"How I stopped letting anxiety control me and instead used it as a force for good to build a booming business"

Looking for beauty in the beastly.

24 Apr 2018

If you turned to social media to ween yourself off sugar, you'll be well acquainted with Sarah Wilson.

Sarah is the brains behind I Quit Sugar, the social media account, website and book that kick-started the sugar-free movement back in 2010. Sarah's wellness wisdom helped over 2.3 million people worldwide give up sugar - and now she's turning her attention to anxiety.

Sarah has penned a new book, In First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, within which she discusses the manifestations of her anxiety - insomnia, bulimia, OCD and bipolar disorder - and how embracing her condition helped her develop her successful business and live without fear.

She pulls at the thread of accepted definitions of anxiety, unravelling the notion that it is a disease that must be medicated into submissions.
Instead, she asks, can anxiety actually be a force for good? Could anxiety be re-sewn into a thing of beauty? Sarah hopes her book will encourage the myriad of sufferers of the world’s most common mental illness to thrive with anxiety, and even to delight in the possibilities it offers.

Here, she shares an exclusive extract with GLAMOUR, divulging how she used her anxiety to kick-start her into building a richer, fuller life.

Tuscani Walsh

"I did a presentation at a writer’s festival not so long ago. It was a talk about turning a passion into a business. In the Q&A at the end, the first question from the audience came from a woman in her mid-forties who leaned forward over her notebook on her lap. She was half-standing in her eagerness to have her question heard.

'On your personal blog you’ve written quite a bit about how you have anxiety. But I don’t understand how you manage to do so much, to run a business and do public talks – and stand up there like you are now – when you have anxiety.'

She paused and sat back reluctantly.

'How do you do it?'

I knew my answer.

I told her I look back now and can see that every step forward in my career has been driven by my anxiety. It leads me. It’s my internal traffic light system that tells me to ‘go’ and ‘stop’. When I feel the anxious choke at my throat, that, 'urghhhh', I know something is not for me. 'Stop!', it screams at me. In this way, my relentless anxiety – and my awareness of it – has helped me make big important decisions along the way.

Anxiety is the grist to my mill; it activates my muscles, my fire, my fight. If I didn’t wake at 4am most mornings while building my business and writing my first few books, I wouldn’t have got my product to the printers. Seriously. Those 4am awakenings, at times, have fine-tuned what I do. And if I didn’t fret until things were the best they could be, my books wouldn’t have sold.

Also, if I didn’t know what it was like to go down deep and dark, as I have with anxiety, I wouldn’t know how to take creative risks. The fact that I lost everything at several stages in my life to anxiety and related illness means I have little attachment to material outcomes. So when I’ve come to big forks in the road in my career, I’ve been able to take the more unconventional, true path, unadulterated by bottom-line concerns. I’ve been able to rebuild and redefine my life several times because I’ve had nothing to lose.

I explain to the woman with the notebook at the writer’s festival that, sure, I don’t know where to draw the line at times and when to rein things in. But that’s my challenge: to use the anxious fire to ignite things, but then be able to dampen it to keep things burning steadily.

I think anxiety pushes us. It exists to do so – it helps us friggin’ fire up. Even when it makes us stall with terror, it eventually makes conditions so unbearable that we ricochet off to a new important direction. Eventually."