I’ve been wanting to write an article about anxiety for a while. Each time I think about it, it makes me feel… drum roll please… and the winner is… anxious!
Am I really up to it? Will it be interesting? I’m going to be exposed. What will people think about it? Am I going to sound stupid?
It all becomes blurry in my mind and I freeze, distract myself with another thought, and several days later I still haven’t written my article and feel rubbish about it. And, the cycle starts again.
Deep breath in and out – I notice I’m feeling anxious. Deep breath in and out – I notice anxiety – Deep breath in and out, I notice a knot in my belly – I close my eyes and I can see a knot in my belly – breathing in and out and I notice the air around the knot. I notice anxiety, and that’s ok.
I also notice that I can be both feeling anxious and write my article at the same time. It is not a pleasant feeling, I would rather not experience it, but it is what there is at this very moment and it does not have to stop me doing something that really matters to me.
We cannot avoid anxiety. Feeling anxious is part of the human being experience, as it is a mechanism which serves the purpose of warning us that there could be an impending threat to our physical or psychological integrity. It can actually guide us to better prepare for the future or make changes in unworkable situations, and it heightens our senses, which in turn makes us more likely to escape potentially dangerous situations. Yet, we can never predict everything. Some of us have an acute awareness that there is always the possibility that things might actually go wrong, and even if there is no rational reason for anxiety, some of us create elaborate catastrophic scenarios in our minds that can lead us to completely withdraw from certain situations of activities, in order to stay away from a possible danger.
That is when anxiety becomes a problem, when we fuse with the feeling, when we become one with our anxiety. It can then start governing our lives instead of its original purpose of being an ally. When feeling in an acute state of anxiety, it is initially extremely difficult to recognise and accept that it is just a feeling that goes through us, and our attention is often entirely focused on getting rid of the feeling of anxiety. Everything is put on hold and we hear ourselves saying things like: “When I won’t be anxious anymore, I’ll be able to do this and that”. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There is help available to ease us through the process of stepping back from our anxiety, observe it for what it is, and make room for it instead of fighting it or running away from it. We can then realise that anxiety does not have to keep us away from what we want to achieve. We can be both aware of a sensation of anxiety and at the same time be fully engaged in what really matters to us and engage more fully in life. I notice I’m feeling anxious, and that’s ok.
First published in counselling-directory.org.uk December 2015