The second installation of the 2018 ‘Well-being for Women’ Workshops was, from the outset, an invitation. At 10.30am on a Sunday morning the group of women who had gathered in the Woollahra Library were being warmly invited by the presenters - Katie Walls, Lucy Dahill and Alexis Stewart, to bring and unpack all the baggage that we carried with us that brought on anxiety and stress in our lives.
And so we brought in all our suitcases . . . and there were many different shapes and sizes – there was worry, panic, fear, to name but a few. Nevertheless, they were ultimately all the same in how they debilitated our expression and potential in the world. Neither Katie nor Lucy held back on delivering the hard statistics regarding anxiety: a third of women officially suffer from anxiousness at some point in their lives.
What was revealed is that anxiety is not a random disorder unique to any particular type of person but a crippling epidemic of our times.
A key element of the workshop was to connect us all to the lived ‘normal’ that we moved in. Alexis facilitated a body awareness exercise that supported all the women to connect deeply to our bodies. Most women were surprised to discover a sense of unsettlement and low-level anxiety that was being lived as a daily “norm”. It was an important realisation because it debunked the idea that anxiousness has to always be intense and totally crippling. This was further confirmed by Alexis, who presented that anxiety for most was a deeply embedded pattern of movement that we lived in that put us into unnecessary hardship every hour of every day.
A crucial aspect of this workshop included our willingness as women to nominate the different behaviours and signs that allowed us to recognise when anxiety was in fact running through our bodies. Most of us are so busy and involved with the many aspects of our lives that we often do not intentionally clock these. This aspect of the workshop involved enthusiastic contributions from most of the participants, building a list that involved some of the following behaviours and signs: quickening of the breath, tight neck and shoulders, forced smile, weak bladder and the list was long and varied. Nevertheless, what was interesting was that most of these symptoms were very much felt on a physical and not just psychological level.
Actively nominating these signs brought a sense of empowerment because of the honesty that was called for to acknowledge the profound and debilitating effect of anxiety on our very bodies and lives.
In small-groups we also had the opportunity to deepen our understanding of anxiety by exploring the different triggers or situations that brought on anxiousness from our particular and personal suitcase. This was later shared in the whole-group discussion and involved some of the following contributions: when you feel exposed and vulnerable, when you feel misunderstood by others, when you are invested in being accepted by others, when you fear abandonment and rejection, and so forth.
This discussion was significant because it allowed us to acknowledge the daily, lived, and familiar experiences that were the platform where we were triggered towards anxiety. It was also interesting to share and see the different variations that other women experienced in their lives because it demonstrated how insidious and common anxiety is.
The final aspect of the workshop was very rewarding because it allowed all the women to honestly assess the suitcases we had brought in and unpacked, and to reconsider what we were now going to take home. The presenters actively challenged us, ultimately to consider how we were living that may have created and maintained the conditions in which anxiety occurred.
Some real and practical suggestions included:
- Actively redefining your “norm” by not conforming to behaviours that are just coping mechanisms, but instead addressing the deeper patterns that lie beneath
- Acknowledging that anxiety and stress is our body telling us that something is wrong (for example, that we are not honouring ourselves in some way or not expressing our truth)
- Acknowledging that it is not selfish to address our own needs before we can truly attend the needs of others
- Creating space to complete projects so you do not invite overwhelm
- Waking up earlier to create a foundation of steadiness for the rest of your day
- Going to bed at night earlier and in an energy that isn’t checking out from the day you just had. This will directly impact on the quality of your next day
When we are living by the wisdom that the body is ‘the marker of all truth’ then we begin to listen to the signs, triggers and behaviours of our body because these are real and clear ways that the body is communicating with us. When we act on these signs we in turn build confidence and skills to create a truer rhythm. It starts by making a commitment to keep dropping into your body, even if you find yourself leaving it soon after. By continuously choosing to return to the body the past behaviours and patterns of anxiety will be challenged and potentially minimize over time.
Review by Anita Czoch