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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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