30 minutes before I was scheduled to meet with Shazya for our interview, I frantically sent her a text message explaining that I would be late. I apologized profusely. I got caught up in writing out interviews and consequently missed the bus that I was planning to take. Instead of getting upset, Shazya complimented me on “being fully in the present moment with my writing” and told me not to worry. A few minutes later, when I informed her that my bus was barely moving, she advised me to “appreciate the stillness.” It is comments like these that set Shazya a part.
Shazya is a university student who is sincerely interested in health and well-being. She practices yoga daily, and incorporates meditation into her daily life, including mindfulness, sitting meditation, and other awareness exercises.
While she has an exceptionally calming demeanor, many of her friends do not know that she has been living with generalized anxiety disorder since she was 12.
“I’m basically in a constant state of flight or fight. I always feel on edge. Like, my heart starts racing, or I may be worried that something bad is going to happen. A lot of worries pop-up in my head. This used to disrupt a lot of my daily activities. When [these stresses] accumulated, I would have panic attacks. I can now manage my symptoms, so I don’t get them anymore.”
When her anxiety disorder was at its peak, Shazya recalls going through a period of agoraphobia, which she described as “the fear of going outside” or into large, open spaces. She simultaneously suffered from a balance disorder, which provoked a fear of fainting and falling. During that time, Shazya did not feel comfortable leaving the house unless a family member was with her. She avoided certain places, people, and situations that provoked panic attacks, such as theatres, large gatherings, and crowded lecture halls at her university.
“Thankfully, I have found some techniques and coping skills to manage my symptoms. I live a pretty normal life now, and I’m grateful for that.”
About one year ago, Shazya made a shift towards a minimalist wardrobe, and it has made a profound impact in reducing her daily stress.
“I found that a lot of my anxiety was associated with clutter and owning too many things. In the morning, I would try to decide what to wear and feel so overwhelmed with all the decisions and choices that I had to make. Questions ran through my mind: what matched? What was comfortable? What would accommodate to my daily activities? I gave away and donated a lot of my clothes until I had just what I needed and use. Now, I own fewer items. They are higher quality and more meaningful to me. I try to make my clothes interchangeable with one another. I stick to a calming neutral colour palette. I have a few patterned clothing pieces that add a bit of statement, but not too many.”
Having experienced anxious moments in public settings, Shazya found a way to address the physical and emotional symptoms through clothing choices.
“I wear lots of layers. When you feel anxious, you can suddenly feel very hot or start shivering from being so cold. This way, I can add or remove layers as the day goes on to ensure that I’m comfortable.”
Her accessories also carry significance:
“I’m really into gem stones and learning about chakras since I practice yoga.”
She wore two beautiful mala bead bracelets around her wrists.
“The turquoise one is associated with the throat chakra and being able to express your inner voice. It’s about having the confidence to speak out, which I struggled with for many years. And, the onyx mala signifies grounding for me.”
One of the rings she wore was from a family vacation to Italy. It reminds her of a happy day and a peaceful environment. Shazya’s gold bracelet was a gift from her grandmother from when she graduated university.
“I wear it when I need extra strength. It reminds me of her.”
Quick Questions with Shazya:
In consideration of the challenges you have gone through with anxiety, what are you most proud of?
I’m proud of my progress with anxiety and recognizing how far I’ve come. I used to not be able to leave the house, and now I’m starting to do things that push my boundaries and scare me. I’m really proud of myself for coming this far. Sometimes, when you’re in that place, you feel hopeless and lost. It’s really hard to come out of it and change your perspective on yourself, your life, and your situation.
Where do you find that people stumble with their understanding of anxiety?
When I say to someone, “I have anxiety,” a lot of people are shocked. They see me as someone who is very calm and, honestly, the last person they would expect to have anxiety. I think there’s a misconception about the “type” of person who has anxiety. Anyone can have anxiety and you don’t know it. It’s an invisible illness, as a lot of mental illnesses are.
From your experience, what advice would you give to others dealing with anxiety?
It’s different for each person. Everyone has their own story and background. For me, personally, yoga and meditation has really helped. I’m more mindful of my situation, my symptoms…and try to see them as they are rather than panic about them. It’s also important to find someone who you can trust and talk to. For me, my family has been a great support system. Seeing a therapist, or attending community support groups that show you that you’re not alone can be very helpful. Try to find as many resources as you can to help yourself. Dealing with anxiety requires a lot of self-effort. I would recommend trying to nourish yourself with good food, daily exercise, and healthy relationships.