I’ve dealt with anxiety for most of my life. When I say dealt, I actually mean I’ve tried to avoid feeling anxiety for most of my life. I can remember in college binging on a bag of Oreos just so I could numb the anxiety I had over an upcoming test. Anytime I felt anxiety, I would find myself in the fridge or pantry just stuffing my face. Often, I didn’t even know how I ended up there! The problem is, while eating does work in the short term by numbing my feelings, it doesn’t actually make me feel better. In fact, I often feel worse. Eating also didn’t solve for anxiety, it just made me feel bloated and awful!
I never learned to actually feel and process anxiety as emotion until I started getting coached. Now, I actually think of anxiety as my annoying friend. I still feel it, some weeks frequently, but I have much better ways of coping with it than stuffing my face.
Why We Should Get To Know Our Anxiety
When your partner has cancer, at some point you will feel anxiety, it’s pretty much a guarantee. It’s an emotion that seems to come up frequently while we are coping with our partner’s disease. It may show up when you are waiting on scan results, sitting through surgery, or just coping with everything else in your life. Anxiety will come for a visit, probably often, so you might as well get to know it.
Now, I think of my anxiety like an annoying friend.
Let me explain. Have you ever met someone who right off the bad annoys the heck out of you? The more they want to hang out, the more you push them away. But once you actually spend time with them, you see their depth and humanness, and you realize they aren’t so bad. Anxiety is a lot like that, we want to push it away, but once you let it in and get to know it, you’ll find it’s not so bad.
How To Get To Know Your Anxiety
Step 1 – Clean out your thoughts
There is a good chance that you have all kinds of thoughts buzzing around in your head throughout the day. Many of those thoughts may end up waking you up at 2 AM. To clear out those thoughts, start by “dumping” all the thoughts out of your head and onto paper. This will take just 5 minutes and is super helpful! Don’t censor yourself as you write, just write everything your thinking about… the upcoming doctor appointment, your child’s play that you need to find a costume for, the 5 pounds you feel like you’ve put on in the last week. All of these thoughts buzzing in your head need to come out and go on a piece of paper.
Step 2 – Really feel the feeling of anxiety
Next, to really get to know your anxiety, you have to really feel it and get present with it. Remember that it’s just an emotion, a simple vibration in your body. It can’t actually hurt you! Stop what you are doin, close your eyes and observe how it feels. Is it a tingling or buzzing in your gut? Or maybe a tightness sensation in your chest?
Write down on paper your description of how anxiety feels in your body. By doing this, you separate yourself from the feeling. By naming and describing it, you take away the mystery and power of the feeling. This is incredibly powerful and will move you forward in the process of befriending your anxiety. Understanding what it actually feels like in your body will allow you to recognize it right off the bat the next time it comes around.
Allowing Your Anxiety
When you allow something, it means you have some sense of control over it. Typically, our first response to anxiety is to try to deny it. We do this by either resisting it, reacting to it, or we try to avoid it all together. None of these responses work as well as allowing it does and here is why.
Resistance is trying to deny the feeling altogether, or beat yourself up for feeling it. This does nothing except to make you feel bad. Reacting to anxiety is when you let it affect you. Maybe you start yelling at your family, or buzz around the house doing things. This also usually leaves a general negative feeling behind. Avoiding anxiety is distracting yourself so you don’t have to feel it – like eating and watching TV, or zoning out on Pinterest or Facebook. This was my go-to response and it only left me feeling like crap!
Quickest Way Through It
Like it or not, the quickest way to get out of your anxiety is to feel it. When you allow your anxiety in and really feel it, it will actually lessen its impact on you. Brooke Castillo explains this beautifully in her book How To Have a Better Life. “The better your are at allowing it and feeling it, the easier it will be to move through it.”
Befriending your anxiety won’t make it go away, but it will lessen it’s impact. When you get to know your anxiety, recognize what it feels like, know that it doesn’t have to boss you around, that is when you take back control. That is when you get your power back over this emotion that for so long has had power over you!
Anxiety doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, imagine if you actually got good at feeling it! So the next time you find yourself feeling anxious, stop and work through these steps. You can get “good” at this emotion, to where it doesn’t control you anymore.
I would love to hear your thoughts! Let me know how this works for you.