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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How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.
When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.

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