Anxiety and Acceptance
What is anxiety?
Anxiety comes in many forms. Nervous energy, worry, feeling afraid, and social anxiety are all ways that people experience anxiety, and it can range from mild to completely debilitating.
Anxiety can come in the form of being nervous right before a sporting event, or the worry and stress before giving a presentation or taking a test. It can be worrying about getting good grades. Even worse, anxiety can come in the form of feeling so overwhelmed with stress and worry that some people experience panic attacks and cannot breathe.
Anxiety can keep us from leaving our home or even our room. It can feel so intense that we cannot do what we need to do to make our lives rich and meaningful. Others have anxiety that is so intense, that they do not know what to do, so they turn to drugs or substances to try to escape the way that they feel.
Anxiety is not always bad. It can motivate us to study more, prepare more for a presentation, work harder in anticipation of a sporting event, and propel us to be very prepared before we talk to someone.
However, if you struggle with anxiety that is debilitating and not motivational, it can be devastating. So often, people are so used to fighting. They try to fight their anxiety and avoid it. They try to occupy themselves by doing things so that they do not think or do the things that bring up the anxiety or worry. While this is admirable and may work for the short term and may seem like the right thing to do, it is the exact opposite of how to cope with anxiety effectively.
So what do you do?
To cope with anxiety, you must accept the thoughts that cause your anxiety. You must also accept the feelings you have when you are anxious, whether they are pleasant or painful. The more you try to fight your thoughts or feelings of anxiety, the more you are going think about them, and the more they are going to consume you. This leads to having anxiety about your anxiety, and it quickly spirals out of control.
Acceptance is not easy. It takes a lot of practice, like anything that matters.
Think about it this way: if you are in quicksand, you sink faster the more you struggle. Anxiety is the same. So how do you quit sinking? You lay back and stop moving or fighting and accept it, or accept the way that you feel. You breathe into it, allow it to be there, make room for it, open up around it.
Remember, no matter how big your anxious thoughts or feelings feel, they cannot get bigger than you. So let the thoughts be there. You can handle them and accept the way that they feel. It is impossible to try to control your thoughts. So often, people think that if they can control what they think, and if they do not think anxious thoughts, or think about what makes them anxious, they will not be anxious.
No one can control everything that they think, and trying to avoid or control your anxious thoughts will actually make you more anxious. If I tell you to not think about a pink elephant, whatever you do, you are going to think about a pink elephant. Anxiety is the same. So instead, drop the struggle, and allow it to be there.
I have never worked with someone that has felt anxious at all times. Even if someone is anxious at all times, they are going to feel different at different times as well. There is a Buddhist saying that says, “This too shall pass.” In terms of anxiety, this means that you may not like your anxiety, but it will eventually go away. If it shows up again, you may not like the way that it feels but you can allow it to be there as it will eventually go away and you will feel something else.
There are also techniques such as deep diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and many others to help you feel less anxious.
Anxiety is so prevalent now that it is almost as common as depression in the United States. Anxiety can be very difficult to cope with, but it may be helpful to remember that there are many people coping with it and you can do the same.
I cherish working with individuals with anxiety problems, because their struggle is not an easy one. I consider myself lucky to be able to help out in any way that I can so that their struggle is not a struggle anymore.
Author: Bradley M. Dailey