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How I’m Navigating Lifelong Anxiety With Breathwork and Better Boundaries

“I found that practicing breathwork and working on my breathing was more than 50% of my battle. Not breathing correctly caused my anxiety to be triggered easier and with my breathing being shallow, it made it hard to talk at length. I believe this kept me in fight, flight, freeze mode for prolonged periods of time.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hi! My name is Aidan. Originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, I now live on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia with my young family, Louis (6), Georgia (4), and my wonderful partner of 20 years, Jacqui.

We were previously living in Sydney for the better part of the past 20 years but decided to move up here during the pandemic to be closer to Jacqui’s family. Having no family in Sydney made it challenging so it’s great to have a bit of help now.

Professionally I’ve been working in the Telecommunications sector, on and off for about 20 years. Previously in mobile phones, and now business VOIP.

I’ve also been in and out of the health and fitness space with personal training and creating my own supplements brand.

Currently, I’m working for an Australian Telecommunications provider and working on my blog on the side – The Human Being Project – where I talk about Health and Wellness topics.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

Anxiety has been a big part of my life since I was young, but I couldn’t articulate the sense of unease I felt. I remember once describing it to my mum as “funny feelings”. I now understand it was anxiety, I remember it coming and going. I wouldn’t describe myself as an anxious kid but I definitely wasn’t the most confident and happy person growing up.

In saying that, I improved throughout childhood and became a relatively confident 18 – 22 year old until symptoms of anxiety resurfaced and have been with me to this day. 

These were pretty typical anxiety symptoms, where I would always just feel off and easily triggered into becoming uncomfortable. Feelings like shortness of breath, racing thoughts, and general panic were relatively common throughout my late 20’s and 30’s. I’m 41 now, by the way. 

I noticed that I would have triggers in professional settings like meetings/group settings and sometimes day-to-day conversations. I would always muddle through, but over time, these circumstances became more and more unbearable and overwhelming.

The hardest thing would be not knowing how my body was going to react that day. One day I’d be fine with addressing a group of people at work and the next I’d barely be able to hold a conversation with someone I was usually comfortable with. 

The ups and downs of my body reacting took a heavy toll as I found myself distancing from others more and more. I’d avoid any activity (or try to) where I didn’t know what was required of me because I didn’t know what version of me was going to turn up.

In fact, I would avoid a lot of things just in case something would trigger me. I couldn’t bear the thought that I’d embarrass myself in front of everybody. I only experienced a few scenarios where I had full panic attacks and those were the scenarios that shaped my experiences to come.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Living with this sort of struggle is hard. On the outside, I behave and look to be really confident and happy but unfortunately, on the inside, that hasn’t always been the case.

There are always “What if this happens?”, or “What if I’m asked to do this or that?”, I’m not going to be able to do it and it will be embarrassing. That sort of narrative will always go through my head

To my inner and outer circle, I think people would never have guessed I had or have anxiety and confidence issues. They all see the reasonably stoic side of me. 

And to anyone beyond that, I suppose I would look like I have it all together. 

While experiencing this anxiety issue with no seeming way out, at around the age of 30 I felt myself fall into depression where most of the joy of my life was removed. I felt stuck, overwhelmed, and frustrated. I think the biggest part of the frustration was, that I was attempting so many different things to fix this issue I had, just to find I had wasted so much of my money and time. 

Blaming myself and giving up on finding a solution was rock bottom to me and I’d liken this to a bit of a mental breakdown.

But as they say, when you hit the bottom there’s only one way you can go.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until recently that I unlocked the power of breathwork.

I read about it at the beginning of my journey and dismissed it as something not worth my time. I was wrong about that for sure.

On top of that, there are a lot of new breathwork teachers who have been able to frame things differently, which helps immensely.

I found that practicing breathwork and working on my breathing was more than 50% of my battle. Not breathing correctly caused my anxiety to be triggered easier and with my breathing being shallow, it made it hard to talk at length. I believe this kept me in fight, flight, freeze mode for prolonged periods of time.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

So for the past 20 years while being relentless in pursuit of conquering this issue I had learned an immense amount and not just by books, I experienced a lot of different healing modalities with mixed results.

I realized that I’m most likely having an issue with a number of things, which means, the magic bullet I was chasing didn’t exist and I needed to address a few different issues to get the result I was looking for.

