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Anxiety, Your New BFF: How It Can Help You If You Let It

Anxious man

“Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” ~Rumi

Anxiety—a frequent, uninvited visitor.

It hovers; it comes and goes. It underlines. It overpowers. It stops you in your tracks. It pursues you as you run away.

My anxiety’s appearance is often marked by a buzzing, electric-charge energy. I used to jokingly compare it to a predatory yellow jacket. They used to terrify me. Since I was stung too many times, this insect was definitely not on my list of BFFs.

Once I was driving my then seven-year-old daughter and her friend to school when a real-life yellow jacket began to buzz in the enclosed car space. It looked fierce and angry and armed with a vicious stinger.

Repressing my panic, I pulled the car over.

“Okay, girls, there’s a yellow jacket in the car. I’m going to open the doors and we’ll all exit quickly!”

My daughter’s friend Evie remained in her seat. With a quiet calm, she extended her finger, beckoning the insect to alight upon it. When it did, she welcomed its arrival with a smile and escorted it outside.

The yellow jacket flew off.

“All you have to do is treat them nice and they’re your friend,” Evie informed us. “I love ‘em.”

Years later, I awoke one morning, the alarm of anxiety resounding in my ears. Unlike my phone, I couldn’t shut it off. Hearing the buzz of worry and gloom, I dreaded getting up to face the day.

Then I heard something else. A buzz. But this wasn’t coming from me; it was a yellow jacket flailing against my nightstand.

With mindful attention, I was able to escort the tiny creature to the window so it could fly away. The momentary connection with an insect and the cessation of the buzzing noise was a gratifying experience. Plus, the bug did not sting me.

I wondered, what if my anxiety were something I could “treat nice”? My usual approach is to eliminate or ignore it.

What would it take to befriend my anxiety?

What did it take to befriend a yellow jacket? Mindful caution and courage (they do sting), and a challenging compassion. A calm patience. 

Maybe I could treat my anxiety as my BFF.

Isn’t a best friend someone who reminds you of your past mistakes and helps you avoid a re-run? A friend encouraging you to take time to treat yourself better? A cheerleader excited for your success?

Over time I have discovered that anxiety can do that for you, if you’re willing to change your perspective. Below are a few examples that may surprise you.

Stop, Listen, and Engage

One of my closest friends was coming for a visit. We had a no-plan of fun, a goal of aimless walking around the city. I had spent the morning alone, writing and finishing up paperwork. All of it enjoyable productivity.

Getting ready for her arrival, I noticed an underlying stream of anxiousness. To be honest, I was furious that anxiety arrived during this completely stress-free moment.

Remembering my vow to welcome anxiety as my BFF, I began to ask “her” questions.

What are you anxious about?
I just am.
That was too broad a question, so I became more specific.

The apartment looks fine but are you worried it’s not neat enough?
Its not that.
I noticed that the reassurance calmed her down a bit.

Are you worried that we have no specific itinerary?
No.
I smiled at the immediate response. Neither one of us is a planner.

I’m dressed, but I could put a little makeup on, would that help?
Maybe.
I did, it helped. But there was more.

Sitting down, I took a few breaths.

Can you explain what your nervousness is about? I waited.

In a rush, a torrent of talk tumbled out.
Its too much. You were quiet all by yourself and now you have to go out and do noisy things.

A light bulb went off. I saw the issue.

It’s about transitions? You find them challenging?

The clarity of the Aha! burst open in a single word:
YES!

Transitions, in any degree, represent change, which requires special attention. My habitual response is to move fast, to move without thinking, to move on now!

That doesn’t work for me anymore.

I summed up where I had been (quietly writing alone), where I was going (a walk in Manhattan with noise and bustle).

But above all, I checked into where I was NOW in the moment, which was not being able to connect the two.

A few minutes were all it took to regain serenity and gratitude to my BFF Anxiety. She had highlighted something I’d overlooked my entire life.

