I’ve been giving a lot of thought to anxiety lately. Mostly because of my experience with anxiety, and most recently my little warrior’s experience with anxiety and here is what I’ve learned.
Anxiety isn’t the same thing as worry, even though we often mislabel anxiety as such. Worry is controllable, anxiety is inevitable, whether it be functional anxiety or dysfunctional anxiety. Anxiety often comes from the anticipation of an event or situation or task. Functional anxiety can be positive and productive in nature when we see a task or deadline looming and it pushes us to the finish line. Dysfunction anxiety comes from our anticipation of an or many undesirable outcomes, and it takes over our bodies and minds making it difficult for us to function. The latter is the type of anxiety I’m talking about here due to its crippling nature.
Most of us will experience dysfunctional anxiety at some point in our lives, in fact, studies show that most of us experience it quite regularly, and with each passing year, that number rises. In Atlas Of The Heart, Brené Brown describes anxiety as feeling like you’re in the tunnel of terror from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Which feels like a pretty accurate depiction.
We often meet anxiety with impatience, frustration, and apathy whether it be our anxiety, that of a friend, partner or child. Because from the outside looking in anxiety often seems irrational, exaggerated, or ill-placed. But the fact of the matter is fear of being alone in our anxiety only compounds our anxiety, exaggerating the emotion and increasing incapacitation. The more we ignore and underplay anxiety, the more we infect others with it. But like everything, even anxiety has its opposite, and the opposite of anxiety isn’t peace, but rather empathy and compassion.
I know this may seem easier said than done because our impatience and frustration are often forward-looking. We look at what needs to get done, what we’re late for, and turn to anxiety with impatience and frustration stemming from the thought that we “don’t have time for this right now.” We attempt to control and micromanage anxiety, downplaying its relevance and existence, only exaggerating it in the end. Anxiety doesn’t phase well with trying to be diminished. Instead, however, if we bring empathy and compassion to the anxiety we can help it dissolve.
Empathy and compassion aren’t an attempt to figure out or solve anxiety, but instead demand that we be present with it and hold space for it, letting others and ourselves know we aren’t alone in this tunnel. Connection via empathy and love via compassion has the power to help anxiety dissolve. This may mean that we end up being late to dinner, or something on our to-do list gets pushed, but in turn, we and our loved ones get to return back to peace and joy, instead of showing up fractioned, dissociated, and dysfunctional.
In those moments of anxiety, take a deep breath, connect and stay present, and pour on the love. Forget about everything else, because in truth, none of it really matters.
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