Since quitting sugar, telling the world about it in her bestselling book I Quit Sugar, then blogging to help thousands do the same, Aussie writer Sarah Wilson has become a household name.
She discovered a whole new level of health she hadn’t known for years after her sugar divorce, including overcoming the effects of Hashimoto’s disease.
So who would have thought that while the entrepreneur and former Masterchef host was enjoying all this success and wellbeing, she was also quietly dealing with extreme anxiety? The kind that’s had her visiting professionals most of her life, and moving house frequently because she can’t settle?
Sarah has told the story in her new book, First, We Make The Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety. She chatted to Hope Media’s Laura and Duncan about her lifelong journey with anxiety: one that a quarter of all Australians experience.
From A Young Age
Her anxiety started at a very young age.
“I can look back in hindsight and realise I was probably anxious from about the age of seven, if I go back and look at some of my behaviours,” she said. “I was diagnosed with childhood anxiety at 11 or 12.
“But it really kicked in and I was medicated for the first time at 17, and then diagnosed with bipolar, or manic depression as it was called back then, at 21. So it’s been a drawn out process – and I think it is for most people. Because there’s no definitive line at which any psychiatrist is able to say, ‘this person now has an anxiety disorder’.”
Sarah said the book delves into some of her ‘ugliest’ moments, but she felt compelled to share the story, because she wanted to connect with others over the topic.
“I felt a responsibility to write the book,” she said. “I wanted to have deeper, more spiritual, more meaningful conversations with people around this.”
The title, First We Make the Beast Beautiful, comes is based on a Chinese proverb Sarah first heard in a book by a psychiatrist and bipolar sufferer. She used the phrase because she believes it’s helpful to accept anxiety as something positive.
“I explore the idea that anxiety might actually be something we don’t want to medicate necessarily, or eradicate.”
“So far, today, most books, most therapies, work around the idea that anxiety is something that you try to treat. It gets in the way and we try to keep it under control. I explore the idea that anxiety might actually be something we don’t want to medicate necessarily or eradicate, or call a disorder. It actually might be something very worthwhile, something very important, something that leads us to some of the most important things that life has to offer. I explore it indepth.
“For me, I’ve got business with 20 staff, I’ve produced a bunch of books, I’ve had a wonderful life so far, and I’ve got to say it wouldn’t be as it is, if I hadn’t had my anxiety. I’ve had extreme anxiety over the years and I can see that it is a beast, but I’ve chosen in recent years to see it as something beautiful. And that in itself, that mindset shift, has actually been the best management tool ever.”
She said often when she shares this principle with others, they find it helpful.
“When you get anxiety, so often you get anxious about being anxious,” she said. “Then you get anxious about being anxious about being anxious! And down the spiral we go. Now if we can actually go, ‘This is just me, it’s part of who I am, and I know now it will only last for about 20 minutes, we will pass through it. I won’t try to fight it, or medicate it with drugs or alcohol, or buying new shoes. I’ll just pass through it. And then I only do anxiety once.’ Which is a whole lot less painful.”
Sarah’s Top Three Tips on Managing Anxiety
First we Make the Beast Beautiful, is full of tips, but Sarah’s top three “non-negotiable” practices for anxiety management, are meditation, walking, and routines.
“It works. I’m crap at it, don’t worry if you are too. It might take the form of prayer, everyone has different techniques, but just do it.
“Just walk. I walk everywhere, I hike on weekends. It is the best salve. I point to all the science that explains why it works.”
“Create routines as often as possible. The decision-making part of our brain is intertwined with the anxiety part. So when we’re having to make decisions all the time, it actually makes us anxious. Anxious people will know what I’m talking about. So if we can routine-ise and reduce the number of decisions we have to make as much as possible, it reduces our risk of getting anxious. I have a morning routine. I meditate, I exercise, I do the same thing every day, I have the same breakfast every day. I wear the same clothes every day.”