There is no doubt anxiety is an emotion no one likes to experience. Some of us may experience it every once in a while, others may experience it too often to count. The fact is anxiety is an internal event within us, and the more we try to control it, the less we can do so. When we try to suppress this unpleasant experience in our bodies, it may feel like trying to push a beach ball underwater. As much as we push it down, it comes right back with more force—and it might even hit us in the face! Though suppressing and ignoring anxiety appears to make sense, it actually doesn’t work.
We were built with a protective mind. Its number one function is to protect us from harm and discomfort. Thus, our minds will be on the lookout to provide advice that appears helpful when an unpleasant internal event such as anxiety is present in our lives. However, the mind’s advice may often result in unhelpful behaviors (e.g., avoidance) that actually get in the way of us living a rich and meaningful life. The good news is that we can choose how to respond to anxiety when it shows up.
Next time anxiety turns up, would you be willing to try something different, even though it may seem illogical or counterintuitive?
“Hello, Old Friend!”
How long has anxiety been showing up in your life? Would you say it is an old friend? An unpleasant friend yes. How long have you been trying to get rid of it? It hasn’t worked has it? Why not acknowledge and welcome its presence? Even though you don’t like this old friend, it’ll be there as long as it wants to be. So instead of you pushing it out the door, would you be willing to welcome this “old friend”?
Whenever it shows up, notice your breathing and then begin to take slow, deep breaths. After two or three breaths, on your in-breath, say “Hello.” As you exhale say, “Old friend.”
- Breathe in: “Hello.”
- Breathe out: “Old friend.”
Continue to welcome anxiety as you inhale, and allow it to stay by saying “old friend” as you exhale. Let anxiety be present in this moment. You can use this exercise anytime. By breathing anxiety in and allowing it to stay, you can remind yourself that this is a better option than trying to push it away and getting frustrated with it. The feeling is going to be present anyway—might as well open up to it. See if you can change your relationship with anxiety with this brief practice exercise.
You may find this exercise calming at times. Beware! Make sure this practice doesn’t turn into a safety behavior to just find relief from it. The goal is for you to change your relationship with anxiety even though you don’t like it. See what can happen when you embrace it instead of trying to get rid of it!
“If you aren’t willing to have it, you will.”
Steven C. Hayes