How to...make anxiety your friend
The Happiness Explorer, by Lydia Kimmerling
I believe anxiety can become your friend. If anxiety is something you experience, I want to share with you how you can use it to feel happier and create more emotional freedom. Anxiety is there because it's trying to tell you something: it's a sign that something needs to change.
It's like when a warning light comes on in your car to tell you that it needs a service, or more oil, or that a light is out – which is easy to fix in a car because it comes with an instruction manual.
If only we came with a handy instruction manual too! But there is a way to understand your anxiety – you just need to listen.
Looking back, I can see that anxiety had always been there for me but I didn't acknowledge it because it didn't hold me back from my goals. That doesn't mean to say that it didn't affect me – you can't hide from your feelings. Instead, I dialled out with being busy, drinking alcohol, bingeing on sugar, over exercising or being hyper-focused on my goals.
This kept me out of my body, so that I didn't have to hear what the low level, yet consistent discomfort of this anxiety was trying to tell me. What if it wasn't something to be afraid of? Yes, it's true: anxiety can be your friend.
MentalHealth UK reported that over 8 million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time (Mental Health UK). Of course there is a sliding scale: anxiety can be a crippling monster for some or a subtle shadow for others. Wherever you find yourself on this scale, the anxious feeling is trying to tell you something more. Lean in and you'll breakthrough and discover it. But firstly, why are you not listening to it?
If you ignored the warning light on your car, it would eventually stop working in some way. Usually, our first reaction to a warning light is one of frustration because we know this will entail effort, time and quite possibly money. But we know that we need our car and that it would be foolish to ignore it. It deserves our attention. It's time to do things differently.
When I help clients with anxiety, what I find is that the cause tends to be unhealed trauma. It's the past showing up in the present, or a way of being that isn't true to who we are. When left unaddressed, this causes us to stay stuck in negative behaviours that don't make sense. And then we become stuck.
I recently watched Take Your Pills: Xanax on Netflix. I once took to Xanax to help me sleep during the years that my son wasn't sleeping. It was helpful, but I felt that it was dangerous. I am by no means saying that receiving medical help isn't a valid path, it's just not always the full solution.
A client of mine had struggled with anxiety for years and she strongly identified with being an anxious person. She would tell me time and time again: "I am an anxious person, it's who I am". And it was affecting her both at work and at home.
From working on myself, I've learned that we have to be very careful with the labels we decide to stick on ourselves. Anything that follows "I am" is a very strong statement that may keep you stuck to being that way.
I asked my client whether she could start with changing her language from "I am an anxious person" to "I am experiencing anxiety in this moment" because she didn't experience it all of the time. I wanted her to find more truth in her statement. As soon as you say "I am something" it makes it harder to change. She didn't want to feel anxious, so we needed to create space for the change to occur.
We worked together for around a year and it was a few months after this that she messaged out of the blue delighted to share that she no longer identifies as an anxious person. She did not feel that was who she was anymore. The anxiety had become so intermittent, she would move through it with ease as she knew it was an 'experience' and not 'who she was'.
She arrived at this point because she listened to her warning signals. Just as you'd take your car to the garage, she brought herself to me and together we were able to uncover what was going on beneath the surface that she wasn't aware of, that needed her attention.
In this case, limiting beliefs, unhealed trauma, wounds from childhood playing out in adulthood – and a lot of things that were not even her own, that, in fact, belonged to her parents.
This is just one example. You don't have to live with anxiety, there is most certainly a way out. Just remember: you are not an anxious person, anxiety is something you're experiencing. How you feel today can and will change.