I often say, “anxiety is normal and just a part of being human” when speaking to my clients. It’s there to keep us safe and alive. Those tiny hairs on the back of our neck tell us when a sabre-toothed tiger is stalking us. That’s anxiety serving us well and it’s perfectly normal.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, anxiety rarely helps us out. Let’s face it, when was the last time you saw a sabre-toothed tiger? Instead, it’s often the soul destroyer who creates stress and dysfunction in our day.
Take a moment and ask yourself how you think about the anxiety in your life. I bet thoughts like these emerge:
- There’s something wrong with me.
- This isn’t normal.
- No one else feels this way so I must hide it.
- I should be able to be happy like everyone else.
But we know that just like love, sadness, anger and happiness, anxiety is just a part of life. So, if we accept it as just another feeling or emotion, we can start to think of it as NORMAL. When we get used to anxiety popping up during the day, it stops being scary and remarkably has less impact on our lives. We stop micro-focussing on it and begin to live easier and happier.
Step 1: Befriending anxiety starts with making it a normal and expected part of life.
Again, for a second, ask yourself how your thinking might change if you accepted anxiety as just a part of daily life? Perhaps it could look something like:
- There’s nothing wrong with me.
- Anxiety is perfectly normal.
- Maybe I’m just excited. I don’t need to hide my excitement.
- Happiness and anxiety are not mutually exclusive.
Now I’m not denying that anxiety is pretty crap and can appear out of nowhere to ruin our day. It has the added tendency of bringing its friends’ doubt and fear along with it so that we end up not just affecting our lives, but also impacting everyone around us. Like floodwaters in a storm drain, anxiety tends to take everyone along for the ride whether they want it or not.
If we resist and try to swim against the flood’s current, it won’t go away. It stubbornly persists and exhausts us. Instead, thinking of anxiety as a normal part of life gives us the ability to accept it and make it a friend. So, we get to talk to it like anyone else.
How do we turn this often-shitty anxiety friendship into a good one?
The answer lies with Disney’s “Monsters Inc.” where the loveable monsters Sully and Mike are terrified of a human child called Boo just because they’d been taught to feel that way. It’s not until they befriend the little girl that they begin to understand her. Anxiety is exactly like Boo. If Boo or Anxiety could talk, it’d probably explain why it’s there. It might say something like:
- I have your best interests at heart.
- I’m here to keep you safe.
- If you’d only listen to me more, I wouldn’t have to mess up your day as much.
Step 2: Have a conversation with your anxiety, get to know it and understand why it’s there.
There is a myriad of ways to talk to your new anxiety friend. You can:
- Journal – written or video
- Have a cuppa and ask, “what’s that all about?”
- Brainstorm what anxiety is trying to tell you
- Anxiety board it – like a dream board but instead, focus on what’s making you anxious so that you can understand it all
As you’re in charge of this conversation, you get to ask as many questions as you like. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- What are you trying to tell me right now?
- Let’s make a deal. When I’m not anxious but excited, how about you act accordingly.
- What would you have me focus on if I wasn’t anxious right now?
Once you start the conversation, all you need do is wait for the response. Be a little patient and let your subconscious mind start giving your conscious mind some answers that it would never otherwise have discovered.
Here’s another great thing about good friends, they don’t get offended when we ask for some time alone. Anxiety is no different.
Step 3: Trust yourself enough to tell anxiety to take a hike.
Conversations are never one-sided, and like any good friendship, we sometimes need time on our own. Trust yourself to ask for it. Perhaps like this:
- Hey, anxiety. How about you grab a coffee so I can finish this task? See you in 5 mins or so.
- Enough now. Take a hike, and let’s catch up in an hour.
- If you don’t have anything helpful to say, don’t say anything.
TIP: Be persistent and determined to win the time to yourself. You’re not asking. You are telling.
Telling, rather than asking for anxiety’s permission, is super powerful because you are back in control and no longer at the mercy of floodwaters. Control is the one thing in life that we need to feel safe. Even an illusion of control will make us feel secure, and anxiety cannot exist when we feel safe and secure. It’s a physical and emotional impossibility and a scientifically proven truth of how humans work. I get overly excited every time I say or write this fundamental truth.
Safety gets rid of anxiety.
Be stubborn in implementing these tips so that like Boo, Scully and Mike; you and anxiety may even become firm friends. In the end, it’s up to you how much anxiety controls your life for good or ill.
“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart.” – Roy T. Bennet, The Light in the Heart