Blogger. Pilates Teacher. Freelancer. Writer.
She works, works out, travels. Sound familiar?
On the surface, Rosie Hope Gregory sounds like your regular girl next door. She’s calm and composed with an infectious energy that is hard to miss in a room. What not many know, though, is her ongoing struggle with mental health that stems from a perfectionist and overachiever mentality.
Like all of us, though, she’s been through her fair share of challenges. Challenges that don’t define her, but shape her. In this interview, we talk to her about her journey:
"I frequently struggle with anxiety. I’m a natural born performer and a perfectionist – a pretty tough combination. On the outside, many see a bubbly and confident Rosie. In reality, I’m internally often overthinking and over-analyzing all the information and interactions I face."
Was there anything you feel triggered this anxiety/negative cycle of thoughts?
I’ve always been a very high-performing perfectionist. From a young age, I was always determined to do it all, to be “better than best”, and held a persuasive overachiever mentality. I never just wanted to “just pass” a test, I wanted top marks! I went to an incredible high school, where I was told “girls can be anything they want to me”. As a feminist, I damn well wanted to make ripples in this world.
Taking it way back, I had an incident when I was around 10 or so, where I was bullied by some girls. I was always outgoing and got picked on (“tall poppy syndrome” in Australian terms”). In fact, the school suggested that I was so far ahead academic wise that I should skip the rest of the year - I think that started a chain of limiting beliefs.
The last thing is my lifelong dance background - I went fairly full on with dance around the age of 13 before entering vocational training and eventually making it my full time career. It was all consuming and from a very young age (I started when I was just 3!), the mentality was that there was “no room for error”. Not the best for a perfectionist like me!
Ironically, the place I felt the most in “flow” was the place that had the most anxiety leading up to: the stage. I dealt with some pretty full on performance anxiety leading up to shows, but being on stage and performing is a high like no other, and everything else would fall away when I was in that moment.
Does this get in the way of what you need to do given your job and day-to-day tasks?
Well, it doesn’t usually stop me from doing the things I need to do. I’m exceptionally determined in my ambitions and have an internal driver that pushes me to keep moving forward. While that can seem good on the surface, it can also be self-sabotaging because I’ll often push myself to my limits which has [unfortunately] led to burnout on several occasions.
In fact, I hit a tipping point about 2 years ago (2016); my hormones went haywire and I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. Yet, I was still trying to go on as though I had a fully functioning and able body. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I was finally forced to stop every single thing I was doing - and wow, was that hard! At the same time, it taught me a big lesson in learning how to slow down and it’s since been a real process of learning to be kinder to myself.
The anxiety though sits with me daily. Even when I go through the motions of getting things done, the anxiety is a constant companion. I can walk into a room feeling confident and eager and almost immediately, thoughts will start creeping in. For example, “you don’t belong there (classic imposter syndrome!)” or “surely everyone else must be judging me”.
Needless to say, these thoughts are really intrusive and it takes a lot of energy to try and turn the dial down on them. Even though I put myself out there a lot by meeting new people, moving to new cities, pitching ideas and utilizing my unique talents and gifts… there’s always a creeping shadow of doubt! It is likely that most others in the room don’t notice (good performer, remember?), but it’s very real to me.
What are some signs that your everyday anxiety has started to “cross the line” into an anxiety disorder?
It’s funny; whilst I acknowledge I have anxiety, I don’t like to label myself as having an “anxiety disorder”. I find that when I label myself, that narrative can expand rapidly and potentially prevent me from moving forward positively.
I also believe I’m exceptionally intuitive with the fluctuations of my anxiety; I can usually tell when it’s becoming more than just base-level “acceptable” (for me) anxiety through, most often, physical manifestations. For example, I’ll be more jittery, have breath changes, experience breakouts, and have horrible digestion. I also tend to find myself rushing, unable to sleep well, and getting overwhelmingly tired.
In my emotional states (particularly in my interactions with others), I become snappy, short-tempered, and have no patience. Mentally, I find it difficult to process information, cannot make decisions, lose my confidence and find my inner dialogue is cranking up old, tired stories that no longer belong in my current narrative.
When it gets particularly strong, I find myself not wanting to be around other people, questioning my work, creativity and purpose as well as assuming the worst in all situations.
When did you then decide to take that step to seek help from a professional?
Well, the first time I sought help, my proactive parents actually initiated it by taking me to see a counsellor when I encountered the bully incidence… but I don’t really remember much of it.
Again, in high school, I sporadically saw school counsellors when stress levels were high trying to balance academics and dance training; but again, it wasn’t anything that was long-term or anything I took too seriously.
