“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths", Etty Hillesum
Instead of thinking of anxiety as a response to something else that "happens", I think we need to embrace anxiety as more like a part of ourselves.. like a limb or a pinky finger or a surging area of our heart.. depending on how much anxiety we have, how often it strikes, how big a role it plays in our life, how much of a dialogue we have to have with it and how much we have to work with it.
For one person who may have low grade anxiety here or there we might say anxiety is the ring we put on every day, that sometimes turns green and itches. For someone else, it might be like our right hand, our right hand man: an energy that dictates how the day will go and how it will feel. For another, it can feel like a cold blooded killer out to knock us down at our knees.
We naturally then fight with everything we have: tears, fast beating heart, a desire to control ourselves, anger at this terrible state. We criticize ourselves, we blame others, we rage at the injustice of the world and our circumstances. We crumble in dread of our own cyclical thinking and our crying jags and our confusion.
All this fighting and all this attention just keep the symptoms and the suffering in place to continue the endless cycles.
I'm not suggesting we make " friends " with our anxiety.. but in a way I am suggesting we may as well breathe, take a pause and take ownership of these experiences and this energy. Experience this energy as our own and something which we can meet with tools and strategies and open hearted-ness, to move towards peace.
I am saying that like everything else, until we stop fighting it, we won't get inside it and we won't be able to use our good minds to quiet it and to keep it out of our way when we want to experience joy or we want to love wholeheartedly or we want to focus. We want to get to know it enough so we can work with it and not against it.
There are a couple of things about anxiety that are quite true that I know from my own experience in my mind and my body..and from people I know and work with . When we fight anxiety, anxiety gets excited and grows bigger and bigger and hits harder and harder..like anything else we fight and also most of the things we are afraid of or dreading or challenged by, it is actually the anxiety in our mind that spins the fear.. like cotton candy spinning on a stick.
Anxiety ends up causing the suffering.....It is exhausting, distracting, relentless and indiscriminate.
Anxiety can appear in many many ways:
In our bodies: headaches, back pain, shortness of breath, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, light headed-ness, sobbing, tight throat, shaky hands, eating disordered habits or syndromes, to name a few
In our minds: obsessive thinking, worry, harsh self criticism, racing thoughts, catastrophic thinking, hopelessness
In our social interactions: blame, disappointment, comparisons , paranoia,fear, isolation
If anxiety is a thief, it steals our confidence, our joy, our energy, our style, our time and our peace of mind.
If we believe anxiety helps us meet deadlines or to motivate, the fall out and the side effects kick us in the teeth and knock us down. Not worth it!
If anxiety is " free floating", it feels like it is circulating inside us without reason...but with force: and attaches to anything it can to begin to stir up trouble.
If it is emanating from stressful , angering or hurtful events, then it doesn't leave us alone until we have become sleep deprived, self doubting and exhausted.
Like Brene Brown says " If you put shame in a petri dish with empathy, shame can't survive".. Well, if you put anxiety in a petri dish with compassion, joy and focus.. anxiety will lose its' force... and we can begin to re-capture our natural buoyancy.
What can we do about our anxiety?
There are many tools for working with anxiety and many resources.
- Medications can help, depending on the nature of your anxiety and the symptom clusters. Medication in these instances I like to describe as an assist, not a solution. Like, if you are hiking up a mountain, take the bricks out of your backpack: the climb is challenging enough. Medication can sometimes gently take the bricks out for a while to give you a leg up on feeling better.
- Therapy with an empathic therapist works through the underlying feelings and conflicts that fuel anxiety and also creates a routine and ritual of working with focus and with peace in mind. The relationship , if strong, is healing in itself. You are not alone.
- Therapies such as acupuncture, neurofeedback, massage therapy and related body/mind work address the whole mind and body and all the factors that work together to create our experience.
- Mind/body practices like yoga, tai chi, Qicong and other martial arts quiet the mind and ground us in our bodies.
- Exercise of any kind boosts our endorphins, re-generate brain cells and lift our spirits!
- Meditating or meditative rituals create a space for the mind to breathe and stay strong.
- Group work with peers is powerful for understanding, normalizing and feeling part of a community.
Working with focus and inching towards working with joy and focus is where to start. Reign the storms in and begin to take the spotlight back!
There is more and we will explore it all!
Susan Lambert, LCSW