This may sound silly, but anxiety is not an emotion we should strive to rid ourselves from. Its something to learn how to relate differently too. Anxiety is and can be useful and helpful, it is what alerts us to threats, reminds us of what makes us feel safe and is integral to attachment and connection. Anxiety, however, isn’t something that just lives in our heads but also lives in our body; it roots itself in our nervous system and is something we can learn to understand and connect with.
Anxiety can teach us many things about ourselves, if we are willing to listen. The difficult part is how uncomfortable it can physically feel which prompts a reaction before we have time to listen. In order to listen we have to be able to regulate our systems and turn inwards prior to reaction. The most direct and at times effective way to tune in to the physical side of anxiety is through breath work. Understanding how our breath soothes and calms our central nervous system can be essential in regulating heart rate, the flow and regulation of certain neural transmitters, and ultimately our self-talk needed to understand what is happening.
Following breath work and developing a sense of confidence in ones’ ability to engage in this effectively, one can step into the process of exploration. Below are some thoughts to engage in as you explore how you relate to your anxiety.
1. What are my expectations about this feeling? Do I judge it as good or bad? Instead of judging the experience allow yourself to ask, where do I feel this and what is it encouraging me to do?
2. Am I letting myself open up to what is happening? If I could give anxiety a physical marker, it would be to recluse; we tighten up, hide, tense up all in efforts to avoid. This question allows us to see what may be fueling the anxiety i.e fear, loneliness, guilt, and then breathe into it allowing us to experience and understand.
3. How much am I trying to control? Control is at times the essence of anxiety. It’s the need to feel safe and predictable but when we fight to hold on we create friction within ourselves. Being open to our emotions does not mean we can control them, but we can control our relationship to them.
4. What is the opposite of my anxiety? Underneath the anxiety we may be experiencing a deep yearning for something meaningful.
5. Am I trying to solve a problem or am I allowing myself to feel my feelings and be present with them?
6. Am I clinging on to only “good” emotions? Many times’ anxiety will present itself when our idea of “good” is threatened. i.e. “this can’t be happening again, I’ve been feeling so much better!”
These questions are meant to deepen your understanding of yourself and help create a relationship with anxiety, but it won’t always be an easy process. Leaning into that discomfort is challenging but the rewards can be life changing.