It was only when I was doing my Masters in Dance Performance in London when I realised that seeking professional help might be a wise choice. Halfway through the year, I experienced my first true bout of depression. I really struggled to regulate my emotions often feeling quite low, overwhelmed, and highly anxious. I couldn’t understand how I could be where I wanted to be, doing exactly what I loved… yet still feeling this way.
Things picked up for a while before the next “dip” (mentioned above) in 2016. Although I was with my incredible partner, I was far removed from major support systems and found traditional medicine to be failing me. The doctors simply wanted to “band-aid” the problem, whilst I was bent on finding holistic alternatives to heal my body AND mind. On a positive note, this led to a long journey of seeking herbal medicine, acupuncture, functional doctors, and making major lifestyle shifts.
In fact, I was able to reverse a majority of my symptoms within a year; which in itself was [and continues to be] a rollercoaster ride. Knowing, however, that I am predisposed to these conditions means I’ve learnt to prioritize my physical, energetic, and emotional health. I’m also more self aware and able to easily see slips or changes in my mental state when they arise.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Although I’m generally an early riser, I usually wake up to my partner’s alarm. When I’m up, I try not to immediately grab my phone. If I do, I end up swirling down the social vortex and before I’ve had a chance to breathe, the content I consume sets the tone of the day. As I have messages often coming in from various time zones, it can be very overwhelming to face these the first thing in the morning.
Once up, I follow a broad structure for the day and mini rituals. I’ll swirl down some chinese herbs or a herbal tea, take some time to do a mindfulness practice or meditation, then get going. I like to start the day with a workout – whether that’s meeting friends for a class, a steady state incline walk on the treadmill, or doing my own training / practice.
Basically, I check in with my body to see what I feel like doing then get into it! This is usually followed by breakfast at home consisting of eggs, avocado, and kale; I like to cook at home as much as possible so I know I’m getting the nourishment I needed.
My actual “day” often varies - I could be training clients, developing business ideas, heading out for meetings, writing articles, researching topics at a co-working space, getting busy on social media, etc.
Once the work day is over, I usually go for my second workout of the day… something that compliments the first workout. In other words, if I’ve done something higher intensity in the morning, then I’ll do something more “gentle” to wind down at night. Right now, that often looks like a lot of nourishing yoga or a long walk around Marina Bay.
Evenings are pretty sacred to me – after years of teaching late into the evenings, I’m now a real homebody. I prioritise dinner and catching up with my partner, touching base with friends & family across the globe, and sometimes netflix!
To wind down for bed, I’ll always get off my phone at least 30 mins prior, spritz some essential oils around the room, revive my skin with my favourite natural beauty products, and then read to drift off.
Do you still have low days? What do those look like?
Yes. Of course!
Moving to Singapore, whilst it was my decision, has been tough on me. I’ve come from two countries that have allowed me the freedom to follow my own path fully, and it’s been challenging in Singapore as a freelancer. I’ve also seen some changes in my physical health, with some gut health issues and mini-rebouts of adrenal fatigue alongside hormones that always need to be attended to!
In fact, I hit a low patch around two months ago; one of the hardest I’d had in a while.
A low day for me will often involve a lot of tears. It also results in a big lull in energy; I get demotivated and find it really hard to concentrate on anything I need to do.
If you’re having a low day, how do you face it?
First, I acknowledge it. I admit to myself that it IS a shit day. Thankfully, my partner is an absolutely incredible support (my parents actually call him the “Rosie whisperer” because he is the only person able to calm me down instantly) so I’ll have a long chat with him.
My next move is then, to actively get out of my apartment and go through the notions of doing things that usually feel good to me - head out for a walk with podcasts, go for an acupuncture session, schedule a massage, go to a coffee shop, whatever. While there’s some temptation to just stay in bed, I know that’s not best for me as I tend to spiral down more when inactive.
I’m also very open with how I feel so I’ll call people; either my family or friend and unload over the phone. Other times, I’ll rally my crew and schedule in workouts, classes, or coffee to make sure I’m interacting because I find that helps to lift me up.
This was definitely more difficult when I first arrived in Singapore; most people in my life have known me for a long period of time. Thankfully, I’ve made a wonderful group of friends here who I’m extremely grateful for and who have been nothing but supportive.
Has this changed over time?
Yes, definitely. As I’ve learnt more about myself and delved way more into the world of holistic healing, psychology, and self-care… it's changed.
My body’s natural coping mechanism is movement – you can’t blame it, it’s all I’ve done for 24+ years! In the past, I would push myself to hit a HIIT class or smash out a super hardcore workout to “let off steam” on a low day. Since then, though, I’ve learnt this is totally counterintuitive; my body was already battling super high cortisol levels, and adding extra cortisol from high intensity exercise only exacerbated my mental state.
Now, on a “low” day, I still incorporate movement but I’m in a much gentler form. I look to restorative yoga to release some of the emotional and physical tension in the body, meditate, go for a long walk, or slip into a pilates class. Pilates is actually one of the best workouts for anxiety; pairing of breath with the movement leaves little room to focus on what's dragging you down!
What are some of your coping mechanisms or tools?
I’m a firm believer and advocate of holistic wellness. I fully believe in giving the body and mind the tools that allow it to heal, recover, and flourish. This means I look at my mental health in terms of physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being.
I’m also huge on self care. I know it seems like a total social media cliche, but it is SO imperative. I do things that lift me up and make me feel good. I honour my body to give it love, even when I don’t really feel like it; that’s nourishing myself with good food, keeping on top of my supplements, acupuncture (a total crucial part of my weekly schedule), massages, and of course… face masks!
I also LOVE listening to podcasts; I listen to them while going for walks or walking on the treadmill and it’s a great way to get moving while not being completely mindless or ruminating on not-so-fun thoughts.
On a nutrition front, I’ve found there is so much truth in the mind-gut connection. When I changed my diet to be more gut-friendly, there was a significant positive impact on my mood, so I adhere to foods that help rather than hurt.
Sleep is a priority for me; it has such a huge impact of all aspects of health. I always ensure I get 7-9 hours and if I don’t, well I’m probably anxious about it! ;)
Seeing my family and friends are also very important and I try to arrange trips to see them throughout the year; they keep me grounded and remind me of the important things in life.
Having lived in various places, do you see cultural differences in the attitude towards mental health? How has that affected you?
I’m not sure about the attitude towards mental health but I can definitely see triggers in the population that I believe could affect mental health in Singapore.
The first would be the perfectionist attitude that is apparent; everyone is constantly on-the-go, aiming to be the best, and “busy” is the name of the game. As a self-confessed perfectionist, this definitely was (and is) hard for me to adjust to. But, I know I need to set my own boundaries and be okay to say “no” at times rather than comparing myself to others who might be “doing more”. I’ve realised the voice will always tell me I can “do more” or that what I’m doing is “not enough”.
The second would be the difference in training for an aesthetic focus here. I feel the goal of working out is often to “stay slim” / “weight loss” rather than to “be fit”. There’s a movement towards strength in many other parts of the world today that I’m not sure is as readily reflected here [yet].
I always find it amusing to walk into classes where I’m heads taller than everyone else in the room with my strong 5’9 Amazonian physique. It can definitely play on self-confidence, but that’s not a criticism! I firmly believe in working out because it makes you feel good, not because it makes you look a certain way. Movement and physical health are a luxury and I don’t believe you should ever use it to punish yourself or to make yourself smaller than you are meant to be.
What are some of your go-to mantras / positive affirmations?
Well, I focus on the breath a lot. I like the 6-7-8 breathing pattern: inhale for 6, hold for 7, exhale for 8. I find it anchors me.
Mantra wise, I work with:
“You’re ok” - I say this to myself multiple times through the day; it reminds me to be kind to myself.
“I am here” - in other words, to be present with where I am.
The other one I like, is actually a Kundalini meditation. All you do is repeat SA-TA-NA-MA while tensing your back teeth together. It’s a powerful healing mantra and helps lower my stress levels almost immediately.
What advice do you have for those going through similar struggles?
Remember that your struggles are only for a season. That struggling today doesn’t mean you’ll struggle tomorrow, there’s always the gift of a new day. Often, we get so obsessed with where we will be five years from now and get overwhelmed by the big picture. I’ve found sticking to my own timeline and remembering not to compare myself with others really helps!
NEVER be afraid to reach out for help. I’m forever thankful that I grew up in a very open environment; mental health issues were never swept under the rug in family discussions. While not everyone might have that “luxury”, there’s always help around… whether it’s from friends or professionals or community; seek help if you need it.
Believe that you are NOT ALONE. Often, we are surrounded by others who are struggling; others who put on the same front that we put up. I remember a particular incident back when I started being more open - I shared openly with a group of friends about my struggles… before I knew it, friends around the room were admitting their own struggles and at least 80% shared they struggled with anxiety in various forms; something I would’ve never known if I had not allowed myself to be vulnerable.
Follow Rosie's journey here.
Other reads: On dealing with anxiety and being free
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