Here are the main issues I identified:

  • Leaky Gut: Basically, when your gut lining has holes in it, bad stuff like toxins can get into your bloodstream, causing inflammation and messing with your mood, which can cause anxiety and brain fog.
  • Anterior Pelvic Tilt: This is when your hips tilt forward, causing back pain and affecting how you sit and stand. Tight hips can store repressed emotions and because I sit all day for work, my hips are extremely locked up. My PSOAS is really tight, work needs to be done on this.
  • Repressed Emotions: Holding in your feelings instead of expressing them can lead to a lot of inner tension and stress, which often bubbles up as anxiety. I always struggled with expressing my emotions and found it very difficult to cry or release sadness.
  • Poor Breathing: I sit for most of the day and my breathing is weak and shallow. 
  • Burnout: I was running myself into the ground. With a young family, working a full-time job, and working on a blog till late at night, I wasn’t giving myself any time to destress and recover.

Changes I implemented:

  • I started practicing Self-Care. I was writing about Self-Care on my blog but I wasn’t practising what I preached. Implementing this made me feel considerably better. Self-care for me is learning to let go of needing to be productive at all times and to learn to take a break. Also, treating myself with bad food and drink is not a treat. 
  • Using supplements: Supplements like St Johns Wart, Kava Kava, and Magnesium Glycinate have been a great help.
  • Daily breathing exercises: I switched these from Meditation to Breathing. What I found was, that when meditating, I was becoming more aware, but my body was still experiencing tension and stress. So these days my recommendation to anyone would be to prioritise breathing first, meditation second.
  • Set boundaries: let the important people around you know what you’re experiencing. This can provide a lot of relief just in itself.
  • Becoming aware of bad behaviors: I noticed when I slept and ate poorly, the next day was worse. I found cleaning up sleep and food definitely contributed to a better tomorrow.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I am lucky enough to have a very supportive partner, so I was (and still am) able to share my struggles with her without the fear of being judged.

During the first few years, however, I struggled with opening up to anyone.

Up until recently, I really didn’t feel comfortable sharing these feelings with my workplace/manager. Though just recently there was a recent change at work and I got a new manager. I opened up to him about my struggles and he allowed me to set some boundaries which I found to be extremely helpful.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

The number one piece of advice I’d give to someone suffering from anxiety or any other unwanted emotion is, not everyone’s the same. Everyone’s going to react differently to different methods.

What most will find is, that every method and/or teacher will come with a high amount of “5 stars”. I lost count of the people I spoke with and said that they would definitely be able to help/fix me, but most didn’t have an impact.

Also, speak with the people closest to you and set up some boundaries so you have a space to work on yourself. Doing this can often relieve a lot of pressure and will help with your process of getting better.

So in short, set up some boundaries, keep trying new modalities/practices, and most of all, don’t give up. The solution for you is out there somewhere.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

I have a long list of teachers who have helped me not just with anxiety and burnout but understanding how complex some of these mental and emotional health issues are.

In no particular order, here are some teachers I’d recommend –

Brad Yates: he has a YouTube channel with free content. I’ve found him to be the best source of EFT Content (tapping).

Max Strom: Max teaches breathwork and yoga and has a great TED Talk discussing anxiety and suppressed emotions.

John Amaral: He has a free course you can find on his website and helped me understand the link between vibration/sound and emotions.

Dr. Bradley Nelson: Created a method called The Emotion Code and The Body Code. If you need a quick release from a problematic period, you can hire a teacher who is certified in The Emotion Code/Body Code, they can practice remotely.

Heart Math: Lots of information surrounding the rhythms of the heart and how it affects your emotions. Otherwise known as HRV (heart rate variability).

Liz Koch: Her work deep diving into the PSOAS muscle is super relevant to people experiencing anxiety.

TRE: This is a series of exercises that allow the body to start tremoring to release patterns of stress and trauma. Great for people with PTSD and trouble releasing stored emotions.

Human Garage: They offer free programs around stretching fascia which helps with a multitude of health issues. I’ve started doing this recently and realised my body was far tighter than I thought. Practicing their movements has helped a lot with my breathing. They offer free programs you can find on their website.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

If you’d like to read more from me, I’ve created a blog called The Human Being Project. It’s a place where I discuss everything from fitness to self-care and eventually things like astrology, out of body experiences, and past-life regression.

I’m also on Instagram and YouTube.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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