While your own inner dialogue may differ, it is possible for you to stop, listen, and engage in a conversation with these inner anxious voices.

It Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Deal

Sometimes, your anxiety is only asking for acknowledgment. A few breaths to clear your mind and give you more oxygen, a sympathetic word, or a short walk outside may be the answer.

I have a client who gets a manicure to ease her spirits. When her mom was in hospice, she had them done. “I know it may seem superficial, but I have fond memories of my mother doing my nails for me when I was little and feeling sad. I look at my hands and feel like at least one thing in my life is okay.”

Short-term solutions to anxiety’s sudden appearances can go far to alleviate symptoms of unease.

Warnings to Watch

There are moments when a deeper dialogue with anxiety is required.

A friend had what seemed to be the perfect relationship. Sexy and smart, her boyfriend had a good sense of humor, enjoying his work and life. Together, they were happy, but separated, my friend’s anxiety skyrocketed.

She decided to focus on the nature of her anxiety and began a focused inquiry with this energetic.

“I wanted him to be the one, but I was the one making unconscious concessions. So I stopped and listened to what my anxiety was reporting back to me.”

Rather than eliminate or ignore her anxiety, she took a hard look at what was actually going on. She didn’t feel seen in this relationship. Her desires were overlooked, and, worse, they were de-valued if brought up. Her boyfriend was subtle about this exchange, as he could be quite charming. But my friend felt out of the loop.

She ended that relationship and started dating someone else. When, once again, Anxiety appeared, she was flustered. Taking on the premise that anxiety is her BFF, she listened. This time the message was different.

As it turned out, she needed to proceed more slowly, as she was suffering from relationship PTSD. In actuality, there was excitement about this new prospect.

Don’t your human best friends nudge you to practice self-compassion, encourage you to take risks, and then cheer your success?

Anxiety can do that as well.

Looking at Your Lifestyle

A client came to me for an acupuncture session. “Everything’s going great. My career has skyrocketed, my family is fine. But most mornings, I can barely get out of bed; the anxiety is that strong. I can’t figure out why I’m a wreck when I should be so happy.”

Going into further detail, it came up that he was sleeping barely four hours a night, overdosing on caffeine throughout the day, skipping workouts, and having a few drinks at night to offset the coffee. While his life was exciting, it was not sustainable.

We devised a plan that was workable.

He came in the following week, his anxiety diminished. “I’m good, but I’m in shock,” he reported. A colleague had dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of forty-five. “The timing is bizarre, and yet I have to look at what role anxiety plays in my life. I want to listen better.”

It’s not that you have to become a purist Spartan, but being aware of your relationship with your physical body and how that corresponds with your anxiety (another relationship!) is a key factor to your overall health and peace of mind.

You’re Not Alone

Life is scary at times. Tragedies, death, loss, rejection—suffering surrounds us.

When experiencing these challenges, anxiety can show up in full force, adding to the overwhelm.

If you listen, you will hear what you can do to buffer the harshness of events.

Perhaps the mere recognition of the situation’s gravity can bring relief. Maybe a few gentle considerations can change the terrain. Maybe you need support from others.

Maybe you need to get your nails done.

As a BFF, anxiety can remind you to slow down and take care of yourself. To have compassion and empathy for yourself and others. To remember your aliveness and your capacity to transform.

If you listen, really listen, you’ll hear what may help.

Treating anxiety as a friend, the messages will come to you in a whisper rather than a shout. This invisible force will align with you, if you align with it.

This friend may be an over-worrier, she may nudge you, she may even resort to scaring you. But this BFF (Badass Friend Forever) just may bug you enough to finally discover—and cherish—your magnificence in human form.

What magical messages is your new BFF bringing to you?

Profile photo of Therese Sibon

About Therese Sibon

Therese Sibon is a blogger, alchemical transformation coach and radical optimist. She believes that any obstacle in your life has power (it’s keeping you stuck, right?). When you focus and re-direct that energy ….. magic! Therese loves to share her magical resources with all of you. Visit her at www.TransformYourShit.com and receive a free gift to start you on your process.

