Anxiety can get in the way of doing things that would be great for you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are two questions that can make a difference.
- Anxiety is something that happens to every every every single person on the planet. Every person on the planet feels mad sometimes, sad, happy, excited, jealous, scared, and every person on the planet feels anxious sometimes.
- Anxiety comes from a part of your brain called the amygdala, and it’s like your own fierce warrior, there to protect you. When your amygdala thinks there is something it needs to protect you from, it surges your body with a special body fuel, designed to get you faster, stronger, more powerful, more able to fight the danger or flee from the danger. Sometimes though, the amygdala can think there is something it needs to protect you from, and it surges your body, and it makes you want to avoid that thing. Anxiety feels terrible when it happens, and when you’re feeling anxious, it can feel like there is something dangerous there, and it can hold you back. The problem is, too many times it can hold you back from the things that would actually be really great for you, or important for you. So anxiety happens when there is one of two things: either a real threat that you need to stay safe from, or something important and meaningful, and it’s often the worry about messing up or missing out on that important, meaningful thing that can make anxiety happen.
- The problem is, if you believe your anxiety, it can hold you back from the things that would be good for you, like school, or trying something new, or doing things with friends. All of those things can make you feel anxious. Now the thing to do when you’re feeling anxious – there’s a way to find a way through – is there are two questions that can help you feel brave enough to get the job done, or to move towards that important, meaningful thing. The first question is this: ‘Am I feeling like this because it’s a real threat, or because there’s something important or meaningful I need to do?’ Then, you ask yourself the next question, which is, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe?’, and sometimes it will be. Sometimes it is exactly the right time for you to be safe. If you’re walking past a dark alley and you start to feel anxious inside, then it’s a good idea to avoid the dark alley. That’s when anxiety keeps you safe. Most often though, it happens in response to the important meaningful things. So the question is this: ‘Is the time for me to be safe, or is this a time for me to be brave?’ ‘Is this a time for me to be safe, or is this a time for me to get the job done?’
- The thing to remember is you don’t have to wait for your anxiety to go, for you to be brave. What you need to do is be the boss of your amygdala, and remember that you can feel anxious and do brave. So sometimes, that means might mean taking strong steady breaths. Strong steady breaths are like a lullaby for your amygdala. Brains love strong steady breathing. As soon as you start strong steady breathing, your amygdala will start to calm and it will help your anxiety to soften enough for you to move towards that brave important thing.
- It can also help while you’re doing your strong steady breathing to have something really brave or powerful – something that makes you feel stronger and braver and more powerful. It might be something like, ‘I’m safe. I’m safe.’ And you say that to yourself. Put your hand on your heart. That can also boost it and help you to feel calm. It might be words like, “I can do this.’ ‘I’ve got this.’ ‘I made this work before and I’m going to make this work again. I can do this.’ Whatever feels right for you. And then you ask yourself, ‘What is one small step I can take towards that meaningful or important thing?’
- Sometimes it will feel too hard to do the whole thing, but what you want to do is something that is braver than last time. That’s the way to teach your amygdala that you’re actually the one in charge, and that this thing that your amygdala is feeling a bit scared of or a bit anxious about, is actually safe. Your amygdala will only learn from experience, so we have to give it enough opportunities to do whatever it’s feeling anxious about so it can learn that it’s actually safe. So if your amygdala is feeling anxious about trying out for the soccer team, the more you you play soccer – the more you do it – you might start with 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. The more you do that, the more your amygdala will go, ‘Oh okay. Well that wasn’t so bad. Maybe we can do a bit more next time.’
- Sometimes your amygdala might feel even bigger and even more anxious. It might make your anxiety bigger when you do that but that meaningful important thing. That’s okay. That doesn’t matter. That means that your amygdala is learning something new. So if your anxiety feels bigger when you’re trying those meaningful important things that are good for you, that’s okay. That means that your amygdala is starting to learn something new, and that is that you can be brave, even when you’re anxious.
- So when you’re anxious, if you can ask yourself those two questions: ‘Is this happening because it’s a real threat, or because it’s something meaningful or important?’ and, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe, or is this a time for me to be brave?’ And if it’s a time for you to be brave, if it’s a time for you to get that job done, take a few moments take some strong deep steady breaths. Say your brave talk. Imagine talking directly to your amygdala, ‘We’ve got this.’ ‘We’re safe.’ And then do what it is that was braver than last time. Even if you can’t do all of that brave thing, ask yourself, ‘What can I do that was braver than last time?’ And that is a really powerful way for you – when you’re feeling anxious – to find the courage in you. You’re built for this. You can do this. Even when you’re feeling anxious, you can do brave.