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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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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