How I Learned to Love My Anxiety
3 ways I serve my anxiety that have saved my fearful ass — every time.
I thank my lucky stars I was born an anxious, colicky mess.
No really, I do.
If you think I’m crazy for loving my anxiety, then stop reading.
No, I mean it. Stop.
If you’re cursing your own anxious nature with made-up profanities, because the regular, run-of-the-mill curse words are used up, then read on. I got you.
Anxiety and I have been doing that comfortably uncomfortable push-pull dance ever since I can remember.
My first imaginary friend was a product of my anxiety. I called her Ginius. She was as graceful as she was cool, calm, and collected. My 5-year-old self needed Ginius more than I needed my own mother. My imaginary friend was my solace. She was a reminder of everything that I wasn’t. She was my sanity in an often insane inner world. Even as a small child, my over-analytical mind didn’t know how to stop trying to figure out, well, everything. Without Ginius I was way too serious. Somehow the feeling of her presence set me at ease.
Eventually, I outgrew Ginius and looked for real-life examples of anxiety-free personhood. I found them in bits and pieces here and there. I scraped them off of moments where babysitters, teachers, and even my own, often anxious mother emitted an air of calm that pressed pause to the incessant worries cycling through my psyche. Anxiety worries are the “what if’s.”
What if my aunts kiss me and leave lipstick marks all over my face? What if my cousin is going to be grumpy towards me again? What if my mom makes that stinky chicken when I have my friends over for dinner?
Pause was my heaven, and whoever pressed it became my in the moment guru.
The guru moments, however sweet, were always short-lived. Within nanoseconds, my mind went back to chattering on its default setting of light-speed.
For most of my life, I felt like my anxiety was a curse. I was trained to feel that way. At the ripe old age of 5, I was sent to a play therapy group for being socially withdrawn. Hanging out in the playroom with a big glass window where we 7 or 8 kids were told “Graduate students are watching you play,” I felt like something must be wrong with me. Watching me play? But why? I spent years feeling like my head was a fucked up mess of knots that needed to be untwisted one mindfulness meditation, yoga pose, and therapy session at a time.
But the more I worked on untwisting my mental knots, the more anxious I got.
Why does inner work result in more anxiety, you may ask?
My answer to you is wordless and full of wonder, my friend. I’ve spent years buying, reading, and re-reading self-help and psychology books in search of an intellectual answer.
The closest word-filled answer to my query has come in the form of poetry — the Rumi kind. Rumi is the kind of poet you don’t analyze with your mind; you feel his words with your heart.
“Come out of the circle of time, and into the circle of love.”
The first time I read this poem, my heart skipped a beat. The good kind of beat. Suddenly, I felt a kinship with my ole’ friend Ginius. In this Rumi-filled moment, she became a part of me —suddenly that cool, calm, collected childhood pal was coursing through my veins in a very holy way.
As I read and re-read that Rumi poem, time stood still and it all made sense. I suddenly went back to kindergarten and hugged my 5-year-old self as she pressed her face up to the glass window, attempting to spy on the grad students who were spying on her. “You’re okay,” I said to her through my hug. “They’ve got nothing on you, girl. Absolutely nothing. You’re anxiety is quite okay. And who wouldn’t be anxious knowing they were being watched?”
My Rumi moment branded my soul with the most important words of my life.
“Come into the circle of love.”
Anxiety is okay.
My anxiety hasn’t left me. It’s a part of me as much as yours might be a part of you. But my perception of it shifted from a feeling of being cursed to a feeling of being blessed.
In that poetic moment, I learned to say, “Thank you” to my anxiety.
Now, when it rears it’s sometimes venomous head, I simply say:
“I’m feeling anxious, and that’s okay. How can I serve myself right now?”
3 ways I serve my anxiety that has saved my fearful ass:
#1 Validating My Feelings.
This is the key to any healthy relationship with self. When you simply acknowledge how you feel (and it can be as simple as an, I feel ____ right now statement), you make space for that feeling to move through your body. When we deny or repress our feelings, we block them. Blocked feelings creating an internal pressure that will build until something releases it. The release might look like a wild animal in heat or a temper tantrum or a bitch fest. Release of pent up feelings is never lovely to experience and even less lovely to witness. When I say to myself, “I’m anxious right now,” my whole being takes a deep. Relieving breath. Acknowledging my anxiety tells it: You’re okay. Nothing’s wrong with you. Be as you are because I know you’re only temporary.
#2 Prayer — aka Asking for Help
I believe in something bigger and higher than myself. It comes from that circle of love place that no words could do justice. When my anxiety is making my mind and heart go all sorts of crazy, I get down on my knees (in my head) and ask for help. Help feels like me handing it over and feeling weightless for a moment. Help feels like me getting out of my own way. When I pray for support, assistance comes in a myriad of ways. I often find prayer in those moments where my soul has been backing into a tight corner and starts to feel suffocated. The “Help!” voice comes in the form of synchronicities and coincidences. It could be as simple as just the right song lyrics blasting on the radio — -or as blatant as a perfect stranger paying for your groceries when you forgot your wallet and were going to need your extra cash to pay to repair the flat tire you would get when you left the grocery store. When we open ourselves to help from something greater than our ant-like selves, we expand our consciousness into the realm of the soul. The soul sees a connection in everything.
#3 Getting Physical in a Mindful Way.
Mindfully moving my body, also known in many holistic circles as a somatic release, is perhaps one of the best ways my anxious self can instantly unwind. My desired moves include yoga, hiking, or biking. The piece is a game-changer. When I’m feeling anxious and choose to move my body, I do so with the intention of moving my anxiety through with ease, grace, and compassion. As I walk or pedal or move from asana to asana on my mat, I make space for my anxiety to move as my body moves. Breath by breath, my anxiety, just like my ole’ imaginary friend, Genius, becomes one with me.
Anxiety isn’t who I am.
Feelings are not us, but they feel like “us” at the moment. Feelings like anxiety can be all-consuming. The three ways I serve my anxiety make space for my anxiety to be felt, heard, and experienced, thus allowing it to integrate into my here and now experience.
It’s taken me two decades to learn to embrace my anxiety with gusto.
I think if I said, “I wouldn’t be the awesome human that I am without my anxiety,” fifteen years ago, I would have told someone to lock me up.
But the circle of love has opened me up to all the things that the circle of time deems to be impossible.
This moment, for instance, as I get ready to submit this piece — it makes me anxious. All the what if’s are rolling through my brain. But then there’s that Genius part of me; the cool, calm, and collected sister that wouldn’t know anxiety if it was a tumbleweed rolling through her living room.
I can let my what if’s hangout beside my inner Genius. In fact, I think I’m taking them to lunch tomorrow. Hold on.
We’re on for lunch tomorrow, right, Anxiety?
Cool, I’m looking forward to it. You wanna share that hummus plate again?
Sweet. Together we make a good team.
Just don’t eat all the hummus this time, okay, Anxiety?
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