Anxiety, it’s painful, it’s annoying, it’s inconvenient, sometimes it can feel downright unbearable. But what if anxiety itself was not the issue?
Anxiety is there to protect us
Anxiety is an emotion that we all get to experience. It shows up to protect us from some type of danger. This could be a physical threat to our life, social rejection, or perhaps the possibility of failure.
Our brains are wired to protect us. The caveman that spent most of their day scanning the environment for any type of threat was more likely to survive and pass their genes onto future generations. The result? We all have minds that are wired to be anxious.
So, what can we do with anxiety? Fight hundreds of thousands of years of evolution? Seems like an unimaginable feat. What if there was something easier we could do?
The costs of trying to get rid of it
What if anxiety was not actually the problem but the problem was all the things we rely on to get rid of anxiety?
The wine we might overindulge in at the end of the night, the person we didn’t ask out on that date, the challenge we turned down at work, the party we did not go to.
What if the problem was also how we treat ourselves when anxiety shows up? All those harsh things we say to ourselves to make anxiety go away.
Whenever an uncomfortable emotion shows up our mind almost always starts struggling with it.
For example, let’s say anxiety shows up, a very natural human emotion. Our mind does not like anxiety, it’s unpleasant, so what does it try to do? It tries to get rid of it. Our mind might start saying oh no! There’s anxiety, I don’t want anxiety, why is it coming up right now, what’s wrong with me? Now we have anxiety about anxiety. Our mind might start beating us up, what’s wrong with me, no one else seems to be struggling, I’m pathetic. Now we have sadness about our anxiety about our anxiety. This struggle can seem never ending and create a cascade of even more difficult emotions!
How to drop the struggle
What if there was a way to drop the struggle with anxiety? Anxiety shows up, and it’s not that we like it or want it, but we choose to not struggle with it. This takes a lot of practice, and does not come natural to any human!
There are generally 3 steps to dropping the struggle with any unpleasant emotion.
- Acknowledge: the first step is simply acknowledging the emotion. Often times we can get so caught up in a feeling, that we might not even notice what is happening. Acknowledging can be as simple as saying to yourself “I notice a feeling of anxiety” “I notice this feeling in my stomach”.
- Allow: the next step is practicing allowing it to be there, even though it is unpleasant. This can include saying to yourself “aha, anxiety, there you are, I recognize you are here to protect me from danger, thank you for trying to do your #1 job!”
- Accommodate: the final step is the hardest one. Accommodating means making room for the feeling. Allowing it to come and stay and go in its own time. In practice this can involve taking some deep breaths around the feeling, and as you are breathing around the feeling imagine that you are creating a space for it. If the anxiety grows, try to give it even more space.
How will this be helpful?
Anxiety is an inevitable part of life. It shows up for everyone. Often the issue is not anxiety itself but all the things we do to avoid anxiety in the first place.
When we practice dropping the struggle with anxiety, it’s freer to come and stay and go in its own time. With practice it doesn’t have to hold us back from doing the things we want to do, it can actually come along for the ride.
Practice, practice, practice
This idea sounds simple but requires a lot of practice. If you’d like to practice dropping the struggle with anxiety (or any unpleasant feeling you may be struggling with) check out this guided exercise where I walk you through the steps by imagining an emotion as an object.
If you’d like to learn more, check out this short youtube clip on the struggle switch which explains this idea of dropping the struggle (I reference it in the beginning of the audio exercise).