Accepting Anxiety: 4 Mindful Steps To Befriending Your AnxietyApr 14, 2021
Accepting anxiety!?!? Most of my clients feel a little shocked when I suggest this to be the most effective way to getting their lives back. They want to be rid of anxiety. My clients wish to overcome it. Accepting anxiety has never been part of the picture… Until now. I want to share 4 mindful steps to befriending your anxiety and how this has the power to transform it.
Why is Accepting Anxiety So Important?
In a recent article I discussed the trickery of anxiety (read it here) and how it tends to self perpetuate. If you have been following my Facebook videos and previous articles then you will now know that anxiety itself is not the problem.
It is the anxiety ABOUT anxiety that gets us stuck.
And when we feel anxious about something then we are saying “This is important! We need to pay attention!”
That’s the mechanism of anxiety, right? To tell us to pay attention.
So it stands to reason that when you are anxious about your anxiety then you are going to be paying more and more attention to it!
When we move into a space of acceptance, leaning into, welcoming anxiety then we no longer experience anxiety about anxiety. We actually become friends with anxiety. And in so doing, we stop the cycle.
Acceptance of anxiety is the only way to befriend it. Befriending anxiety is the only way to interrupt it’s vicious cycles.
4 Mindful Steps To Befriending Your Anxiety
I tend to get strange and confused looks when I talk about befriending anxiety. While most people understand the rationale behind it, they do not understand how to go about doing it.
Here are 4 mindful steps that you can use to begin the practice of befriending your anxiety.
Step 1: Acknowledge The Feeling
Anxiety comes in many shapes and forms. Some of us experience irritability first. Others feel an urgent pressure and want everything to hurry up. Still others experience anxiety as a racing heart and tight chest.
The symptoms of anxiety are vast. (Be sure to grab the symptom checklist here if you aren’t sure about them) And when we experience it, we often misinterpret what we are feeling.
The very first step is to become more mindful of our experiences. Notice them more. Invite them and then sit with that experience and acknowledge it as anxiety.
I tell you, this is a very powerful thing to do. It often puts you back in the driver seat when you know this experience is just a human feeling and you are the owner of that feeling.
So simply notice it, feel it and acknowledge it. Say “Ah! There is my anxiety showing up”. Or you could say “Hi there Anxiety, I see you”.
Step 2: Remind Yourself Of The Impermanence of Emotions
Do you remember the last time you laughed so hard it hurt your belly? How long did it last? You’re not still laughing, are you?
The last time you got so angry it hurt… That passed too. As did your last bout of disappointment. And sadness.
Our emotions are in a constant state of flux and change. They come and go. They shift and morph. Frustration turns to anger that subsides into sadness and changes into relief. Excitement shifts to joy which subsides into contentment.
They always change. Emotions are impermanent. And anxiety is the same.
The only thing that stops anxiety from shifting is our own holding on with our anxiety about anxiety. If we allowed anxiety to be there, and validated it the way we did with sadness or anger, it would subside.
The next time you acknowledge your anxiety, remind yourself that this, too, shall pass. It may seem a cliche, but it is certainly true. When you can fully know this, then your anxiety about anxiety can subside.
Step 3: Lean In and Be Curious
Once you know you are safe and that anxiety will subside – it is time to get curious.
Spend some time being still with the feeling and lean in to the experience. Where do you feel it in your body? Where else? If you could give it a shape and size, what would it look like? Does it move or is it solid?
Really use this time to explore your experience of anxiety with an attitude of curiosity. When we are curious then we are accepting. We want to know more. We are interested. There is no resistance in curiosity – only a willingness to learn more.
Look deeper – What do you notice about your thoughts? Your behaviour? Notice anything else that pops up for you.
And as you do this… Notice the shifts. They are there. I guarantee that as you lean into your experience and explore it, it will start to change and morph into something new.
The art here is remain open to the experience. When we resist, it persists.
Step 4: Shake Hands With Your Anxiety
Your anxiety shifts when you are finally able to look anxiety in the eye and shake hands with it. Your relationship with it will have changed.
Anxiety is a valid emotion that is designed to keep you safe. It rears it’s head when there is something important that you need to pay attention to.
Perhaps you have an important decision to make. Maybe you are avoiding a confronting conversation. In some cases we are trying to keep ourselves safe from potential danger. Sometimes your anxiety is telling you to slow down.
No matter what, there is always a reason for anxiety to be there. When it gets stuck it becomes loud, obtrusive and debilitating. But when anxiety is our friend we are able to use it to our advantage.
The process of acknowledging, leaning in and exploring allows you to shift anxiety. It is no longer stuck. Now you have an opportunity to listen.
What is it telling you? Is there something you have been avoiding? What uncomfortable feelings are you masking with anxiety? Listen carefully and see what comes up for you.
This is your opportunity to shake hands with anxiety and create an alliance in which it can serve you once again.
The process of leaning in and using mindfulness to befriend anxiety is somewhat of an art. As with most effective strategies, it takes practice.
Mindfulness and acceptance are muscles that need training. Ask your counsellor or therapist to assist you with practicing mindfulness so that you can continue to flex that muscle.
If you are not in therapy, feel free to join our Inner Circle here where we walk you through the processes of changing your relationship with anxiety step by step.
Grab your free pdf download to guide you through the 4 steps to befriending your anxiety: