One of the most ironic aspects of having anxiety is that the more you try to avoid it, the worse it gets. Sometimes even when I’m not feeling anxious at all and having a good time, the fear that I may become anxious actual sends me into that state of mind. It is quite frustrating. Yet almost humorous sometimes as well, when you’re in the mood to see it that way at least.
There are all kinds of drugs and therapies designed to help people suffering from anxiety. It is one of the most common mental health problems. However, none of these things will cure your anxiety. That has been hard for me to accept. I so desperately want to never have to think about my anxiety again. I want to live a “normal” life.
When you have an anxiety disorder, though, all you can really do is make friends with that part of yourself. It will always be with you. Why not try to get along? Yoga has taught me that one of the main reasons we suffer so much in this life is because we try so desperately to avoid suffering. This serves only to prolong our pain and unease.
When I was young and sad I used to imagine myself as two separate beings. One was my emotional body, a scared child. The other was my intellectual, rational body, the loving parent. I would comfort myself in this way quite often. I think the same may be helpful now that I struggle more with anxiety rather than sadness. Perhaps I’ll try to imagine my anxiety as a small frightened animal. Backed into a corner, ready to fight or flee. My rational mind is the gentle caretaker. Showing the animal that it is okay. Waiting for it to trust me. To relax when it feels ready.
Thinking about my mental problems in this way helps me to feel compassion for these parts of myself rather than anger and frustration. It is hard to ignore your body when it is telling you that you are in some type of danger. Anxiety is the body’s signal that you need to be alert and ready for a life-threatening situation. We were not designed to ignore such an important cue, even if it is unwarranted. And we can never hope to eliminate it completely. It is important and necessary in the right circumstances. We all need to be able to feel stress.
Rather than condemn that feeling and try to run from it, I want to try to accept it. I know that if I really allow myself to feel my anxiety, it will dissipate. I also know that when my mind is anxious, my body is tense. I’ll often notice that I’m holding my breath or breathing very shallowly. My neck and shoulders start to tense up. If I allow myself to sit with my anxiety and be present, I can work to release this tension. I can consciously relax and breathe deeply again. Telling my brain that it’s okay. We’re safe.
While my anxiety may not be a sign that I’m in mortal peril like it was in our evolutionary history, I can still take it as a signal that the small frightened animal within me is needing some reassurance. I can take it as a cue to take a moment to be with myself, be kind to myself, to ask myself what I need to feel safe right now.
I know I’ll be in an entirely different mindset when my anxiety inevitably sets in later, but hopefully I’ll be able to remember my intention. I’ll try not to run. I’ll try to listen instead. I’ll sit with my anxiety, my frightened little inner friend, until it is calm once more. I will be grateful for it’s desire to warn and protect me, even though it may be a bit misguided at times. I am hopeful that with practice we will both be able to live together peacefully one day.