amber waves Stories
How can I get rid of this anxiety?!?
You may have heard—or asked yourself—some version of the above question. Spoiler alert: you can’t! Sorry to break the bad news to you. Don’t worry though (a form of anxiety!). There’s also good news.
Human beings have anxiety, first and foremost, as a survival mechanism. The stress response, “fight, flight or freeze.” That’s how your ancestors, you, and everyone else kept alive. It alerts us to danger, or potential threats that could lead to danger. The trouble is, in the modern-day world, it’s unlikely that we’re being chased by tigers, but there are a multitude of other everyday events and situations that can trigger those same survival mechanisms. Constantly. And that’s when it becomes problematic.
Uncertainty is a big trigger. Enter this current pandemic, and we collectively have massive doses of unknowns in every direction. There is unquestionably a wide spectrum individually, though no one is entirely unaffected. Even if we think we’re handling things well, there is a pervasive undercurrent of anxiety and stress, always on in the background, sapping our energy, unseen.
That’s our current reality.
But I promised good news, so here it is!
What if, instead of seeing anxiety as an enemy that must be beaten back and conquered, caged, or otherwise controlled, we chose to befriend it? Yeah, I said it. What in the world does that mean??
As I said earlier, we can’t get rid of anxiety, and it serves an important purpose. Recognizing this is the first step.
The next is to become curious. Notice when anxiety, worry, or panic come up for you. Ask it, as if it were a person “what are you trying to tell me or warn me about right now?” See what response you get from yourself. Then ask “is there anything I can do about this now?”
If yes, do that! If not, well, then it’s time to focus on things that ARE within your control. Perhaps that means stepping away from the situation for now, or taking care of yourself by checking in with yourself and addressing your needs, such as hydrating, eating nutritious food if you’re hungry, taking a break, meditating or simply focusing on your breath, journaling, connecting with another person, exercising, taking a walk (preferably outside in nature if possible) or an impromptu dance break (two of my favorites!). Or any number of other actions that work for you.
The point is to change how you relate to anxiety itself. You can do this by noticing when it comes up for you, any patterns you may have (also called “being present” or “mindful), focusing on the things you can actually change, allowing the anxiety emotions to move through and release, and taking care of yourself. Do this often enough, it can become a healthy habit, and you will eventually be able to catch anxiety early and prevent it from getting to such a high degree (or become panic).
Take good care.
Today I looked at the weather app on my phone, to see how long this rain was expected to last. A while later, I realized that I had looked at the app, but had no idea what the temperature was, because that wasn't what I was looking for in that moment. And it occurred to me, wow, that's how people are generally. We see what we look for, and what we believe. All else will be invisible to us.
This is how the human mind works, in fact. If we took in all sensory information available, we would be overwhelmed immediately. So our minds primarily delete anything outside where we habitually, or consciously focus, what it considers potentially important.
Our brains scan our environment based on our thoughts, feelings, experiences, and beliefs--our filters. Much of this is unconscious and habitual. We can also consciously ask a question, then our minds (and nowadays, fingers and Google) will search for answers to that question.
The questions themselves direct the answers we get. For instance, if our focus is negative, we'll get more negative back. The same happens if our focus is positive. So, we can use this system to our advantage, by paying attention to what questions we ask, and also HOW we frame them. In that way we can open up a world of possibilities, by making more of the invisible, visible.