It was my graduation ceremony last week.
I could just post these photos to social media and say how thankful I am to my family for supporting me through such a challenging career change. But that’s only part of the story. One of my core business (and life) values is authenticity. So it only feels right to post these photos together with the back story.
Spoiler alert: this is a story about anxiety.
It’s hard not to build up expectations when a day like this spells closure for me after 6.5 long years of study. I really wanted to enjoy it. But, even though I was all dressed up to feel proud and thankful, I felt completely different on the inside. I kept smiling, but I left with a deep knot in the pit of my stomach and it took a lot of unravelling to understand how this happened on what I thought would be such a happy day.
Exhausted and flat the day afterwards, I remembered I’m a naturopath and promptly made a Flower Essence mix (helps with processing emotions). I then asked myself some important questions:
- What feelings can I own?
- Who can I reach out to?
- Is there anything constructive to be done?
I didn’t realise just how helpful these questions and subsequent outcomes would be.
Owning your feelings
It feels good to work out what you’re feeling and really own it, without any blame (including any blame towards yourself). This can mean you have to dig pretty deep to uncover core feelings that can be hidden by more familiar labels. For example I had feelings of frustration due to some organisational factors on the day, but I knew I needed to strip it back further to understand what was really going on for me.
It didn’t take me very long to realise I had felt very anxious the whole day.
Anxiety. Hello sly friend. Having you latched to my shoulder all day was probably the reason I was adjusting my gown every 5 seconds and completely forgot to enjoy talking with friends. I was totally preoccupied with how I looked, where everyone else was, what was happening next, should we pay for professional photos…
I was completely unprepared to deal with anxiety. It took me by surprise. I forgot to breathe, I didn’t have any herbs with me, I hadn’t eaten enough, and all my usual self-care practices went out the window. But while I couldn’t help myself in the moment, taking the time to reflect afterwards on how anxiety can spiral so rapidly without warning, motivated me into some self-care measures, which included reaching out to others.
After sitting with my feelings for a while and trying to understand the triggers, I decided to reach out to my peers and share how I was feeling. By that point I was beyond anxiety. Deep disappointment had set in as I realised the big day had passed and I felt like I’d missed it. I’d been there, but not really there. I reached out and asked if anyone else felt the same? As it turned out, many other fellow graduates did! I really hesitated to share my feelings, but my friends met me with such validation and support, I knew I’d done the right thing by showing my vulnerability.
I’m still working out all of the factors which got me so wound up on my big day. I’m pretty sure a part of it is that I’m still recovering from the mammoth degree. I gave the degree a huge part of myself. Probably a bit too much… I’m still finding all the parts of Karla again.
So, constructive steps for me include:
- Continued self-care – right now this looks like …going on holiday tomorrow! (This was already planned, but what amazing timing!)
- Social media break – I work hard at posting regularly to my Balanced Whole socials, but I’ve made the decision to take a total break from it while I’m away – proper rest.
- Supporting myself with herbs, flower essences, nature, deep breaths, journaling, long walks – all the things which nourish my soul and keep me grounded, so I can return from holiday refreshed and ready to support my clients.
- As a result from reaching out to my peers, we collectively provided some feedback on some aspects of our graduation day. This was a useful process, not because I’m blaming the ceremony for me feeling anxious. It’s just that through our reflections we can see a number of organisational factors which could have helped people avoid or limit their experience of anxiety on the day.
- We are also now organising another “Graduation Take II” event to enable all those conversations we wanted to have, but didn’t. What a great outcome after me reaching out and being open with my feelings.
I’m hoping by sharing this little story about my sneaky anxiety, you might be encouraged to ask yourself the same questions when you’re feeling something unexplained. Acknowledging your very real feelings, reaching out and doing something constructive can really turn an icky situation to a positive one.