Anxiety gets a lot of bad press… But maybe if we change how we think about it, we can change how we feel about it.
Anxiety is an umbrella term for the uncomfortable feelings that we primarily experience as our nervous systems’ reaction to stress. As the levels of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline increase due to the various stressors in your life, it activates the nervous system, which in turn can trigger feelings of anxiety. Viewed in this way, anxiety is not our enemy, it’s a signal that we are stressed out.
It’s important to remind yourself that fighting anxiety produces more stress, which in turn causes an increase in stress hormones, which produce more anxiety. This is a feedback loop that empowers anxiety, but it can be broken.
We take the power away from anxiety not by fighting it, but by walking away from the fight. By accepting the anxious feelings and letting them move through you, you are telling your body and mind that there is no threat. This is how you break the stress/anxiety cycle.
Anxiety grows powerful only when it’s allowed to stay hidden. You may feel that by exposing your anxiety, you are being weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. By being vulnerable and speaking openly about your struggle with anxiety, you become strong. No more hiding means no more wasting precious mental energy to tackle anxiety when it arises. This gives us real and true power.
Invite anxiety along for the journey.
Many people who struggle with anxiety can feel that it is just dragging them through life. We might put off travel because of anxiety, we may avoid social get togethers because of how it makes us feel, or reduce the scope of our lives so that our anxiety is manageable…. and that’s the problem. In trying to manage our anxiety, we have handed over control to it. We have let anxiety be the driver on our journey through life. Taking the power back means taking control of the steering wheel. Anxiety is welcome on this journey, but it cannot be the driver.
Set goals for yourself and try to achieve them. If anxiety shows up, that’s fine, let it come along. But don’t let it stop you from trying. It’s better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. Your anxiety will most likely be in full swing, but don’t fight it.
This is something that I explain to children and teens who come for coaching to deal with anxiety. I tell them that we are not going to get rid of anxiety, it’s a necessary part of life and it has it’s place in keeping us safe – but what we are going to do is learn how to treat it so that it doesn’t stop us from trying new things and it never makes us feel bad. I help them to realise that when you’re overwhelmed and you feel anxiety taking over, that’s your amygdala, the emotional part of your brain, ‘thinking’ that there is a threat and that it needs to protect you, so you need to use your breathing and relaxation techniques to calm your body and mind and give your amygdala a ‘thumbs up’ signal that everything is ok, there’s nothing to worry about, it can relax. Take the power back. Don’t let it steal your dreams or stop you from doing something you want to do. Be the boss of it and make it work for you! Kids love being the boss, so this always goes down well.
There will always be things that you don’t want to do, things that make you feel nervous, self conscious and uncomfortable. But by avoiding these things, you are missing out, opportunities are passing you by – and anxiety wins.
So instead of running and hiding from your anxiety—which takes considerable mental energy— you can shift your thinking and channel all of that energy into living the life you want and deserve, along side your anxiety.
Many of us have walked this path. The trick lies in knowing that we give anxiety it’s power, and we can also take it back.