ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

Anxiety Is Part of Life, Suffering From It is a Choice

Don’t let anxiety control you ever again

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

Anxiety is something that millions of people deal with. In fact, about 40 million people in the United States have anxiety. If so many people are suffering, does that mean 40 million people are choosing to suffer?

The short answer is yes, but there’s more to it than that. They aren’t choosing to experience anxiety. It’s part of EVERYONE’S life. The choice lies in allowing anxiety to assume control of behavior.

What exactly is anxiety?

Anxiety is discomfort in uncertainty.

What’s the remedy then?

Are you just supposed to stop feeling uncomfortable whenever uncertainty creeps into your life?

No!

You’re supposed to practice.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

This is where anxiety being a choice comes into the equation; some things you get to choose some things you don’t.

You don’t get to choose whether your body has a stress response, but you do get what you make of that response. Stress responses are uncomfortable. They are your body, making resources available to deal with conflict. Your body doesn’t want to burn through those resources if it doesn’t have to, so it makes leveraging them uncomfortable enough that you have to make a choice.

You have to want it.

If the conflict is important to you, you’ll stick around and gut it out.

If the conflict isn’t worth it, then the discomfort will drive you out of the situation.

I get it. This may look good on paper, but everything becomes blurred in practice, and consciously making that choice feels impossible. Trust me. I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I have vivid memories of being completely overwhelmed with anxiety from about the age of seven.

Most of those memories involved me missing out on something that I really wanted to experience but was so flooded by sensation and emotion that I just shut down. I couldn’t articulate what I was feeling, and the people around me would either call me a “wussy” or shake their heads and walk away.

I didn’t have anyone to help me understand what was happening, and that’s where most anxiety sufferers find themselves today. They don’t know how to make heads or tails of their experiences because it feels like trying to stop a tsunami with a lopsided umbrella.

Yes, if you’re wondering anxiety is still a choice, at least it is for you because you’re reading this article, and I’m going to give you an example of how you can train your ability to harness anxiety.

Before going any further, I want you to watch this video, which is less than a minute long. It explains the exercise I’ll be referencing.

Paced breathing is an invaluable exercise for anxiety sufferers. It’s so powerful that it creates the same sensations in the body that come with anxiety.

That means it’s possible to “practice” anxiety, and anything that can be practiced can be honed into a skill.

This exercise works because it increases the levels of CO2 in your blood, don’t worry, it’s not dangerous. CO2 or carbon dioxide is the stress messenger of the body. It is the chemical signal that tells your nervous system to pour on the steam because there’s a problem that needs solving.

With that message comes all of the sensations of anxiety that cripple upwards of 40 million people in the United States regularly. The beauty of this scenario is that nothing is on the line. You can’t embarrass yourself in front of anyone or get socially blacklisted. (Not that anyone is actually paying attention to what you’re doing…but if you have social anxiety, you understand the sentiment.)

I recommend that you do this exercise at least 1–2x every week. When you do it, the important thing is that you don’t tryand run away from the sensations. Don’t try to hide from them by “going somewhere else” in your head. Sit with them. Digest them. Learn to be ok with not being comfortable. Learn to be ok with feeling exactly the opposite of how you want to feel.

Once you accept that it’s okay not to feel okay, the world opens up. If you can do it on a bike or a treadmill, you can do it in a crowd or at a party. You can have the hard conversations you’ve been ignoring. You can take that chance and bet on yourself.

Anxiety is a choice. Choose wisely.

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