Anxiety can make you feel like crawling right out of your skin. Physical symptoms of anxiety are some of the most unpleasant feelings imaginable. So why in the world would you want to “bring it on”???
My clients usually come in to our first appointment wanting to “get rid of anxiety.” I can help them do that, but sometimes in the most unexpected way…
What You Resist Persists
What most people don’t realize is that their attempts to avoid or “get rid of anxiety” can actually give anxiety more power and keep it going. The strong and urgent need to get rid of anxiety is interpreted in your brain something like this: “OMG I have to get rid of this terrible thing ASAP or else I’ll die!” Instead of reducing anxiety, this type of catastrophic thinking actually triggers your flight or flight response… which always creates more anxiety.
In a Mindfulness-based approach, instead of trying to get rid of anxiety, my clients learn to increase their ability to tolerate it.[pullquote]When you know you can tolerate any uncomfortable anxious feelings, anxiety loses its hold over you.[/pullquote]
One Mindfulness Tool for Anxiety
Here’s a way to practice increasing your tolerance for anxiety, so that you can ultimately gain control over it. This tool is from Ron Siegel, PsyD who is a leader in the field of Mindfulness.
• Start by bringing attention to the sensation of your breath in your body. There’s no need to change your breath or breathe in any particular way. Just keep gently returning your attention to your breath for a few minutes.
• Next, see if you can locate some anxiety within your body. Just notice how it feels.
• If you can’t find any anxiety, generate a scary thought or image to help conjure it up on purpose. You want to get the anxiety going strongly enough to be able to practice feeling it, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.
• Once you’ve got some anxiety going, just breathe, and really notice how it feels throughout the body. Greet it like an old friend, “Oh I know you, you’re my old pal anxiety. You’ve visited me on so many occasions. There you are again.”
• If the sensation of anxiety starts to fade, do whatever you need to do to bring it back. Yes, you read that right! Keep breathing, and keep practicing just welcoming and noticing and feeling the anxiety.
Over time, it will become harder and harder to bring back and sustain the feeling of anxiety. You know there’s nothing to fear. You know nothing truly bad will happen. You know you can tolerate it. You don’t have to like it, but you can tolerate it. You know you have the power to handle it.
This is just one tool used in anxiety treatment – it’s not the whole answer. But by using this Mindfulness-based tool over a period of time, you will feel more empowered and more confident and less afraid of anxiety.
Bring It On!
Of course you want to get rid of anxiety. It’s natural to want to get rid of those seemingly unbearable feelings. But the more you fear it, the more it will persist.
One of my clients is at the point of actually hoping that another wave of anxiety comes up…so that he has another opportunity to remind himself that he actually has power over it. He says “Bring It On!” knowing that he has the ability to tolerate it.
And the more he tolerates it, the faster it passes through like a wave and is gone, without all the struggle and resistance.
When you learn to tolerate anxiety…and when you learn to change your catastrophic thoughts about anxiety…then anxiety will no longer have power over you!