ANXIETY is a feeling that typically impacts physically, emotionally, and cognitively. In other words, a triple whammy. And it can shut down your efforts to do what you are trying or hoping to do — or to say what you intend to say. It can stop you in your tracks — impair your ability to move forward in a productive way. FEELING ANXIOUS makes you STOP what you are doing…or at least it makes you stop or hesitate long enough to ask yourself “WHY AM I SO ANXIOUS?”
For most of us, the typical reaction to anxiety is to try to make the anxious feelings STOP! AND THAT IS THE VERY THING THAT WILL INTENSIFY ANXIETY. Because? Try for a minute to think of anxiety as “your system’s effort to get your attention.” So, you might say, it clearly does that, because I KNOW I AM ANXIOUS and I want the feeling to stop!
Consider the idea that instead of efforts to stop feeling what you are feeling, you pay attention to the feelings. Imagine for a minute that anxiety is actually trying to get your attention for useful and POSITIVE reasons. Anxiety does have a message. And the more we push it away, the more the anxiety typically intensifies….getting more and more disabling. Clearly, anxious feelings want you to pay attention to SOMETHING.
So if pushing anxiety away makes it worse, what’s the opposite? PAYING ATTENTION. Can you just for a moment imagine you can focus on the anxious feeling, even TALK to the feelings you’re having…okay so that sounds too weird? Then at least try this: ANXIETY HAS A MESSAGE, and typically it’s a self care message. That just means your head, your body, your heart wants you to DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT than what you are doing! Anxiety wants us to BE ALERT to something! So figuring it out can calm or quiet anxiety! Imagine focusing on the anxious feeling in a more receptive manner rather than pushing it down or away …..
If you’re still feeling too “stretched” by this idea, imagine for a minute what happens when you ignore a child, a significant other, even a friend or colleague trying to get your attention, talk to you. What happens? Typically, the harder it is to get your attention, the more the conversation/interaction escalates — sometimes to the level of an argument.
Basically it’s a simple principle….anxiety intensifies when ignored. The OPPOSITE? I TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND “say hello to my anxiety.” If it helps at all, this idea stems from many years of research, practice, and successful outcomes using a technique called FOCUSING. (Resources to follow)…. but here’s the basic belief: A feeling “attended to” softens and shifts. The experiment I’m suggesting is seeing if paying attention, if listening to your body and your thoughts (FOCUSING) SHIFTS or changes the feeling or the physical sensations. It could shift to fear, concern, anger, confusion or sadness about something in your life. And sometimes, even an exaggerated but positive feeling of anticipation.
Pay attention to where you feel the anxiety in your body. Breathe into your chest, your gut, your throat, and stay connected with any changes that occur in your body, feelings and thoughts. The idea is simple: you are talking to, focusing on what’s gong on rather than denying or pushing it away. Mainly you aren’t asking WHY or WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME. THOSE questions have only negative answers — I’m crazy; I’m finally losing it; I never do anything right; there must be something really wrong with me; I’ll never learn. Our minds are capable of endless cognitive distortions that DO in fact make anxiety worse. So acknowledging anxiety, talking to it, focusing on it, sensing it, takes you in an opposite, hopefully helpful direction.
If you do decide to try it, take a few minutes to write down what you might be starting to figure out…..And if you feel even a tiny bit better…a little relief from the physical intensity of anxiety, consider exploring this technique developed by Eugene Gendlin in the 1980’s. If you can get even momentary relief from my brief introduction to this idea, it will help to explore the concept step by step. It IS something you can explore on your own and find beneficial. Try the THE POWER OF FOCUSING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO EMOTIONAL SELF HEALING… by Ann Weiser Cornell.
And as always I encourage you to talk to someone if anxiety feels too over whelming. And you can always contact me. The goal is to feel better. If you are overly anxious, KNOW you do deserve to embrace life and feel better. You can also try my book YOUR PERSONAL STRESS ANALYSIS.