The Common Response to Anxiety that Only Makes It Worse
Wednesday, August 9 2017 Melissa Renzi
Our mind's response to anxiety affects our self-esteem, sense of control, and how we see the world around us. When we experience anxiety symptoms, our feelings and thoughts get so wound up in the body’s stress response that we may want to run. We want to shed this thing that won’t leave us alone. In my own struggle with anxiety, I’ve found a seemingly counterintuitive response to anxiety that helps me shift my experience and reduce anxiety.
When anxiety starts, our negative self-talk does, too. We get frustrated about feeling anxious and engage in blaming ourselves. We want it desperately to go away, but we feel at a loss for what to do and then our anxiety gets worse.
The Common Response to Anxiety
No one wants to feel anxious. But it happens. And when it happens, we want to do something to alleviate it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting anxiety relief. Yet, often at the time we start grasping for coping skills, we simultaneously resist the experience within us. This makes anxiety worse.
When we resist an experience in life, we give it more power. In this case, we find ourselves stuck in further anxiety suffering. Once I started learning to embrace anxiety as a way of treating anxiety, I, ironically, found myself empowered.
An Alternative Response to Anxiety: Embrace It
Many of you might be wondering, "How am I supposed to embrace anxiety when it feels so terrifying?" That’s a valid reaction and I’m not disregarding how intense anxiety can be. But what if there's something to this idea?
Here are two ways to respond to anxiety with an embrace:
- Personify anxiety as a person who needs to be heard. Author and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach talks about a Buddhist tale in which the Buddha faces Mara, a demon representing doubt and delusion. Rather than running away, the Buddha recognizes Mara’s presence and invites him to tea offering him a cushion upon which to sit. When we invite anxiety to tea, we can learn to be present with anxiety without giving it greater power.
- Practice acceptance with your language. Repeat the following phrase to yourself, “Even though I feel anxious, I fully accept myself.” You don’t have to believe this for it to begin to change your experience. Repeating a phrase such as this can help us to acknowledge our experience while developing deep acceptance and self-compassion.
One of the turning moments in my journey with anxiety was recognizing that it was inevitable in some shape or form and I could work with it or against it. Once I started working from a place of acceptance rather than resistance, enormous healing began to occur.