How To Redefine Your Relationship With Anxiety
Wait, what? Redefine my relationship with anxiety? Why on earth would I want to do that? I want it to GO AWAY! Yeah… I know… me too! And hopefully, at some point, it will get much better and you won’t feel it as intensely or as often. But until then… what if… just for a moment, we re-imagine the way we look at anxiety and the impact it has on our lives.
Instead of eliminating anxiety, let’s try to align with anxiety. I’ll say that again. We need to align WITH our anxiety.
I know this seems a little shocking to think of befriending your anxiety when it causes such debilitating and frustrating symptoms. However, when we spend so much time trying to avoid feeling anxiety, it seems to bring it on even more! It’s like trying not to eat that chocolate but all you are thinking about is the chocolate… you are probably going to eat the chocolate!
Humor me for just a moment and consider the idea of appreciating your anxiety. By changing your mindset, you may be able to see anxiety as a messenger bringing information about the world and your body that you may not have noticed.
Our bodies are biologically designed to protect us from threats. When we hear a loud sound or see a fast-moving object near us, our body jumps into action to keep us safe. This is a good thing!
In our fast-moving, loud and crowded society, it can be easy for our body to be in threat overdrive, seeing every situation as a threat or a dangerous situation. This is not as good! As you can see, anxiety has good intentions, but can be a bit of an… overachiever. But, thinking of anxiety as our alarm system trying to keep us safe can help change how we think about it when it kicks into overdrive.
Try this. The next time anxiety creeps up change your thought from “oh no, why now?” to something like “what is it I should be aware of at this moment?”
Maybe, there is a threat our conscious mind has not noticed, like an unknown dog walking up to us, or maybe, it’s just a busy room with a lot of people. By scanning for the threat and identifying what might be the cause for our bodies’ alarm, we can help to calm our anxiety as we acknowledge the good intentions, even if there is no reason to stay alarmed.
Anxiety sends us messages about our surroundings but also about our bodies. When you notice anxiety is taking control or has been more intense, more frequent or it has been difficult to relax, there is an opportunity to search for the sources.
- Is your life unbalanced?
- Are you spending too much time focusing on work, both while you are there and while you are not?
- Have you skipped the gym so many times you aren’t quite sure it’s still standing?
Anxiety may have a message for you about what it is you actually need. Take some time to check in with yourself, scan your body, and consider what your body needs to feel calmer.
It may be challenging to scan your body for these needs and your answer may be… I have no idea! That’s ok!
Spend a few minutes imagining what changes you might make and notice how that feels in your body. If you aren’t sure what might help, try something! Maybe try something you like to do or something you haven’t done in a while that helps you to relax.
Another opportunity that could emerge from anxiety is the chance to slow down.
- It is okay to take on less.
- It is okay to say you need a break.
- It is okay to notice that your body cannot keep up with the pace of your life and adjust!
In fact, it’s not only okay, but it is also necessary!
Listening to the needs of your body can be a challenging task, especially at a moment when anxiety is high. Take time, when you are not feeling overly anxious, to notice your body’s baseline feelings and sensations. If this feels challenging, some exercises and practices can help you to notice and feel your body such as yoga or meditation. These take some practice to learn the specifics but are helpful to increase body awareness. By increasing body awareness, it is easier to identify your body’s needs when anxiety shows up.
I know it sounds strange to encourage aligning with anxiety! Seeing anxiety as a messenger rather than a dreaded enemy, gives those anxiety moments a different feeling. The anxiety starts to feel like a chance to make a change and do some things for yourself, rather than feeling like you are a victim in your own body.
One last note on this… This may take some time! Don’t give up if it feels like anxiety is still the enemy. Make small changes to align and notice the messages your body is sending you and you will see a shift over time.