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How Accepting Anxiety Can Lead to Peace

Peaceful Man

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My unwillingness to accept my anxiety disorder (there, I said it; I have a disorder) results in panic.

It results in waking up at night, heart racing, body tingling and trembling.

It results in driving down the road in a thunderstorm thinking I am having a heart attack—but I just keep driving and talking to my beloved on the phone because “if I can just keep driving away from it, it will be okay.”

Instead of accepting anxiety as a family member of sorts, I resist and resent her visits. She’s always forced into drastic measures to get my attention.

When the panic and physical symptoms of anxiety start, I assign it to something else.

My heart races and I must have a heart condition. I’m dizzy and I must have a neurological condition. If it’s not me I assign it to, it’s my children. My son has a horrible bruise; it must be Leukemia. Life is too good; something awful is going to happen to someone I love.

It always happens just like this, I’ve realized recently.

Anxiety shows up over and over the course of my lifetime, yet my expectation is that it won’t.

Instead, I expect that I will always be happy, stress-free, compassionate toward others (but not myself), kind, thoughtful, smart, successful, fit, skinny, wrinkle-free—the list of things I “should” be goes on for miles. That word, “should,” is something that I need to eliminate from my vocabulary.

I convince myself that anxiety can’t be the cause of these physical symptoms, because that would mean that I am something less than happy.

Ah, there it is. Feelings other than happiness are bad, and I should (there’s that word again) be happy all the time; so therefore, if I’m not happy, I’m not perfect and I’m a failure. See how that works?

Yeah, I see how irrational, uncompassionate, and unforgiving that is when it’s on paper, which is one reason I’m writing this. The other reason is because I realized I’m not being true to who I am without accepting this part of me.

People who know me describe me as an open book. I would have described myself that way until recently.

This is a part of me that I’ve hidden for years. I tuck anxiety away like that black sheep of the family and make sure no one, not even those closest to me, know her.

I’ve been ashamed of my anxiety and I’ve realized that all along that black sheep family member just needed me to accept her.

To sit with her and maybe give her a hug and say, “I see you. I know you’ve visited before. Feeling something other than ‘perfectly happy’ is a normal part of life and I should expect to feel anxious, worried, upset, or even sad sometimes. You’re here to help me figure out what feeling is really behind this anxiety and what actions I can take to feel better.”

Recently, my children went out of state with their father for a week. This was the first time I had been that far away from them for that long.

Every day I would wake with a jolt, heart beating fast, wondering why I felt so anxious. I finally realized that being away from my children and worrying about their safety was causing these feelings of panic.

After recognizing this, I decided to focus on the fun things they were doing every day and how this trip would provide them great memories for many years to come instead of thinking about all of the “what-ifs” associated with their trip.

I see this recent epiphany as progress in my lifelong journey of self-acceptance.

I am going to try hard to see anxiety as the gift she is, because every time she leaves, I’m a little more enlightened. I feel more capable of managing my anxiety and I realize that I am in control of my thoughts, not the other way around.

I am able to be more compassionate to others when they are feeling less than “perfectly happy.” I’m able to dig a little deeper into what is causing my anxiety versus denying I have it at all.

When I do that, I can develop a plan, which either addresses any legitimate concerns or dispels any irrational ones. It’s a lot easier than continuing along just being a victim of my own thoughts.

The next time anxiety shows up, I’m going to try to embrace her visit so she doesn’t have to go to such drastic lengths to be seen and heard. I’ll simply say, “Oh, it’s you again. Come on in and sit a spell. We have work to do.”

If you also have a family member named anxiety that’s visiting you more often than you would like, sit with her for a while. Think about why she’s there. What are your anxious thoughts?

Write down any irrational, anxious, or self-defeating thoughts on one side of a piece of paper. On the opposite side, list any actual evidence that the thought is true.

An example for me would be “I’m a weak person because I have anxiety.” To challenge that thought is easy—I can list 100 examples of how I am not weak, and have a hard time coming up with even one that proves my thought is true.

Most of the time writing it down takes away the power of the thought and brings some clarity. If you do have a thought that’s true, figure out some steps you can take to address it. Put yourself back in control. Try it the next time anxiety visits and see if it shortens her stay.

Peaceful man image via Shutterstock

About Stephanie Nelson

Stephanie Nelson is a fledgling writer, health care executive, and mom of two. Two years ago, she lost her marriage, her fifteen-year job, and her mother. Those events catapulted her into a journey of self-discovery that has changed who she is in every way. She seeks out knowledge in order to better understand herself and in hopes of helping others do the same.

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  • Very smart,smotimes hard to incorporate

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  • Thanks for sharing this. I recently came to a similar conclusion about anxiety attacks about death and existence. After embracing them, I realized they were telling me I felt disconnected from people, and that has allowed me to work on opening up and allowing myself to be more connected (and vulnerable). I used to feel ashamed, but that was keeping me from actually hearing what the anxiety was saying, exactly as you explain.

  • Blackboard

    Ha! I could have written that article myself! I can remember being 5 waiting to get a cavity filled and making myself sick with worrying trying to control the situation. If I could worry enough I could fix it. Anxiety is always there making up worst case situations and how I can control things that are not controllable. It IS the only way to accept it, embrace it and move on. It is exhausting trying to fix it, ignore it or do anything to make it go away. Embracing the anxiety is the only way through the fire. Its nice to know I am not alone. Oh and working out, it helps me burn off the extra anxiety and calms my very busy mind.

  • ahh this is good stuff 🙂

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  • satpal

    dear Nelson , I want to chat with you I am going thru such feelings ,ur fb id pls.

  • Paula Ronen

    Feelings and emotions are there for a reason: they have an important message to deliver, that’s why we should never ignore them. But we don’t have to get stuck with those emotions either, we don’t have to be controlled by them; we have just to listen to them in order to make adjustments on our path… and let them go gracefully.

  • Lynn

    ha ha I have anxiety almost daily, I like the way you describe yours as a she, that B i t c ….
    Yes, she comes and she goes, My anxiety is from worry I believe, I am a bit of a control freak, and I think that if I can’t see someone or talk to someone or know what is going on at all times that maybe there is something wrong, Why would there be anything wrong? Have faith that everything is ok. Ok yes, everything is ok. But the feeling in my chest comes and knaws away, at me. just recently I am sharing with friends that I get it almost daily, and that
    I need to let go of the stressors in life, not feeling connected is a common feeling in many people although they will not admit it. I explain to my family I cannot stress over what I cannot control. I think they are confused by this revelation. We need to express how we feel and hope that our friends and loved ones will help us in accepting the b i t c …. but not allowing her to control me. oh that was good. thank you

  • Susan Mary Malone

    This is just beautiful, Stephanie. You hit upon something that so many try to resist–admitting we’re not happy all the time! This is it in a nutshell for me: “Feelings other than happiness are bad, and I should (there’s that word again) be happy all the time; so therefore, if I’m not happy, I’m not perfect and I’m a failure.”
    You made me better this morning–and with a smile 🙂

  • MsMaeDae

    Thank you! so insightful. I have learned to be

    AWARE (Acknowledge the anxiety, Watch the anxiety, Act Normal, Relax, and Expect the best) of my anxiety. And that usually does the trick. It’s so important to be self-aware and introspective, for it is the only way to minimize such a debilitating beast.

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  • Awesome article! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Paolito

    Great article 🙂 Thank you! Much love :’))

  • fernanda andrade

    I seek anxiety usfull whe it warnes me something has to change. Nog linguir in it more then nessecary case that costs energy netter spend in other things.

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  • Kristen

    I felt what you wrote is exactly how I live and think each day. Thanks for sharing, it certainly makes one who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks feel less alone in the world.

  • Stephanie Nelson

    Absolutely! When you suffer from panic (although maybe I should consider changing that to “When you’re blessed with panic”) you can certainly feel “crazy” or like you must be the only person who has this happen. I’ve learned through writing this article that there are many of us out there in the great big world! Gives me a sense of comfort just knowing I’m not alone. Thanks!

  • Stephanie Nelson

    That’s great that you’ve received that clarity!

  • Stephanie Nelson

    I will have to remember to be AWARE myself! Thanks for sharing!

  • Stephanie Nelson

    Yes, I have realized recently that I was programmed to think anything less than perfection even in terms of feeling perfect equated to failure. I’ve started to realize I’m HUMAN! And humans get to have ALL kinds of feelings!

  • Stephanie Nelson

    I have a meditation that describes watching feelings go by in your brain like water flowing. It flows by but doesn’t stop. Feelings can float through us and not stick around. Not latching on to them is the key! Observe and release!

  • Stephanie Nelson

    Working out is my salvation! (PS I hate going to the dentist! I recommend sedation!) 🙂

  • Stephanie Nelson

    Absolutely agree! It’s always hard to incorporate! 🙂

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  • Fighting and resisting often makes it worse, as is the way with most if not all things in life.
    Physiologically though, I find adopting a healthy vegan diet, breathe deeply, getting rid of coffee, and drinking lemon water all day significantly reduce my anxiety level and keep me feel peaceful and calm.

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  • As soon as you find out about the symptoms and realise it’s you – often you will feel more relaxed, so I will be sharing this article on my page as it will really help my clients. Thanks.

  • Lisa

    Can I get this meditation on u tube please ?

  • Such a beautiful and inspiring post! I love not only the way you write, but how you explain so viscerally how how feelings can run away, towing us behind them rather than walking along beside each other on the same journey. Thanks so much for your reminder that we can admit what we’re feeling, while still taking an active role in changing our state of being. <3

  • As we develop our mindfulness meditation practice we learn how to meditate on our anxiety, our anxious thoughts and any other mental contents that creates suffering. We learn to embrace them with mindfulness and we learn to respond to our emotions with compassion, helping them heal and transform through the combined power of consciousness and love.

    Often we lose sight of this approach as taught by the Buddha and we avoid and resist our painful emotions, but avoidance and resistance are the fuel that feeds anxiety and prevents it from ever healing.

    But, acceptance is not a passive process of resignation to the way things are, but an active process of awakening to see the anxiety more clearly so that we can respond to it in a way that leads to its healing and transformation. We approach the anxiety or fear in exactly the same way that we might approach an animal in pain or a frightened child – by opening our mind and heart to see the causes of suffering and then to respond with compassion to bring about the resolution of that suffering. I have worked with many people over the years and this approach always works best for overcoming anxiety and depression.

    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • Janie

    Thank you so much for sharing .

  • Carla Baptista

    Thank you so much for this insightful post. I’ve been wondering a lot lately about why I feel so determined to resist the anxiety when it visits, and I suspect it has much to do with guilt.

  • Gareth

    Really great thinking’s Stephanie,just beamed in on it,nice way to consider it,,on the case instantly Gareth uk

  • Tiffany Timm

    Thank you for the new idea! People say to sit with it and try to understand it and such, but they don’t say how. I appreciate your example. Bc my sitting with it is just going through it. Idk how to change it.