Anxiety Is Just Trying to Do Its Job
For many of us, anxiety has been a constant companion. This isn’t just limited to people who have been diagnosed with formal anxiety disorders. Fear is an onboard feature in the human psyche, a nervous system reaction that guards our survival. Our caveman brains are wired to run from predators. We’re set up for life and death. Our nervous systems are calibrated for our ancestors. They needed to run away from predators. But for our ancestors, the chase ended. Definitively. Quickly. In either escape or death.
The trouble is that the modern world has lots of stressors that never go away (traffic, looming deadlines at work, etc). Given the right situational conditions, we never escape from our modern “predators.” Therefore, our emotional closure never comes.
What to do in this situation? Well, we make our own closure, that’s what.
Mindfulness is all about the non-judgmental acknowledgement of how we’re feeling. If we’re being mindful, we note how we are feeling without judgement, without wishing it were any different.
The trouble is that if we simply try to push the thoughts out of our heads, they come back louder, more insistent. It’s a lot like a child who is screaming for our attention. When we refuse to acknowledge them, they just scream at a louder volume.
One very simple trick for checking in with your anxiety without letting yourself be consumed by it?
Thank it. And then reassure it.
It sounds a little goofy, but thanking anxiety has worked really well for me.
When you start to feel those anxious feelings, think to yourself (or even say it aloud, if you can do it discreetly), “Thank you for reminding me, Anxiety. I got this.” And go over your plan for addressing the issue.
If you have to give a big presentation, accomplish a large project, or have a difficult conversation with someone else, remind yourself of all the times that you did so in the past and did well. Firmly and gently remind yourself of any preparation or planning you have done.
If you haven’t done any planning or preparation, and you have the opportunity to do so, then take the anxiety as a reminder to do some.
And then let the anxiety know that it’s free to leave.
It may take some repetition to make it a habit, but the more frequently you are able to practice this technique of thanking anxiety, the more likely you are to default to it and keep a cooler head without going through these steps.
The beauty of this approach is that it also works with many other negative emotions or mixed emotional states, for example, thanking jealousy.
Rather than a call to immediate action, jealousy can be a reminder for us to evaluate our relationships and ensure that our needs are being met.
“Don’t forget about me!” that voice cries. Or, if your jealousy is super obnoxious (as mine has been in the past), it’s something a little more like,”They’re going to forget about me, and I’ll lose them!”
Just like anxiety, you can thank your jealousy and reassure it.
“Thank you, Jealousy. I’ll make sure to monitor the situation closely and calmly to see that I’m not being neglected. Thank you for protecting me.”
It may be helpful as you are dating multiple people to take jealousy as an opportunity to identify what is helpful for you to feel supported.
Negative feelings are a call to pay attention, not a 1:1 reflection of how we should act.
By checking in with ourselves, we can make the most of these emotional distress signals, without beating ourselves up and trending into shame spirals in which we feel bad about feeling bad (as many people are prone to do).