Taking the Power Back from Anxiety

It’s 8 am on a Monday morning. You are getting ready for work. You’ve got an important meeting, but you just don’t feel right. It’s anxiety; you know it and you hate it. You have been feeling anxious for a while now, and this week’s no different. But it comes on strong, especially when work is stressful.

Already, you are running through nightmare scenarios in your head. You think about how you won’t be able to focus during the meeting. You dread having a panic attack in the conference room, something that’s happened before. While none of this transpires and you get through the meeting, you are left exhausted afterward. You’re fighting the anxiety constantly, leaving very little room for recuperation. At the end of the day, you feel powerless. You feel like anxiety reigns supreme over your life.

We’ve all been there before, desperately fighting anxiety to take control of our lives. From guided meditations to several different medications, we use many tools and techniques to quell the anxiety storm inside us. Most of these strategies fail, and while some do work, they only work temporarily. But what if there’s a reliable and permanent way to take the power away from anxiety?

Anxiety is not the enemy.

Anxiety is an umbrella term for uneasy, dreadful feelings that we primarily experience as our nervous systems’ reaction to stress. As the levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline increase due to the various stressors in your life, it activates the nervous system, which in turn can trigger feelings of anxiety. Viewed in this light, anxiety is not our enemy, it’s a signal that we are stressed out. The more you straighten out the imbalances in your life and decrease your stressors, the less anxiety you will experience.

Once you understand the above premise, you can move onto the next important step. It’s crucial to remind yourself that fighting anxiety produces more stress, which in turn causes an increase in stress hormones, which produce more anxiety. This is a feedback loop that empowers anxiety, and it needs to be broken. But how?

We take the power away from anxiety not by fighting it, but by walking away from the fight. Nothing is more courageous than to throw your hands up when anxiety overwhelms you. By accepting the anxious feelings and letting them move through you, you are signaling to the body and mind that there is no threat. This is how you break the stress/anxiety cycle.

Vulnerability is your friend.

Oftentimes, us anxious people tend to think we need to hide our anxiety from the rest of the world. To show the world that we really are suffering on the inside makes us uneasy and uncomfortable.

During times of high anxiety, when we are having a conversation with someone, we try our best to put on a calm face when, in fact, we just want to run and hide. Why is this the case? It’s because we try to hide the anxiety from the outside world. But why do this? Instead of desperately trying to push the anxiety down, which always creates undue stress, why not just let it out?

Anxiety grows powerful when it’s hidden. It takes so much energy to cover up your anxiety. What if, instead, you said to your conversation partner, “I am feeling uneasy and anxious right now, can we come back to this in a little while?”

We feel that by exposing our anxiety, we may come off as being weak. Nothing can be further from the truth. By being vulnerable and open about our struggle with anxiety, we become strong. No more hiding means no more wasting precious mental energy to tackle anxiety when it arises. This gives us true power.

Remember, anxiety is a feeling that indicates that there are underlying stressors and imbalances in your life. It is a core feeling that is accessible to all of humanity, though in varying degrees. There should be no shame in feeling what most humans feel.

Invite anxiety along for the ride.

Many of us who struggle with anxiety can feel that it is just dragging us through life according to its whims. We may postpone travel because of anxiety, we may not choose to attend social gatherings because of how it’s going to make us feel, or we might simply just reduce the scope and size of our lives so that our anxiety is manageable. But therein lies the problem. In trying to manage our anxiety, we have relinquished control over our lives to it. We have let anxiety be the driver in our metaphorical journey through life. Taking the power back means taking control of the steering wheel. Anxiety is welcome on this ride, but it cannot be the driver.

Set goals for yourself and try to achieve them. If anxiety shows up, that’s fine, let it come along. But don’t let that stop you from trying. It’s better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. If you have always been afraid of huge crowds, and it’s impeding your progress in life, then make it a point to attend a small meetup. Your anxiety will most likely be in full swing, but don’t fight it. Instead, let it sit in the passenger seat and do its thing. Meanwhile, you figure out how to navigate life from this new perspective as the driver.

Instead of running and hiding from, or managing, your anxiety—which takes considerable mental energy—we can shift our thinking and channel all of that energy into solving problems in the world that need to be solved, or living life in a way we desire, along with our anxiety. Truth is, despite anxiety, you can likely succeed in life—if you stop fighting it and, instead, start focusing on your values, goals, and happiness.

Many of us have walked this path and come through to the other side. The trick lies in knowing that we give anxiety its power, and the same hands that give it power can also take it back.


About the Author: Swamy G

Swamy G is a counselor and writer for A Coach Called Life. He helps people struggling with anxiety, depersonalization, and panic disorder. His recent ebook Freedom from Depersonalization and Anxiety: A Short Guide to Reclaiming Your Life is available as a FREE download. You can also follow him on Twitter: @coachcalledlife

3 Comments

Jennifer

so, I’m 51 years old, and I’ve been dealing with anxiety my entire life. I think for some of us, it never goes away; it just get managed. I feel that I’ve been able to use healthy perspective, healthy strategies, and supportive loved ones to be centered most of my life. Aging changes the body’s chemistry, and life can throw more difficult challenges at times. So I’m feeling not centered way too often, and it’s overwhelming. I appreciate that you are writing about anxiety and providing positive ideas. Thank you.

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Etta

Well how are you? I’m asking this way because I just read you and am already feeling empowered! Yep, just like that!

I’m feeling that I’ve found the key to anxiety. Oh I’m quite aware that struggles are ahead for me in that now it’s a matter of putting into practice your advice all the time, yet I feel now I can do it!

Thank you!! ?

Reply
Swamy

That’s wonderful to hear Etta. Yes, sometimes all it takes is a shift in perspective of how we see our struggle with anxiety.

Glad you are feeling empowered. It’s one of the reasons I wrote this article so that people like you can claim their power back from anxiety.

– Swamy

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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