I’ve struggled with anxiety much of my life. I only discovered this recently when I finally identified a label for the overwhelming feelings of fear that have consumed me whenever life takes a big turn. When one phase falls apart to make way for another, instead of accepting change as a natural part of life, I often beat myself up for being unable to “keep it together.”
And that’s not very helpful. Or kind. Or compassionate.
I know it’s unfashionable to dwell in the past, but certain habitual patterns are born from experiences we had as children. So it’s helpful to identify them to know how we are still unconsciously playing them out.
When I was 11, my parents divorced. My known world disintegrated and suddenly both of my parents were busy pulling their own lives back together. I had to call on my own resources to negotiate new situations (my parents’ new partners), circumstances (I was now in charge of getting dinner on the table) and emotions (fear and grief) on my own.
While most people can relate to the occasional feeling of worry or a bout of nerves, some of us identify sudden change with this fear for survival. We take worry and supersize it until it becomes a bona fide crisis.
And here’s the thing: human folly (aka karma) dictates that we keep repeating whatever lesson we need to learn. Given that my nomadic lifestyle practically dictates uncertainty from one month to the next, I’ve become somewhat of an expert at working with anxiety. Here’s I share what I’ve learned in case it might help you.
6 Smart Ways to Deal with Anxiety
The number one remedy for me these days is to reignite meditation practice. I schedule in more practice than usual and if possible, do a mini retreat to rediscover the source of inner wisdom. Click here if you need an introduction to sitting meditation practice.
2. Easy does it.
Be compassionate and gentle with yourself. I’ve learned the hard way that adding the critical “I” voice aggravates already existing external pressure. Life throws curve balls; we don’t have to assume we did something wrong when things don’t go our way. When you practice self-compassion, you defuse the pressure by allowing whatever wants to arise. Use the time to reflect (not analyze or obsess), rest, reconnect with sources of joy. Appreciate your strengths and treat yourself well. Acknowledge fear and anxiety if they arise, and simply let these emotions work through you rather than letting them take hold of you.
Failure is simply a sign that it’s not time yet for things to converge in a certain configuration. Or that there is more work to do. Or possibly, that you are barking up the wrong tree. Step back and see if this situation will matter so much to you on your deathbed. Sometimes we can get so worked up about something that is essentially a non-issue, merely because we’ve forgotten to put things in perspective. Sometimes we need to rethink our priorities. Writing practice is my trusted method for discovering new angles to a situation. Painting is also a wonderful way to get out of the intellect and into the realm of feeling, where new insights can occur. Do something that let’s you tune in to your present experience without getting lost in the storyline.
Spend time in nature. Call and meet up with friends. Nourish yourself with healthy food and supportive relationships. Work with a therapist or coach. Remember what feeds you and actively seek out opportunities for replenishment.
5. Get Moving!
Listen to the wisdom of your body and move the energy around. Sometimes simply getting up and walking into the next room can shift a difficult state of mind. Take walks. Ride your bike. Find a swimming pool. Get on your yoga mat, even if it’s only to do 3 sun salutations. Or, if it’s a particularly hard day, just do shavasana and listen to the body’s messages.
6. Practice Patience.
It can be tempting to try to rush out of an uncomfortable situation. But the energy you bring to any new situation will influence what develops. If you don’t know what to do next, don’t do anything for the moment. Often a flurry of activity can mask an unwillingness to be with the situation as it is. Waiting patiently for clarity to dawn is a skill that will save your battered nerves. Settle into the breath when you can remember.
It’s important to recognize that solid ground is an illusion. Most of us crave certainty to feel like we’ve got a grip on things.
When anxiety tells you to get a grip, remember that the secret is not to get a grip at all, but rather to let go.
Whatever happens is just a passing phase. The current circumstances are simply the fruition of one phase, and yet they are also the seed of the phase that will soon be at your doorstep.
There is an element of trust here. I often invite clarity from a higher source, literally asking, “may I please have clarity around this situation.” It helps to hand over the burden and trust that I’ll know what I need to know, when I need to know it. It’s like driving at night: you can only see as far as your headlights, but you know the road extends beyond the light.
Take heed of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s wise words, “pain is not punishment, and pleasure is not a reward.” It’s just how things are, currently.
Anxiety is a wake up call that you are not trusting the current situation to provide what you need. Seen from a different perspective, it is your invitation to relax and let the wisdom of the moment reveal itself. There might be something wonderful just around the bend that needed you to evolve in order to recognize it.
If you need extra help working with anxiety, read this post on Working With Difficult Emotions.
Get Your Free Checklist
Get Weekly Tools, Tips, Inspiration And Resources
Delivered To Your Inbox, Starting With This Free Checklist
10 Daily Habits For Mental Health And Emotional Equilibrium