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The number one complaint of people in my life, friends, acquaintances, and clients is anxiety. Anxiety has become the new catch-phrase for feelings of fear, insecurity, worry and pain. I think the root of this anxiety stems from feeling unworthy, insignificant or unlovable and from that internal pain comes anxiety. Worrying about what to wear, what we will look like giving the presentation, how our kids are doing, how we will get everything done.
Worry, Worry, Worry. That is the theme of life these days. We regularly engage in the process of hammering ourselves into submission. We are never quite productive enough, quite successful enough, quite healthy enough or just quite enough period. We are constantly striving to be better–for what?!?!
I say ‘we’ in these descriptions because this ‘worry’ this low-level anxiety is something I struggled with for years. It was not debilitating or not panic attack inducing (I have had a few panic attacks in my life though), but it was limiting, painful, and low-level suffering. For YEARS, I always heard people with anxiety should meditate more, or have a yoga practice. And for YEARS, I have tried to meditate more and have a regular yoga practice, and it has been spotty at best. For someone who is feeling levels of anxiety sitting on my couch even for 5-10 minutes at a time is painful!! I haven’t given up, I still try, but, for now, that is not a regular practice in my life.
So what has worked? Radical Awareness. Radical awareness around my thoughts, my feelings, and my needs.
Paying attention to my anxiety responses: eating when I am not hungry, watching mindless TV, surfing the internet. And noticing when I start engaging in those behaviors. In the past, before I even was aware I could be mid-work and I have mindlessly wandered to the kitchen, grabbed a bag of chocolate and headed to the couch to watch some “Real Housewives”. The whole time, convincing myself I deserved a break, I needed the timeout. Yep, sometimes I do need a time out. But MOST of the time I needed to be paying attention to what triggered me to step away from the computer and step into numbing out. It was the fact that the act was so unintentional. It was the obvious unawareness that made me realize it was anxiety moving me not my need for a break.
Taking mini-breaks to BREATHE. So no maybe right now I can’t meditate for long periods of time. But something that works for me is putting in place times when I ‘check in’. Three deep breaths have become my mantra. Three deep breaths when I sit down at my desk, three deep breaths before and after I meet with a client, three deep breaths when I hit a stop light in the car. I take three deep belly breaths, and then I check in–how am I feeling, what is going on. Sometimes I am surprised by what comes up. Sometimes nothing comes up. No matter what comes up, I embrace it with radical love and kindness.
Paying attention to what I talk about. One of my favorite things is sharing my day with my husband. I found that frequently rather than ‘sharing my day’ I would litany off all the things I was anxious about. I would list all the things I didn’t get done; I did wrong or what I needed to do next. And you know what that did? Made me MORE anxious.
And you know what else I realized that somewhere deep down I enjoyed that feeling of anxiety–it was a buzz that would keep me protected from my feelings. I had convinced myself that feeling anxious, worrying about the to-do list or how to be a better person was WAY better than dealing with the true pain I was feeling. Anxiety masks what is going on. Anxiety allows us to ‘get high’ on safe, numb aspects of our life and keeps us blissfully unaware of the real pain that is there. Gradually, I started sharing THAT; I started getting real and talking about real things. Not just the to do list but “the what” that was underneath. I would catch myself mid-litany and ask ‘is this helping or am I just taking a hit’? And I would immediately know the answer.
For many of us, I believe worry becomes like a drug that keeps us from engaging with ourselves and therefore with the world. When I notice myself engaging in anxiety behaviors (amping myself up, numbing out, or hammering myself) now I get curious as to what is going on. I breathe, and I pay attention. It works! I swear! Am I fully recovered? Ah no. Do I feel better? Hell yes! Detoxifying from worry is a slow process. The unraveling of habit you have had for decades takes time. Limiting your life of worry is a definite key to living happier!!