“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” ~Pema Chodron
If there’s one thing that has led me the greatest amount of re-invention, it’s anxiety. By anxiety I don’t mean worry or concern. Anxiety is a different animal that grabs a hold of you and halts you in your tracks.
We tend to reject its milder forms and are really terrified by its intense moments, like with panic attacks. It’s difficult to see when we’re fighting with anxiety that it can have any benefit, but it does.
Anxiety comes with some great treasures hidden inside, and they can be yours if you know how to get to them. First, you have to stop fighting and listen to the anxiety for clues.
Getting the Message
The greatest truth about anxiety is that it is a message. Anxiety is not the real issue. It’s the voice of something else lying beneath that’s calling out to you.
Most people who experience anxiety try to go after the symptoms more than its cause and try to fight it off as if it were the only thing to deal with.
That’s not how to go about it if you ever want to know how it happened, why it’s there, and how you can gain long-term freedom from it.
STOP! YOU’RE HURTING!
The anxiety message is simple; it’s just three words: STOP! YOU’RE HURTING!
When an experience like anxiety is pleading for you to stop and notice that you’re hurting, and you know this, your next step is to find that hurt. Its severity is proportionate to the scope of what you have to address—so if you feel like you’re going to die, look for something big!
Its methods of stopping you are varied and some of the common ones are: spinning thoughts, feeling disassociated, heavy breathing, and a racing heart. Whatever works so that you’ll finally pay attention, it will customize for you.
The loudest stop message can appear as a panic attack and causes a sensation that you feel like you’re going to die. Dying is the ultimate definition of stopping within our physical experience, and that’s why we can feel that way.
The good news is that it’s an illusion. Anxiety will not hurt you in that way; but until you catch on, start listening, and heal the source of the messages, it will keep trying to spin you around so that you’re facing it long enough to hear what it’s trying to say.
“Hey! I’m talking to you! Is she still ignoring me? UGH! Ok body, it’s your turn. Make her feel like her heart will explode. HA! You stopped working overtime didn’t you? Gotcha! Now look…we need to talk…What? Now you’re hiding in a movie? Oh no you didn’t! PANIC ATTACK!”
Anxiety can feel cyclic as it persists, and it’s easy to feel haunted or trapped by it. You’re always in control though. The body, a part of nature, always seeks a point of balance and rest. When anxiety becomes cyclic and seemingly out of your control, it’s still just a part of you.
It’s being maintained by you, for you, until it gets enough of your attention for healing to take place. Whatever you keep doing or ignoring (maybe the things that led to its nascence) will continue to recreate it until you go about things differently.
This is an important realization because it can help you shift from feeling victimized to feeling empowered. It can only continue as long as you delay tending to what’s beneath the message. Anxiety cannot cause you to feel discomfort forever. It will motivate you to heal, and then leave once you do.
Who/What Sent the Message?
Anxiety messages can come from anything negative you’ve chosen to carry forward. It can be a traumatic or painful event left unresolved (usually through having had an attitude of sucking-it-up, being tough, trying to forget etc.).
It can be someone or something you have yet to forgive, or a long running perception of lack that has hindered your growth for too long.
My anxiety disorder came from high insecurity, an excessive need for validation, a frantic quest for completion through relationships, and an inability to acknowledge who I really was.
I ran around trying to please others and attempting to be who they wanted me to be. On the anniversary of a particularly painful breakup, where I convinced myself I had become less than a full person, I had my first panic attack.
It completely bowled me over and continued to do so for 4 years as it tried to get me stop and heal.
It worked. The experience of an anxiety so severe that I couldn’t leave my apartment was completely successful in making me turn my gaze away from the outside world to my inner world, where I seriously needed to focus. I could finally heal and grow.
Who I became next was a happy, empowered, compassionate person who was more focused on matters of the heart and fulfilling myself than approval from others. Anxiety became my greatest life-shifting gift, and I’m forever grateful.
Receiving the Message
Spending time with anxiety to discover the source of the message and what you have to heal can be achieved in many ways. You have to find what works best for you, but here’s a great series of approaches that seem to help everybody:
1. Welcome it.
Make friends and peace with anxiety immediately. Talk to yourself and the anxiety reassuringly: It’s ok. I’m listening. I want to hear what you have to say. I know you’re just trying to get my attention and that the more directly and peacefully I listen, the sooner you’ll stop repeating yourself.
Fighting with anxiety or resisting it will cause it to persist.
2. Write about it.
I know it’s trite to journal since it’s a suggested solution to most personal troubles, but the slower pace of writing and full engagement of your senses helps you travel down the path of the anxiety message to its source.
We don’t always know where our anxiety is coming from, so we have to take the time to dig and poke. Plus, we’re literal people. Our thoughts are literal. By using a linguistic mechanism the analogy of anxiety message becomes more clear and easier to work with.
Bring more laughter in your life. It will help you take life less seriously.
Express love for people, places, and things that you cherish. Be a greater beacon of love.
5. Help others with their anxiety.
The more people you help with anxiety, the greater a vocabulary you’ll develop, and this will help empower your inner dialog for when you’re sitting with anxiety.
Anxiety races thoughts and can be very distracting. With a rushing mind, it’s hard to hear the anxiety message and follow it back to its source. Meditation helps tremendously.
If you can learn to notice your thoughts without attaching to them—seeing them as cars passing by as you stand on the edge of a busy highway—you’ll become better at picking out what really matters in this moment.
7. Realize that you are enough.
Be accountable, no matter how much “such and such/so and so did” to you. It doesn’t matter. Now is what we have to work with. Tomorrow is what we have to create.
Realize that you are your own solution. You have what you need to look clearly; to hear and to heal. Anxiety is a message born within you, speaking to you through you, and therefore it’s within you to heal.
Receiving the Gifts
By learning about anxiety, spending time with it and finally holding in your hand, you can enjoy the next step: You can relax your grip, and let it fall away. It will have served its purpose. You will have loved that part of yourself and it won’t need to get your attention with such a difficult message again.
You will be connected. That’s the first gift.
The second gift is that feeling connected and with realizing that you’re enough can lead you to a cycle of inner fullness. It can give you an easy-to-remember awareness that you’re up for this, whatever the next exciting challenge or painful event may be.
The third gift of anxiety is that it gets you to recognize your own power with, instead of power over, yourself and your life.
All you had to do was listen…
Man meditating image via Shutterstock