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  • Benjamin Fox

    Therese – I am a big fan of your writing! Second time I’ve read this piece and I love how you bring your hard-earned wisdom to the benefit of us all in such an accessible way. Thank you! Keep writing!

  • Therese Sibon

    I have been fortunate to have many teachers – we spread the word, or the action or the gesture and pay it forward. Our struggles are universal as they are personal. Thank you.

  • Nancy

    So timely and helpful. My bff is keeping me awake too much. I’m gonna talk to her. Thank you!

  • Chris Kenber Business Coach

    I would have pulled over immediately and exited the car as quickly as possible. No time for explanations to my passengers as to what was occuring!

  • Therese Sibon

    ha! send her my regards! I think all our BFFs are prodding us during this challenging times.Give her a hug as well!

  • Therese Sibon

    Well – 6 year-olds want to know! (Though I was tempted to simply save myself!)

  • Luis Solis

    My BFF has been pestering me for weeks. I called on the universe to fill me with positive light and I’ve focused as much as possible on all the good things in my life. This has allowed me to see the possibilities rather than the obstacles and, no matter what, I know that I will move forward. Thank you for this very timely and helpful article

  • Kate

    Such a well-written and inspiring article!! Crippling anxiety can be so hard to deal with, and truly feel this has given me a path to understanding.
    I need to be more gentle and understanding with myself, rather than getting angry and frustrated.
    Thank you!!

  • Therese Sibon

    I get it, Luis. This country has been through the wringer, politically, and now the holidays (with its fun and dysfunction!) are upon us. I love what you said about changing the focus. It’s all a matter of perspective. best to you

  • Therese Sibon

    please do that – be more gentle and understanding (note to self as well). We have these ideas of perfect behavior/reaction/being and we forget the human part! thanks for reading!

  • I love this! Over the years, I’ve found many different tools to deal with anxiety, but this is a totally new take for me. The timing is perfect, as the holidays tend to present anxious moments for me. I’m looking forward to talking with my new BFF as needed in the coming weeks.

  • Sammy

    This is such a great post. I’ve recently been learning to do this too. I just came out of a relationship where my anxiety was sky-rocketing: it SEEMED great, on the surface, but it was a constant sensation of being On Edge. It was only when I took a long look at what was actually happening that I realised the guy I was with never listened to me, never asked me questions, constantly undermined everything I was or did or said. I was so loved up, I hadn’t noticed – but SOMETHING in me had. The second I ended the relationship, my anxiety disappeared. It truly is a warning signal – an emotional red flag. I’m only learning now to start listening to it.

  • Therese Sibon

    WOW!!! what a great insight. I like that – the “emotional red flag”. Just starting to listen to it as well, on a deeper level. thanks for sharing!

  • Therese Sibon

    Tell her Me and My BFF say hi – we’ve been hanging out these past few weeks (and upcoming ones as well!). ‘Tis the season, as you said. I’m projecting that hanging out with them will allow us to enjoy them more. So enjoy!

  • I love the way you identified the short-term “transitional anxiety”. Often times it’s not the past or the future that trigger anxiety –it’s the purgatory of the present. That weird waiting room between doing something calm and doing something exciting.

    I also love that you subtly acknowledge that clinical anxiety is often triggered in the absence of stress.

    We can be doing something we love, totally relaxed, when all of a sudden…BLAMMO…our body thinks it’s being attacked by a hungry bear.

    Its like our “oh shit, RUN” button is on a permanent glitch. You never know when (or why) it gets activated.

    Thanks for sharing your stories and tips. Very helpful!

