The last month or so, I’ve been really thinking about anxiety. There is no surprise that anxiety and I have had an enduring relationship, although lately it has lost its control over me, and despite the odd niggly feeling in my stomach (which I welcome like an old friend) it subsides a lot quicker than it previously did.
One of my ‘students’ in my mindfulness group asked me how to deal with anxiety, and it’s a topic that comes up over and over. Everyone at some point in their lives gets anxious. My response, and my ongoing practice, is to sit with the anxiety in me.
What on earth does that mean, I hear you cry! Well, don’t we tend to ignore our pain, our suffering, and reach for something to distract us from it? A stiff drink? A puff on a cigarette? A walk outdoors, perhaps, or watching a movie on the TV? Ah, that’s better, I’m not focusing on my anxiety anymore, I feel great…at least for a little while.
These things are all well and good, but afterward, we still feel anxious. It’s still there, tugging at our nerves. It’s still clinging on, desperate for you to observe it. Your body’s trying to tell you something. You’re nervous! You’re scared. You’re worrying about the future.
So, I sit with it. I take some time (even only 5 minutes, if that’s all I can manage), to sit somewhere comfy (my body doesn’t do cross-legged for too long, so I’m not a Yoga guru just yet!) so I tend to choose a comfortable armchair, or I do go outside and sit somewhere pleasant. I breathe deeply, and really focus on my breathing. I then scan my body, and see what’s going on: what’s it trying to tell me? Ah, there you are anxiety, nestling in my stomach. Welcome. What have you got for me this time?
By tuning in to the feeling of anxiety, not the perceived cause of it, all of a sudden there’s a different relationship with it. It’s just you and the feeling. There’s no drama attached to this; it’s just a feeling, like joy, or anger, or any emotion…it too shall pass through you given some time. It’ll pass through you much quicker if you just focus on it, and don’t add any more to it with your thoughts – making it a huge anxiety ridden monster. Worrying about your anxiety is no good! Worrying about what might happen to you is no good! Sitting, breathing, just feeling the anxiety within, that’s the key. It’ll unlock your body’s reactions, and it’ll ebb from you. Everything changes, including how you feel.
Each time you do this, (your anxiety will return – this isn’t an overnight thing, you know), it’ll be less. It’s all about accepting your anxiety as part of you. It takes a lot of energy to fight it, to try and come up with solutions for it. It’s there and it’s giving you a signal – this is actually very helpful and could be useful in certain circumstances. By being mindful of it within you, you’re using it as a tool, not as an enemy; it’s no longer frightening.
Therefore, anxiety can become an opportunity to learn. We can all learn from our suffering.
So, the next time it happens for you, welcome it in. Serve it tea and cake. Sit with your old friend, and just let it be.