Anxiety is NOT an Emotion

Anxiety is NOT an Emotion

We all say it, “I feel so anxious.” I am guilty of it too. The term anxiety has become a catch-all for a lot of emotions. It is a socially accepted word for stress, worry, anger, and sadness. We can say “anxiety” and people nod their heads and say “oh, yes, me too.” But no one is really dealing with the anxiety.

Anxiety is a state of being. A state of frenzy, heart pains, stomach disorders, and panic attacks. At the root of anxiety are feelings. Scary, raw, vulnerable feelings that most of us don’t want to (or don’t know how to) feel. We get so caught up in the causes of our anxiety that we lose sight of the feelings under the anxiety, which only makes us more anxious. When we start to get curious about our feelings, we often try to figure out why we are feeling a certain way rather than what we are feeling.

Let’s look at an example:

Sara crawls out of bed and takes a very quick shower before she is greeted with three kids, breakfast, packing lunches, coats, gloves, and out the door. She is finally able to catch her breath as she makes her way into work. She says to herself, “Wow, I am really anxious,” and her first reaction is why? So she starts listing off all the reasons she is anxious:

  • A project deadline at work is looming.
  • She fought with her husband last night.
  • She and her daughter aren’t clicking like they use to.
  • Her Mom is getting older and she is worried how much longer she can live alone.

Before she knows it, she is feeling more anxious than she was five minutes ago. She says to herself, “Holy sh*t!! You have A LOT going on… You better get to work so you can get it all done.” And then her anxiety becomes all about getting to work as quickly as possible, screaming at the car in front of her, and racing up the stairs to work.

And now let’s look at another version of that same scenario…

Sara crawls out of bed and takes a very quick shower before she is greeted with three kids, breakfast, packing lunches, coats, gloves, and out the door. She is finally able to catch her breath as she makes her way into work. She says to herself, “Wow, I am really anxious” and she asks herself, “Okay, if anxiety is not a feeling, what am I feeling?”

  • Scared that she will miss the deadline and lose her job.
  • Frustrated that she doesn’t really like this work.
  • Scared about her marriage.
  • Vulnerable around her daughter and her spouse.
  • Sad that her daughter is growing up so fast.
  • Scared that she might not be able to be a mom of a teenager and an aging mother.
  • Sad about her mom.
  • Sad about her father who died a year ago.

As she drives she feels her eyes welling up. She takes a few deep breathes and she says, “Wow, you have a lot going on! There are a lot of emotions swirling around… No wonder you are anxious. It is okay, you got this, just breathe.” 

Does she feel less anxious? Yes. Does she feel amazing? No. Does she feel centered, grounded, and based in reality? Hopefully. Because that is what anxiety does—it keeps us in such a frenzied state, we don’t have to deal with what is really going on around us. For those of us with chronic anxiety, it can become a comfort, a protective mechanism against the tough emotions in our lives.

I know when I am frenzied, panicked, moving from thing to thing, and obsessing about everything, it is time to check in and ask, “What is really going on here?” “What am I really feeling?”

9 times out of 10, it is anger, fear, sadness, or pain of some sort. Only once I know what is going on and come into my body and breathe can I really start taking action to reduce the state of anxiety.


New on The Happier Approach Podcast

To deal with the Monger, you have to get out of your head and into your body. But most of us live predominantly in our heads. We literally aren’t even aware that we have a body unless it starts to hurt, and then we just take a pill to make it better. Our Monger takes up a lot of space in our heads, so the more time we spend in our heads, the more we stay out of our body and the louder our Monger gets.

So today on the podcast I’m introducing the second step in A.S.K.: Slow down and get into your body. Check it out on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or over here.