  • Therese, I love it! Instead of ignoring/running away from anxiety we should invite it, stop, listen and engage. I try this next time I see a frog 🙂

  • Dee

    Wow…..just wow. This article really resonated with me today. My anxiety is well matched to the scenario that you described in this article. The challenge in transitions when a seemingly relaxing day turns overwhelming through no real trigger. I actually experience this a lot on my weekends when I do not have work or “structure.” I really appreciate how relate able this is to me and how well written. I do find myself moving to fast in an effort to be efficient, but with that causes anxiety. Please keep in mind I am a recovering perfectionist 😉 Kudos for such a profound article and thank you again.

  • Sandi

    Thank you for writing this. I get anxiety all of the time out of the blue even when I am not stressed or worried about anything. My biggest thing is trying to figure out WHY I have the anxiety and if consumes me. I’m trying not to do that anymore.

  • The way you write and openly embrace your anxiety is beautiful, Therese!
    I can tell by the comments that your writing has touched other hearts too.
    Thank you for being so brave with facing your anxiety head on, sharing your feelings with others to let them know they’ll not alone nor should they fight or hide.
    I hope you check out Tim’s anxiety podcast -if you haven’t already done so. Your collaboration would be a win-win.
    ~Keri

  • Lex

    This article is so well written and beautifully inspired me in listening to my chronic anxiety. My whole outlook has changed, thank you. Truly brilliant piece <3 a light bulb has clicked now.

  • Hi Therese – wonderful article. I think we all get anxious, more anxious than many of us admit to. And sometimes it’s the little things that help, like getting your nails done:)

  • Therese Sibon

    I love that description: ”the purgatory of the present” — perfectly sums it up. Though probably only familiar to catholic-schooled peeps! Googling its definition for others: a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven.

    I’m wondering what the payoff is for this suffering. We humans don’t do it for nada. Probably a combo of fears, projections, self-recriminations, attachments …. the amazing lead that holds us back from mining the gold.

    The Taoists have another hit on this – with the 7 Po Demons visiting humans and causing suffering until we consciously feed them – but that’s a long story for later!

    Yeah – “our ‘oh shit, RUN button’ is on a permanent glitch”

    Perhaps if we can understand when or why it gets activated, we can re-direct is consciously, rather than being victim to it.

    thanks so much for continuing the discussion, Blaine.

  • Therese Sibon

    Ya gonna kiss it as well? Let me know if that works for you! Thanks for the humor!

  • Therese Sibon

    Yes, I recognize that perfectionism – efficient, thorough, fast and capable. Doesn’t really work with emotions and spirit! That requires time – quantity and quality – as love takes time, as transformation takes time. Not so easy to wrap it up on schedule (whose schedule?!)
    Kudos on your recovery – it’s not easy. Years ago, my then-teenage daughter and I had a pretty serious row. We apologized to each other. As I acknowledged my wrongdoing in the dispute, she replied – “Ah f*k it ma. We’re all a bunch of f*k-ups anyway.”
    Indeed. I have set my sights, lowered, every since and it’s been an immense help! Just passing it on ….
    thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • Therese Sibon

    Oh, I so recognize that search for “Why”! There’s a poem by Rumi called The Guest House which may interest you. He talks about these visits from emotions that may be challenging and how that we may – one day – know why, its deepest sense. Or not. But in the meantime to honor these guests.

    To hold this, with compassion …. dissolves the why in an embrace. Thanks for bringing that up, because with all the craziness of the U.S. now and the holidays ahead (fun/dysfunction!), I am trying to be kinder to myself and others.

    blessings to you –

  • Therese Sibon

    I’m guessing you mean Tim Collins (had to google him). I will definitely look this up – it sounds so appropriate to the times we are in – world, U.S., personal. Exciting yet challenging. Ha! there’s an ancient Chinese saying – May you live in uninteresting times. Surely not our era!
    A challenge and an incredible opportunity for transformation.
    THANK YOU!!!

  • Therese Sibon

    Wow, I love it! I am so curious how you will transform your life. (aren’t we wacky humans fascinating creatures?) Feel free to share your journey, we all learn from each other’s stumbling in the dark. It makes the loneliness bearable.
    Your “chronic anxiety” has a voice and it is valuable and honorable – and deserves the focused listening, with compassion, that it is demanding.
    I love the light bulb.
    thank you.

