. I currently work in Providence and I’m sorry I missed your recent appearance at Johnson and Wales! I think it would have been very inspiring to meet someone who suffers from these disorders and yet has the power and self assurance to speak in front of a packed house. I hope you can work your way up to New England again sometime soon. You have found a new fan. Oh and I am a mom to a 12 year old greyhound with no actual kids so I’m pretty sure I can fit yoga and meditation into my day to day life…it’s just a matter of actually doing it! Thanks for reading this! Your blog has made my day.

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