Story by Marianne Salza
Mental health advocate, Morra Aarons-Mele, author of “Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home),” and “The Anxious Achiever: Turn Your Biggest Fears Into Your Leadership Superpower,” shared her strategies for harnessing stress into strength during her October 11 Beacon Hill Women’s Forum presentation at The Hampshire House.
“Anxiety is a natural and essential emotion,” assured Aarons-Mele. “Anxiety exists for good reasons. It has kept us alive for a millennia as a threat response. It provides us motivational energy. Neuroscience is shifting its opinion on anxiety. We need it. It can actually be good.”
According to Aarons-Mele, anxiety is the most common mental health ailment, affecting hundreds of millions of people. She reassured listeners that it is easy for our brains to be exacerbated and triggered over time. Anxiety is a natural, human vulnerability.
Aarons-Mele revealed that she has been impacted by clinical anxiety since she was 19-years-old, and also suffers from depression and bipolar II disorder. She described chronic anxiety as a heavy weight: complex and, at times, intense; but necessary.
“A lot of us live with this anxiety, and it keeps us pushing forward,” described the self-proclaimed “anxious achiever.”
Aarons-Mele specializes in working with leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs. She acknowledged that a lot of anxiety appears as conscientiousness, micro-managing, and working late hours.
Her Linkedin program, “The Anxious Achiever Podcast,” examines managing mental health challenges. Aarons-Mele recalled the many contributors who described growing up in households that praised receiving high academic grades, or expressed greater love upon achieving athletic success.
“Anxiety becomes a habit: and I think it’s something that we need to take care of,” said Aarons-Mele. “My anxiety makes me a high achiever. A lot of us anxiously achieve; and it serves us until it doesn’t.”
Aarons-Mele — a mother of two sons and a daughter — feels that anxiety is contagious among family members, romantic partners, co-workers, and friends. It is easy to absorb their anxieties and pains. People may be taking on the responsibilities of peers or loved ones to help ease their burdens; but eventually, those who push themselves too far will become exhausted and depressed.
Aarons-Mele suggests being mindful of how one’s body feels throughout the day. Learning to identify when she was anxious, and pausing before reacting has changed her life.
“When we learn to manage anxiety, we are good in a crisis,” explained Aarons-Mele, who identifies as an introvert with social anxiety, a common, learned behavior. “We can build empathy. It’s liberating. Understand yourself and channel your gifts.”
Aarons-Mele was raised in a home where her family, and their friends, attended therapy. Curious about mental health literacy, Aarons-Mele believes that there is a stigma and shame regarding mental health.
She recommends reminding oneself of his or her values and sense of self when one feels anxious and overwhelmed. Stop, become centered, and breathe. Remind oneself about something positive from the day to be proud of or thankful for.
“It’s okay to be anxious and stressed out in moderation,” said Aarons-Mele. “Helping people understand what they stand for us powerful.”