I’ve had anxiety on my mind (or in my mind) for the last few weeks. It seems to be a pervasive theme amongst my friends. A joking Facebook quote about the negative impact of coffee on mild anxiety brought everyone out of the woodwork expressing empathy. Yes, they have anxiety too and lots of it.
The dictionary describes anxiety as uneasiness or distress caused by fear… and/or a state of apprehension. And we know it when we are in it; we are in a state of fear about the future: known and unknown. When we feel anxiety we completely disconnect with the present moment, with most or all of our other feelings and become immersed in a fear state.
Rarely, this fear state exists specifically and particularly in the present. Evolutionarily, it was created for us to rev up our engines when we are being attacked. So if a predator is chasing you or you are trying to escape from an avalanche, this fear response will do you well. But generally, that is not our experience of it. For most of us, on a day-to-day basis, we experience this state in relation to our ideas about our future. We worry about paying our bills or losing our jobs or our relationships… or we are afraid of something, if only we knew what…
The prescription? Come back to this moment right now: the ever present NOW. In THIS moment, how are you? Truly? Can you see what IS working? Can you focus your attention on the ease of your breath, notice where you are pain free, become aware of all of the wonderful things that you have in your life, right now? Can you acknowledge everything you do have? It may seem silly to you to focus on the fact that you have the capacity to breathe easily when you are worried about your taxes or where your next paycheck is coming from… but we can’t co-create with the universe or our best selves if we aren’t present. Sometimes the answer is to show up, be quiet and listen to what IS working, in this moment. And slowly the fear gives way a little bit and we see possibility where we only saw defeat.
We know in our relationships that often we just need to listen to our partners, be present with them and communication is restored and hurts are released just by really being there, really seeing the other person. This is true for our relationship with ourselves and with the world at large. We need to show up for ourselves compassionately. If we are in a state of fear, we are not in a state of love. So if we find ourselves having a panic attack (note the words: our own fearful thoughts attacking us), our first defense is no defense. We stop fighting ourselves. We practice non-violence against our fearful thoughts. The heart of non-violence as taught and practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is love. If we are afraid, we must focus on love.
The first step is to accept what is. If you are having an anxiety attack, your poor brain has worked itself up into frenzy; so much so, that it got your whole nervous system involved. The last thing it needs is for you to get angrier or more upset because you feel the way you feel. This is it. This is where you are. Stop resisting. The anxiety IS the resistance from whatever you think is happening or is going to happen… Stop fighting yourself. Focus on your breath – that is your lifeline to THIS MOMENT: To RIGHT NOW. Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh suggest we say hello to our anxiety, to approach it as lovingly as you would an upset child. By bringing our love and compassion to ourselves in these moments, we not only release ourselves from the binds of fear and anxiety, we transform our negative energies into something infinitely more beautiful. Fear becomes love and acceptance, our thoughts slow down, our heart stops racing, and suddenly everything doesn’t feel so bad anymore. Slowly (and yet suddenly), things feel pretty ok.