  • Therese Sibon

    maybe even throw in a pedicure! thanks for reading and reaching out.

  • Emma

    I absolutely loved this, it really resonated it with. This was beautifully written. I think the funny think about anxiety is that, in way, it can bring us together in a way that nothing else can. It encourages us to slip back the layers and be real, with everything laid out on the table, prejudice and all those other things can take a back seat. In the wake of an anxiety-ridden relationship, I’ve been fighting it, blaming it for ruining everything that goes wrong. It is only now in recent weeks, I’m learning to take an ‘acceptance’ approach, I want to acknowledge it and live with it, rather than pushing against it. It’s unfair in a lot of ways, but it’s here. So yes, I really agree with you, treating it like a friend more than an enemy will make life just a little easier. Kindness has a better outcome than hatred and anger.

  • Cacique65

    Well said for in my experience it takes courage and a sincere non-judgemental attitude for whatever arises in the journey of self discovery. For me, is not so much what I uncover but how I choose to relate to it.

  • Ingrid Meijer Yaple

    Dear Therese…having met you months ago, I could just ‘hear you’ read it. If I was not so tired from my new job I’d comment more. But…think about it.. audio readings maybe? This article was definitely written in your voice, especially since I know how soothing yours is! Great article and very timely for me as well!

  • This is a fantastically written article, with good examples. And, while not mentioned, this exerice looks to be a great way of building intuition.

    Another way you can overcme fear, instead of talking to it, would be to let the fear kinda, ‘wash’ over you, and you’ll find, in most cases, that the anxiety will turn into near excitement… a buzzing in yuor skin, similar to Qi.

    Thanks for posting this. I’m going to try to remember this as I still suffer from anxiety, although my mindfulness certianly helps these days.

  • Yes, Tim’s an awesome advocate and supporter to connect with, Therese! Sorry I should have mentioned he’s easy to find on iTunes as “The anxiety podcast.” You’ve chosen a very popular topic -as you probably already know. ~Keri

  • Therese Sibon

    There is a similarity between anxious energy and excitement – that underlying buzz, as you put it – yes our qi! I’m curious as to how you think this exercise applies to building intuition. I have some thoughts on it as well. Has more to do with what the Taoists call the “po soul”, that animal energy in us which knows intuitively. It’s a bodily-felt sense, as opposed to a mental “aHa”.
    Thanks for bringing this into the conversation …. really fascinating!
    And good luck with your mindfulness taking the edge off anxiety.

  • Therese Sibon

    I checked him out – really interesting! I see a lot of young people with high levels of anxiety as well. We live in stressful times and TMI overload. When the anxiety can be lowered, creativity and health and so much more can emerge more powerfully. thanks!!!!

  • Michael Wiltse

    I am going to try this!

  • tai chi

    Thank you for this article, Therese! I love the dialogue, that is something I can actually do and put to work. I love that practical advice. Great job!

  • From what I understand, it can help you become mindful. For example, you can try the, ‘name it to tame it’ idea, where you name you anxiety (outloud or in your mind) and due to, ‘logicalising’ your emotion, you will become slightly calmer, and is a great way to becoming mindful. Mindfulness helps with intuition.

    I first came across this via Dan Siegel. Hope this helps

  • annekarp

    Love your take on anxiety. I especially am attracted to the idea of not trying to eliminate something- implying that the thing is “wrong” or that you are “broken”. Acceptance and integration are so much more agreeable. Peaceful. Affirming. Thank you!

  • Jaizki

    Great post, Therese! So far, my best approach to dealing with anxiety has been being conscious of it and focus on my breathing, but I’d never seen the amazing possibilities of questioning your own anxiety to learn from it. Thank you so much for sharing with so many useful examples!!

  • Therese Sibon

    thanks! checked out Dan Siegel – want to read more of his work. I like what you said – as I see it – it seems when you can put a little distance to the feeling, you can see it’s not YOU, your identity. And then you can see it, mindfully. Thanks again!

