“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?
It’s not that.
I noticed that the reassurance calmed her down a bit.
Are you worried that we have no specific itinerary?
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?
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.
It’s 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:
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?