I’ve dealt with anxiety most of my life. I can remember these mild OCD tendencies as a kid and weird tics I had. That improved over time as I learned how to manage my anxiety, but I still get waves of it.
Anxiety is something that most of us deal with on a pretty regular basis. Anxiety disorders affect nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States, and women are more than twice as likely as men to get an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
Today I want to share some of the tools that have helped me over the years.
Anxiety is an emotion that humans need to give us information. It has served us well in our evolution, but now there are so many things that can trigger it – abstract things like email and advanced directives and health insurance and traffic and job security issues.
So we can benefit from adapting our response to anxiety since it does not represent the same warning signs that it did earlier in our evolution.
First let’s talk about what it is. So an emotion – a feeling, and I’ll use the words interchangeably here – is a physical experience. And our brain notices those physical signs and interprets them, then tells us what to do in response.
Often with anxiety we don’t know what it’s related to. It’s a generalized worry or nervousness.
From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety helped us react quickly, assess the safety of a situation, and heighten our senses so we could pay more attention to what was going on.
Now, it’s not something that we necessarily need as much for safety, but we’re still having the same response to it.
Understanding that anxiety has been something that has served us as humans and our survival can be really helpful, because we realize we are not broken just because we experience it.
Anxiety in and of itself is harmless. It’s our reaction and our resistance to it that causes problems. And when you learn to manage anxiety, it’s not like it’s going to feel awesome. It is not supposed to be pleasant. It’s supposed to be giving us information about how our mind is interpreting a sensation or experience.
So we’re evolving into a new way of interpreting anxiety when it arises, but it’s hard to do that when we drop right into our reptilian brian or our more ancient brain and are stuck in the stress response of fight, flight, or freeze.
In our current lives when we are not in imminent physical danger, we actually need to do the opposite of all that.
So what’s the opposite of the stress response?
To take deep breaths, to relax.
But usually we spiral into wanting the anxiety to go away and wishing it wasn’t there and it grows and we feed into the tension and the fight or flight response. So, how do we stop this cycle?
That’s when our mindfulness practice, our meditation practice, can really help.
First we have to notice what’s happening. Anxiety thrives on the vagueness and it thrives on that increasing tension, so noticing what’s going on is really key with anxiety.
Notice the sensations first. Without judging them, without creating a story around the sensations.
I like to ask myself, What if I do this differently? What if we don’t resist the anxiety? Or what if we actually welcome it?
But that’s easier said than done. This is where self-compassion comes in. (Check out the self-compassion episode for more on this – we also spend a whole month on it in Freedom School.)
I do my self-compassion practice which helps take me out of the stress response, the fight-flight-freeze mode, and I can calm down and better be able to process the emotion from a place of mindful awareness, not resisting it, not feeding into it.
Remember that there are several ways we can deal with an emotion:
- One is that we can resist it/fight it (which is what most of us do most of the time when the emotion is difficult).
- The second choice is to react to them, or act out, which usually looks like running around DOING something because of it, like taking out our emotions on other people, making to-do lists and overplanning and trying to control everything.
- The third option is avoiding emotions. We want to pretend it’s not there so we buffer ourselves by drinking alcohol or smoking weed.
So we can fight and resist. We can react/act out and we can avoid it. OR we can accept it with mindful awareness and a hefty dose of self-compassion.
To clarify, acceptance is not resignation. But when you accept something and own something, then that’s when you have the agency to change it.
Accepting it may seem like we just sit there and accept it, but really it is an active process.
This doesn’t mean the anxiety goes away. It makes us more aware of how it feels and allows us to experience it fully. And in this, it can then run its course and be let go.
If you want to change your thoughts about it – because if you’ve been listening awhile, you know that thoughts are a big part of how we experience the world and not actually the circumstances themselves… you can go to earlier episodes where I walk you through this.
We can also notice our thoughts and start to learn why anxiety arises. You can become aware of these through meditation but also through journaling, because what is journaling but writing down our thoughts, right?
I know how scary anxiety can be. And I also know how so much of that experience was created with my thinking. So I want you to know I’ve been there and I’ve learned how to manage my mind.
I’ve learned how to:
- Prioritise my physical health and get good sleep, exercise, not consuming the foods and substances that make me more anxious.
- Breathe when feeling anxious and how to use my breath to achieve different states of consciousness.
- Manage my mind. To wake up and meditate regularly. To go on retreat. To get training. Reading books. Practicing. Studying with mentors. Working with healers.
So commit to your mental health. Life is so precious, so fleeting, really. We are all going to die, right? And we don’t know when. And life has some hard experiences, being a human is not easy.
Instead of letting that spiral you into another existential anxiety experience, try on the thoughts:
- Life is short. I don’t want to waste it by suffering unnecessarily and trying to wish reality wasn’t what it was.
- I want to be free of my emotions controlling me, hooking me.
- I want to be free of needing external circumstances to be a certain way in order for me to be happy.
- I want to choose to experience reality fully and train my mind so that I can make the most of this one, precious life as a human in this wild wild world.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
>> what anxiety actually is & how to recognize its symptoms in your own body & mind
>> the game changing mindset shift to move from resisting & reacting to your anxiety to allowing, observing…even welcoming it
>> some of my favorite tools and reminders to manage anxiety, mindfully
>> how to turn arrows into flowers (not literally, obvs…better than that: a Buddhist story to help us understand how we add fuel to the fire of anxiety & how we can stop)
>> resist, react, avoid: our 3 favorite ways to respond to emotions & why they ain’t helping
>> our biggest misunderstanding about acceptance
>> a step-by-step technique to gain perspective on your anxiety so you can get a grip
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the starter kit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll get access to the private Facebook group where you can ask me questions! Once you join, there’s also a weekly FB live called Wake the F*ck Up Wednesday, where you can ask questions that come up as you do this work – in all parts of your life.
// If you’re interested in finding out more about how to free your mind and free your life, join Freedom School. Enrollment is open, and we are diving DEEP into ways to cultivate clarity and courage so you can create your best life. There are also some sweet bonus courses for you there. It will set you up to live the best version of you in the year to come. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com
// Check out Episode 51 on self compassion