I have dealt with anxiety since I was a teenager. It came with puberty and the curse of being self-aware and insecure all at the same time. Eventually it developed into panic attacks and breathing into brown paper bags. Then it disappeared for a while and came back when I moved away from my family and began graduate school. That’s when I realized my anxiety was connected to transitions and the fear of falling behind before I began.
When I would think of anxiety, I would think of how to get rid of it because if I didn’t it meant it would work against me in every way possible. One day someone asked me: “What do you think your anxiety is connected to and what is it trying to show you?” This began my journey of making my anxiety work for me rather than against me. Here are the ways I began to make anxiety work for me:
1.) Track your anxiety and be mindful of it:
Tracking my anxiety helped me learn it was connected to transitions. I looked back at the past year and thought about when my anxiety was the highest. That led me to realize that the month before each new quarter of school left me full of overwhelming emotions and having lots of breakdowns due to stress. I noticed my pattern and began to track my thoughts and feelings during those four months before a new term would start. Tracking the anxiety allowed me to be mindful of what I actually needed and how to move forward while feeling anxious.
For example, I would become so anxious during the month of August because school began in September. I was worried about falling behind with all the work that would be expected of me. (Truth is I never fell behind at school and this was a huge irrational thought of mine.) Instead of just letting the anxiety control my emotional reactions, I realized if I started to look at the syllabi for the classes I was taking and start to read some of the books required of me I actually eased my anxiety.
2.) Stop trying to solve your anxiety and try to understand it.
How many of you have ever experienced forgetting where something is and when you try to think so hard about it you can’t remember where it is, but when you stop thinking about it for a bit it naturally comes to you and you find it? When we focus so hard on getting rid of the anxiety or trying to solve it, we often struggle more and create more anxiety. Anxiety has a purpose and often is trying to tell you something. It is often our intuition that we have shunned away or turned off our ears to.
In addition to tracking your anxiety and being mindful of it, here are key questions to ask to help you understand it:
“I’m feeling anxious. What is this connected to?”
“What is my anxiety trying to teach me right now?”
“In the past when I have felt this way, what has helped me and what has made it worse?”
Take the time to ask yourself these questions to move towards understanding. If you choose to focus on understanding the anxiety, then the solutions to ease the anxiety or make it work for you arise more easily.
3.) Speak kindly to your anxiety.
Anxiety wants to be acknowledged. It wants you to know its there and that it exists. But if you’re like me, you often avoid anxiety and pretend its not there until you are having that emotional breakdown. One of the best tools I learned was to acknowledge my anxiety and speak kindly to it. Anxiety shows up when it feels inconvenient and it’s easy to brush past it or push it away till later. I found when I did this my anxiety became bigger and even harder to ignore. My therapist suggested to acknowledge my anxiety and let it know I would come back to it later.
For example: In my own therapy sessions with clients, my mind can start to race with all I need to do that day and take me away from being fully present with my clients. I now say to myself “Anxiety, thank you for reminding me of the things I need to do. Right now, I want to be present with my client. I will come back to you later.” Implementing this simple technique helped sort through the issues I’m actually anxious about it versus issues I’m not truly anxious about. If the anxiety is important, I will come back to it and won’t forget. If the anxiety is not important, speaking kindly like this allows me to release that anxiety.
With all things, it’s best to just start with one tool and practice it before adding all on. I did not start doing all of these skills at the same time. Over time, I have added them in and now feel I can confidently say I appreciate my anxiety and welcome it into my life. Take one of these skills and start to practice it. Come back and share how it’s been impacting your life!