From Surviving to Thriving: How I Healed My Anxiety and Reclaimed Joy as a Queer Person

For the first two decades of my life, I lived in a state of constant fear and anxiety. While I had a sunny disposition and began devoting my life to social change work at just 14 years old, a dark cloud seemed to press over my day-to-day life. The repeated trauma I endured as a child and young adult, much of it due to being queer, had left my nervous system on a state of high alert and my mind questioning whether I should even be here.

Today, people often remark that I’m one of the happiest people they’ve ever met. I wake up with genuine excitement to be alive. Trust and calm are my default state. Suicidality is a distant memory. Supportive community surrounds me. The healed and happy life I thought I’d never survive to experience is now my reality.

How did I make this shift? Through a combination of cosmic grace and relentless determination. I devoted myself to a set of spiritual principles and practices. At first, I was just acting “as if,” taking a chance on the idea that these ancient techniques would deliver on their promises. And over time, I saw for myself just how powerfully our lives change when we make the decision to live a changed life.

If you’re struggling to feel secure, safe, and confident as an LGBTQIA+ person, you are not alone. Mainstream narratives bombard us with troubling statistics, reinforcing the story of how dire our situation is. However, the tools to experience a new kind of life are at our disposal. Below you’ll find 10 ways to boost your well-being and reclaim your happiness this Pride month. Notice what resonates, and pick one place to start. All you have to lose is that which has kept you from living the life you were born to live.

1. Meditate. Seriously.

Changing our lives starts with presence. Presence in the here and now is the medicine that allows us to witness our past pains, receive our current joys, and cocreate future good. Meditation creates space between external stimuli and our responses, allowing us to act as we choose, versus on autopilot. Twenty minutes of transcendental meditation has been shown to reduce our body’s stress hormone, cortisol, by 30 percent. (A full night’s sleep only lowers cortisol by about 10 percent.) If you feel stressed and oppressed by your life, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is meditation. Don’t let the many meditation options overwhelm you, either. Pick one, and just start.

2. Take 100 percent responsibility for your experience.

I used to think that the world was out to get me. From distant family to homophobic bosses to hateful street harassment, I felt bombarded by evidence that I was not loved or accepted. I balked at personal-development advice that told me that my whole life was by my design, pointing to the queerphobia of the world as evidence of my lack of control over my fate. However, my life didn’t start to change for the better until I accepted my full sovereignty as a human being. I accepted that everything that had happened to me was part of my soul’s path, and that it would be part of the medicine I share with the world. I accepted that I had full control over how I responded to the stimuli of my life. I decided that no one but me would have the power to bring me down.

3. Start forgiving the people who have harmed you.

Once you begin taking back your power to experience life in the way you desire, past pains often resurface to be addressed and released. The most radical changes I’ve seen in my life and the lives of my clients have occurred upon realizing that our full liberation requires loving the people who have harmed us the most. Forgiveness is not about allowing abuse. It is about releasing the attachment to past pain so that we can live fully in the present moment. The Buddhist loving-kindness meditation technique is very powerful for facilitating forgiveness. In this practice, you extend love to yourself first, saying: May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live a life of peace. Then, you extend those offerings to someone who is easy to love. Often a pet works great for this, because pets fill our hearts so easily and abundantly. Finally, call to mind the person you are still mad at. Repeat the mantra, envisioning the golden light of the sun radiating out from your heart to theirs. Breathe into the tension until it eventually dissipates, like you would a muscle knot you are releasing. When you feel complete, thank them for being a part of your story, and watch them walk away into the sunset to live a happy, healthy life.

4. Reparent your younger self.

Trauma freezes us in time, causing us to recreate painful experiences until we clear the original experience. Luckily, our minds are powerful enough to do this, simply by replaying the memory in a more empowering way. When a difficult emotion arises, ask yourself: When was the first time I felt this way? What would I have to believe in order to feel this way? When was I taught to believe this? Notice whatever images begin to emerge, and use the power of your imagination to rewire the memory. For example, in a memory where you’re being chastised for going against gender norms, you can envision your current self going back, interrupting the scene, and speaking to your younger self, telling them: “It’s perfectly okay to express yourself however you want.” Allow your younger self to express their emotions fully. This may look like seeing them cry, yell, or take a more empowered action in the situation. Ask your younger self: “What do you need to feel complete here?” Finish by filling the whole scene with bright light or clear water, washing away the original emotions. You may find yourself yawning, crying, or shaking out your muscles to fully release the old stuck emotions.

P.S. If you find it hard to go back as your current self to reprogram the memory, call on parental archetypes who you fully love and respect. This can be anyone from Mrs. Weasley in Harry Potter, to Mr. Rogers, to your high school English teacher. P.P.S. You may find that a specific memory comes back again and again. That’s okay. Simply ask your younger self: “Why do you want me to see this again?” Often, you’ll notice a subconscious worry of not being validated for the pain you experienced and therefore a fear of letting go of the bad memory.

5. Rebuild your relationship with your intuition.

Most of us have been deeply conditioned to distrust our instincts, replacing them instead with social norms about what is reasonable, logical, and right. Learning to trust your intuition again means no longer outsourcing your wisdom to an external source. It means being able to trust yourself, and stand by your decisions always, rather than second-guessing yourself and wondering if others know best.

The path to your intuition is through your heart, which is 60 times more electromagnetically powerful than your brain. Visualize going down from your mind into your heart. See the light there, that burning passion for the world, and ask it where to go. Notice what feels like forward momentum (however scary it may be) and what feels like contracting. Lean into the forward feeling. The relationship may take some time to reestablish. Pick one day to start listening to what your heart’s instincts are, rather than what your mind tells you that you “should” do. Start small and build from there.

6. Observe your thought patterns.

What is your internal monologue? What are you saying to yourself under your breath? If you’re like most people, the socially programmed script you have running is not too nice. Back when I was still struggling with major depression and anxiety, I used to assert, “I totally love myself!” But when I finally got quiet, through the help of meditation, I realized that my inner bully was out in full force, questioning my every move and telling me how awful I was. Uncovering how negative our inner critic really is can feel a bit like that moment in a horror film when they realize the call is coming from inside the house. But the moment we have awareness of what’s been happening, we have the power to change it. Write your new story. Affirm what you want to believe about yourself: I am happy. I am whole. I am always in the right place at the right time. My life is full of unexpected miracles. When coupled with the subconscious work described in #4, these affirmations will powerfully shift your internal dialogue. And, because our external world is merely a reflection of our internal landscape, the quality of your relationships will transform as well.

7. Use social media intentionally.

Spending time on social media can exacerbate anxiety, if we’re spending all our time comparing ourselves to others or following people who we judge or dislike. Bring conscious intention to your social media use. Clear out your feed of anyone who makes you feel “less than.” Don’t be afraid to comment and connect with people you admire, or to reach out to people who are commenting on similar posts with similar ideas. And before launching into comment wars, ask yourself: What is my intention? Why am I triggered? What do I truly need to feel better? Get curious about why you’re online, and make every action a conscious choice.

8. Nourish your body.

The gut sends 10 times as many messages to the brain as the brain sends to the gut. Trust your gut, literally, and invest in its well-being. For me and my clients, this has meant shifting to a plant-based diet with minimal processed foods and added sugars, and absolutely no drugs or alcohol. I used to think this was extreme, but my quality of life (particularly my mental clarity) has so dramatically changed that I now relish the opportunity to eat only what truly nourishes me. Everyone’s body works differently, of course. So start by asking your body: What do you need? And really listen.

9. Find the balance between boundaries and isolation.

As you reestablish your relationship with your intuition and begin clearing the pain of your past, you may witness the people around you changing as well. All of a sudden, good friends may be more distant, or you may feel like socializing in a completely new way. Be gentle with yourself and trust the process. Trust that anyone who leaves your life as you are investing in your well-being is not aligned with your highest good. Thank them in your heart for their role in your life and release them. Set the intention to be surrounded by a loving, supportive community that supports you in being your most authentic self.

10. Make a sacred contract with yourself.

You have your desires for a reason. There’s deep wisdom in those heart-centered hopes and dreams that fill you with exhilaration and peace, even if they’re swiftly accompanied by doubt or fear. Start making a list of the things that light you up—everything from eating a specific food to exploring a certain topic to living in a certain place. Make a pact with yourself to explore all that calls to you. Think about all the promises you wish your friends, family, and partner would make to you, and make them to yourself. Write them down, and sign it. The more radically you accept each and every part of you, the more effortlessly you will experience a world that celebrates and supports you fully.

Find out about programs with Aaron Rose at Kripalu.

Aaron Rose is a writer, speaker, diversity and inclusion educator, and leadership coach. More about the author: aaronxrose.com