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