As I’ve shared in a previous blog, Anxiety, Sleeping Pills and a Free Meditation, I am no stranger to anxiety. I received a formal diagnosis in my late 20s, and a couple of years ago I experienced it again through thyroid disease (anxiety is a symptom of thyroid disease). These days the only kind of anxiety I typically experience is occasional, mild anxiety while navigating through life’s ups and downs. However, recently I felt that all-encompassing, completely gripping anxiety start to creep in. How I responded to it enabled me to completely shift out of it within minutes.
Before I share how I did that, I want to share some behavioral tendencies I’ve noticed that lead to the anxiety. Because often times when I’m aware I’m engaging in one of these, I can choose differently and prevent the anxiety all together. (Side note: I’m going to be talking more about these in upcoming blogs.)
Common ways I create anxiety in my life…
- Taking on too much
- Trying to control what’s out of my control
- Blocking my emotions
- Not asking for help
- Not believing that the Universe has my back
- Allowing my mind to run wild
- Being disconnected from my center (skipping meditation, etc.)
- Allowing my inner critic or skeptic to run the show
How I shifted out of feeling anxious within minutes…
So there I was, on a lounge chair, in Cabo (aka paradise where one should have no worries), and I felt intense anxiety creeping up inside of me. In the days leading up to our vacation I was so busy getting ready to take some time off that I was doing several of the behaviors I listed above. As my body had a moment to relax, all of the feelings I had pushed away, ignored, or avoided came flooding in. Super inconvenient. 😉
It literally sent me into fight or flight mode, internally screaming…NOOOOOO, not now. Not again. I was truly caught off guard. I started to panic. I started to worry that anxiety was going to get the better of me while I was on vacation. I was reminded of how horrible the feeling of anxiety is. I wanted to push it away as quickly as I possibly could, but it seemed to be moving faster than me.
As the anxiety gained momentum within, I had a sudden moment of clarity, which I honestly consider a miracle. A voice within me said I could observe what I was experiencing, or I could drop like an anchor into the anxiety. I was reminded I have a choice. So I started to separate from my anxiety simply by observing it. Instead of allowing my mind to race with fear-based, resistant thoughts, I noticed what the anxiety felt like. I noticed where I felt it in my body. I didn’t judge it. I didn’t imagine worst-case scenarios. I felt it. I breathed into it and through it.
It was as if by acknowledging it, I was allowing it to pass. I don’t have to race about what’s causing it, how bad it’s going to get, or how long it’s going to last. I can just notice it. I can allow it. I can feel it. I can breathe through it. I’m not dying. The world isn’t ending.
As I noticed it for a few moments (or a few minutes…I wasn’t timing it but I know it happened quickly) and kept breathing long and deep into my core, the anxiety disappeared. From that space I clearly saw that the anxiety was simply a message from my body that something was off and needed my attention.
I didn’t need to analyze it, which in my opinion would have fed the beast. All I had to do was notice it and breathe through it. After the anxiety passed, from a calm place, I was able to look within and see where I had lost my balance or what my body was trying to communicate to me. There wasn’t any judgment or criticism…just gentle observation. Which, by the way, I can guarantee would have been completely different if I had gone the “analyze while anxious” path!
From anxious to empowered…
Afterwards I even felt pretty empowered. I was able to release the grip of anxiety and re-center in a few minutes through my own internal process. I didn’t need pills. I didn’t need to talk to anyone. I had the tools within.
I’ve noticed that there is a critical point when the anxiety starts building internally, and HOW I respond to that determines how quickly the anxiety releases and for how long. I wasn’t avoiding the anxiety, which would guarantee a forceful return. I wasn’t denying the anxiety. But I wasn’t letting it take over either.
Being able to do that took practice and commitment. For years I have been building some major mindfulness muscles through my meditation practice. As the saying goes, we can’t control how many thoughts our mind produces, but we can control how we respond to those thoughts. In the case of my anxiety, I very consciously chose how I responded to the rapid fire, fear-based thoughts that surfaced in response to the sensation of anxiety within.
The thousands of hours I’ve spent on my meditation pillow helped me be ready for that moment. If I’ve meditated thousands of times, my mind has tried to distract my meditations millions of times. And each time it did, I’d return to my meditation.
Meditation might not be your path, but a mindfulness practice is, in my opinion, critical if you are someone who suffers from anxiety. Because you can control how you respond to the crazy, racing thoughts when anxiety rings the doorbell in your “house.” Any voice or thought within that tells you otherwise is lying. Even if this sounds impossible, give it a try next time you feel anxious and let me know how it goes.