How the Enneagram Helped Me Battle Anxiety

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I think we all know at this point that what you see on the Internet is not the whole story.

Here’s what you’ve seen from me this year: a big move, commitment to get out of my comfort zone, a lovely trip to Europe, and resources to help you maximize your time and reach your goals. 

But there’s a lot more to my life than what you see on social media or here on my blog. I want to pull back the curtain a little bit today.

This has been one of the most challenging years of my life. My typically plucky, optimistic self was anxious, worried, maybe even depressed.

(Caveat: I don't typically want to share this side of things in part because it's just not as fun, and also in part because I know you may deal with much bigger demons than I do. Today I just want to share a bit of where I am and I hope it encourages you, no matter where you are on your journey.)

This year I experienced some big life transitions, some disappointments, and a lot of uncertainty. For months at a time I didn’t go a whole week without crying at some point. (Not at all normal for me.) I felt fragile and worried. The fog has begun to lift, but I haven’t felt solidly like myself for longer than the past four weeks or so. So while I’m doing pretty good now, I can’t say for certain how long this “feeling normal” will last. It still feels new.

Today I want to share what I think has been particularly instrumental in helping that fog to lift. Earlier this year I was introduced to something that has been nothing short of transformative for me: the Enneagram. And while I must admit that I’m a sucker for just about any personality explanation (Please let’s figure me out and everyone else!!), this one in particular has been helpful to me more than any other. Not only because it has helped me identify my strengths, but because it has also helped me see my weaknesses and how both my strengths and weaknesses stem from the same thing in me: a focus on rich experiences and the future. 

I’m an Enneagram 7: the Enthusiast. Here’s the gist, stolen from Eclectic Energies:

“People of this personality type are essentially concerned that their lives be an exciting adventure. Sevens are future oriented, restless people who are generally convinced that something better is just around the corner. They are quick thinkers who have a great deal of energy and who make lots of plans. They tend to be extroverted, multi-talented, creative and open minded. They are enthusiasts who enjoy the pleasures of the senses and who don't believe in any form of self-denial.” 

Prior to reading about my type in the Enneagram books that I’ve read (this one and this one), I didn’t realize that the primary thing that I try to avoid at all costs is pain. Well, I actually did know that, but I didn’t realize that it was a unique quality to my type. Not everyone avoids it quite like Sevens. We don’t like confrontation. And we’re quick to look on the bright side of any situation. That sunny disposition is good until it’s time to deal with some real life stuff—in which case, well, we hate that and avoid it like the plague. Not only is every type not quite avoiding pain like Sevens, but not everyone is constantly striving toward excitement, fulfillment, and the best experiences in life quite like Sevens either. 

Through studying the Enneagram, I’ve learned that the Sevens’ biggest challenge as well as our biggest driver is that we are constantly looking toward creating a new and better future. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It can be a wonderful thing. It can help change the world. But at the same time, if we are only looking toward the future and expecting fulfillment there, in short, we are missing our one precious life today. 

So how do you decide to change your ways? To not miss today? Well, lucky for me, the books I read gave me advice on the matter and it’s that advice that seems so obvious but is so transformative: gratitude. 

(And yes, if you’re reading this in November then we’ve got a beautiful Thanksgiving tie-in, don’t we? ;-))

Implementing an intentional gratitude practice has transformed my life.

And the research on gratitude is truly stunning. Studies have shown that people who implement a practice of gratitude in their lives are more optimistic, sleep better, and those that are sick have fewer symptoms

If you’re like me and you struggle with the fear of missing out, need to have something exciting to look forward to, and are constantly planning exciting adventures, I have to tell you—satisfaction is not in the future. A life focused solely on the future will leave you constantly wanting something new or something more.

Here are a few ideas you can implement today to build your Gratitude Practice:

  • Get a journal that is meant solely for gratitude. Before bed each evening, jot down three things you’re thankful for.
  • Start the day with a prayer of thanksgiving
  • Throughout the day, look for sights, smells, and sounds that you can include in your gratitude journal at the end of the day.
  • Write a note to someone who has helped you in your life. Maybe it’s a quick Facebook message or maybe it’s a handwritten letter. Take the time to express your gratitude to him or her. 
  • Every other month, choose one close friend or family member in your life to express gratitude to. Try to do this on an unsuspecting month—not a birthday month. Devise something special that you can do for them to show appreciation. 

Satisfaction and fulfillment are in today. And the best way to renew your mind is to stop, look around, and express gratitude for what is in your life right now. It’s great to have something to look forward to, but it’s incredibly powerful to express thanks for what is already here. Don’t miss it.