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Using Adventure to Face Anxiety with Paula McGuire of Must Try Harder

Tough Girl - Paula McGuire - “Must Try Harder” an unlikely adventurer who is an anxiety survivor.

Is your anxiety holding you back? Maybe you dream of embarking on an expedition or taking on a challenge, but your fears stop you from even trying. Eventually, you find yourself in a comfortable, everyday routine but those dreams of adventure are still there. How do you overcome your fears and anxiety to get out there?

Paula McGuire is an anxiety survivor, unlikely adventurer, and author of Must Try Harder. Despite growing up with anxiety from childhood, Paula turned her life around, faced her fears, and got outside to live a life of challenge and adventure.

Do it Yourself

Paula described herself as ‘the least sporty and adventurous person you would ever meet’ as a child. From a young age, she avoided going outside of her comfort zone at every opportunity. As time went by, social anxiety caused her to turn inwards and keep to the house more and more.

Paula did everything she could to try and appear normal so no one would see there was anything wrong. Behind the curtain, Paula dealt with panic attacks and a long list of doctors who couldn’t find a solution.

At 30 years old, Paula struggled to leave the house. After the doctors tried everything and told Paula this was just the way her life had to be, she was shocked. “I tried everybody else’s help. I tried anything Google said, but I’d never really given myself a chance.”

While Paula knew anxiety couldn’t be cured, she wondered if she could face it and make things better.

Embrace the Thrill of Learning

Deciding to frighten herself into changing her life, Paula looked to sports. Sport was everything she couldn’t handle as a child from the team aspect to fitness. With Glasgow hosting the Commonwealth Games, Paula saw the perfect opportunity. She decided to try all 17 sports of the Commonwealth Games and do it very publicly on a blog to hold herself accountable.

Cycling seemed like a straightforward sport to try first, but at 31 years old, learning to ride a bike proved to be difficult. Getting to the lessons was the first challenge for Paula. She was terrified of what people would think. Finally, she went in with her mum and signed up for adult classes. It took Paula two months to get the balance and coordination needed to ride a bike, but she kept with it. “If you keep trying, you can learn. It might take a long time, we all have different learning styles,” Paula said.

Learning to ride a bike was one of the best feelings Paula had her entire life. This feeling of learning something new and expanding what she thought possible was exhilarating. Paula shared, “These things for me are completely new. I’m still getting that joy that you get when you’re 6.”

For those struggling with fear and anxiety, embracing the excitement that comes with learning something new can be a way to push through what’s holding you back.

Go Public with Your Struggle

When you’re struggling, taking the first step to do something new is extremely difficult. Paula beat herself up for years over her anxiety and how it was controlling her life. Overcoming that when it’s been a long time takes a lot of practice and determination.

Paula’s top advice is to go public and get support. For Paula, that came from her family and her blog. She started off blogging sharing her escapades with humor but later began to get vulnerable. She found that people either asked how they could help or shared that they struggled with the same things.

Once you share, you aren’t doing it just for yourself anymore. Paula found that she was making it easier for other people to go out and live the lives they wanted too.

Know You Aren’t to Blame

As soon as you open up and admit you're struggling, it takes the power away from the problem. Paula related that when you’re dealing with mental health, it can feel like you’re the only one. As soon as you talk to people about it, you realise that you aren’t alone and you aren’t to blame. You don’t bring mental health challenges on yourself.

For years, anxiety convinced Paula that she should be quiet and hide the fact that she was struggling. Today, she’s quick to share if something is difficult and she’s having a hard time. Paula shared that when we stop blaming people for their struggle, they start to move forward with it.

As she’s pursued adventure after adventure Paula’s learned that over time your nerves turn into strength. By building on the support she got, Paula was able to keep going. Every success stepping out of her comfort zone and trying a new sport pushed her to go further.


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