  • You’re welcome. I also use my fingers to tap on anything, desk, clothes, etc… as this also helps reduce my anxiety, the intention again is to, ‘logicalise’ the feeling. I have found that it improves my anxiety, and can help me focus on my work.
    And coming from a guy, with a mild form of ADD, this works wanders for my attention span, when my mind starts wandering.
    Hope this helps

  • Therese Sibon

    fascinating – it’s like the tactile sensation of tapping grounds you. When you say “logicalise” the feeling – does that put it into an objective category and from there you can separate and perhaps move it out at will?

  • Therese Sibon

    you are so welcome! we have so many tools and new ones are always more fun. our teachers are abundant, even when we may go for years not recognizing them. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Therese Sibon

    I ove the Leonard Cohen quote from the song Anthem –
    “There is a crack, a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.”
    the beauty of breaking … thanks.

  • Therese Sibon

    oh how wonderful – feel free to share any conversations. Theory is great but pragmatics – gets it done!
    thanks!

  • Therese Sibon

    perfect! – let me know how it goes for you! Tell your BFF that my BFF says hey!

  • Therese Sibon

    Oh Ingrid! thanks so much for replying (apology for the lateness – somehow I missed it). Thanks for the audio suggestions – in the new year I’m planning to do audio meditations etc. and perhaps a reading of Ideas to Play in the Car might be a way to go.
    hope your fatigue eases –

  • Therese Sibon

    wow, the acceptance … sometimes I find it hard to accept the painful part of the whole anxiety landscape. I fight it – push it away, distract myself so that I pretend it;s not there.

    I love what you said; “It encourages us to slip back the layers and be real, with everything laid out on the table, prejudice and all those other things can take a back seat.” And sometimes that crap just is so sick, I’d throw it under the table.
    thanks – going to sit with this a while.

  • Therese Sibon

    yeah .. working on that no-blame approach. It’s scary even (someone has to account for this experience!) – but more frightening to hold the judgment. It’s certainly heavier.

  • By objective, if you mean does it isolate the feeling, then in experience, yes it does.

    When I start to fidget, fantasize, mind wanders, have nervous energy…etc, I now tap, and in about 30 seconds (approx.), I have a clearer head, and I can feel love (oxytocin) from my heart area.

    From what I have read, oxytocin is the highway to help balance your Nervous system, from the Sympathetic nervous system (anxiety, as well as other medical issues) to the Parasypathetic nervous system (self-healing, growth, etc). I’ve also read that panic attacks and add can be caused by an over-stimulated nervous system.

    Hope this helps.

  • onmyway

    I love this viewpoint. Though I will for sure struggle with making friends with my bff! I am currently a senior in college struggling to manage my anxiety on top of my everyday stress. I found myself weeping in front of a professor twice last semester and I could not believe it was happening…..now I know why- i was ignoring my bff and she made a point for me to take notice! It honestly felt like my body was talking to me via my emotions. Thanks for sharing, I hope I can take this perspective as I journey through my anxiety. Great read!

  • This is indeed one of the most important effective approaches for healing chronic anxiety – to learn how to make friends with it. I teach this to all my mindfulness therapy students who are struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. We learn how to meditate on our anxiety and build a conscious relationship with it based of friendliness. This is in fact the definition of mindfulness. The real problem for most is that they develop patterns of avoidance and aversion toward the unpleasant feelings of anxiety and panic attacks, but this does nothing other than reinforce the anxiety. Experience shows that cultivating the opposite, that is consciousness and friendliness, towards your anxiety is what creates the right conditions for healing and resolution. This mindfulness-based resolution is very effective and lasting, but it takes some guidance because this kind of meditation is subtle.
    For anyone suffering from anxiety, I thorough recommend you learn how to meditate on your emotions (not the breath) because they need your conscious mindful presence in order to heal.

    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy