We’ve all been there. It’s 3 am and the heart pounds as if you’ve just run a marathon. Intrusive thoughts arise and the body sweats. The first instinct is to negotiate with anxiety. Please go away. Stop bothering me. But it doesn’t listen. You can’t avoid this relationship. Certainly, not by closing doors or avoiding phone calls. The more you run, the more it compounds. A classic case of ‘you can run but you can’t hide.’
How, instead, should anxiety be faced?
Let’s talk about it here.
1. Embrace anxiety
The difficult route is often the appropriate one. Boundaries with other people require a confrontation. Fat loss requires healthy eating. Managing anxiety requires embracing anxiety. You may think: but that doesn't make sense. Why would I welcome this uncomfortable feeling in my body and these uncomfortable thoughts in my mind? This is an excellent question. The reason you would do this is that embracing anxiety reduces the undesired suffering of resisting anxiety. Fighting anxiety is energy-consuming while surrendering to anxiety brings relief. At the end of the day, anxiety is an imagined danger and requires no action. No matter how difficult the uncomfortable sensations in your mind and body are, remember, you will survive.
2. Be kind to yourself
Once you have welcomed anxiety, notice the language that arises in your mind while you are anxious. Are you thinking: ‘why am I so anxious all the time?’ or ‘I hate that I’m always anxious’? Perhaps instead of interrogating or directing your anger inwards, it may serve to be gentle with yourself. It may help to say something along the lines of ‘I am experiencing anxiety and I accept that it is difficult right now.’ By validating your own experience, you will reduce self-imposed suffering that arises from resisting anxiety.
Notice your breath when you’re anxious. Are you breathing frantically? Are you forgetting to breathe? Whatever the case may be, it helps to just close your eyes and focus on your breath. Allow your breath to help you self-regulate during this difficult time. Your mind is a part of your body and the more you relax your body, the more you will be able to relax your mind.
4. Notice anxiety comes and notices anxiety go
It’s easy to remember that joy doesn’t last but difficult to remember that anxiety is fleeting. The truth is that fear, anger, joy and sadness come and go. The mind may hyperfocus on some emotions at the expense of others. It’s akin to the mind treating anxiety like a tiny ink stain on a white shirt. Sometimes by focusing on the spot, the perception of how things really look can be skewed. To address this, see if you can notice when anxiety starts to reduce or shift in quality. This curiosity alone can also greatly reduce anxiety. Better yet, notice what other emotions are alive in you other than anxiety. You may be surprised by your discovery.
5. Talk about it
What’s shareable is bearable.
(Dr Daniel Siegel)
Tell someone that you’re feeling anxious. Tell them that it’s been difficult for you. Be vulnerable and allow yourself to cry or ask for a hug. This can grant tremendous relief. Human beings are social creatures and require other people for help. There is great strength in asking for help in a world where society keeps pushing messages of self-reliance.
I hope that all those suffering from anxiety find some relief here. I have faith that you will be smiling sooner than you realize.