Anxiety has two faces. If you understand what they both are, you have a shot at overcoming them. So let’s start by defining the first face. This type of anxiety is a feeling of foreboding that shows up for no reason. You don’t know when it will start or when it will go away. This type of anxiety has a physical cause.
The Physical Face
When the body is in a state of dis-ease, it creates signs to let you know so that you can intervene and bring it back into balance. Examples of these types of things are pain, moodiness, sleeplessness, hunger, lack of hunger, or anxiety. That’s right. Your lifestyle has an effect on emotional health because the mind, body, and spirit are all one unit.
Since these symptoms are caused by the body being out of alignment, the way to address them is to look at how you are living your life. Are you sleeping enough? Are you eating fresh alive foods in moderate quantities? How’s your water intake? Do you move your body? How’s your social life? Do you give yourself downtime? Are you breathing? When is the last time you saw the sun? Are you taking intoxicants? All these things affect your physical functioning.
If you are not engaging in basic healthy life skills, no wonder your body isn’t feeling so hot. You are not a machine. You can’t just put some junk fuel and no water and expect to run indefinitely. People are social creatures. We need stimulation and interaction. We need sunshine. Downtime and sleep are also a must. Nutrient dense foods keep us running at a high level, too.
It’s possible that something else more serious is going on, but I always advise that you keep it simple first. You may be amazed at what a big impact little adjustments can make. And if you don’t start here, you might be surprised at how little change occurs when your body isn’t well.
The Emotional Face
The second face of anxiety is emotional. I define this as the feeling that comes when you anticipate an event that is larger that your perceived power or skills to handle it. Let’s break this down piece by piece.
Since anxiety is a feeling, we already know that we can change our feelings because feelings flow from thoughts and thoughts are within our control. (For more on that, click here.) So, the first step is to change our thoughts around what is spooking us out. Here are some examples of things you can think instead of the scary things that freak you out.
- I won’t think about that now. I will wait until I can no longer avoid it. (This puts off anxiety and shortens the duration).
- This is just a feeling. I have feelings all the time. They come and go. This one will too.
- I am okay. I am okay, I am okay.
You can get more specific as well. If you are afraid of asking a girl out, you can tell yourself that courage is the ability to feel the fear and act anyway. If you are anxious about getting a raise, you can tell yourself that your part is done. All that is left to do is wait. If something really is horrible, you can tell yourself before you face it that it won’t kill you, then do it anyway. After it’s done, remind yourself that you didn’t die. This can validate that no matter what, you made it through. This tells your brain that you handled bad things and this can make you less fearful in the future.
The next part is to stop focusing on the unknown part. Be where you are instead. Maybe it rains. Maybe it doesn’t. You could get a new job, or maybe not. Lightning might strike, but probably not. Let life surprise you. If there is nothing you can do, let that part go. Don’t think about it, ruminate about it, try to manipulate it, plan for if it happens or doesn’t happen. Just be here now until there is something new to pay attention to or address.
This also means that if the now is a space of overwhelming anxiety, be with that. Don’t feed it. Don’t make it bigger than it is. Just sit with it. All emotions ebb and flow. This will too if you just let yourself feel it.
Finally grow your skills. When you have few skills, there is plenty in life that can overwhelm you. If you don’t know how to get from place to place, handle money, carry on a conversation, or cook a meal, you’re probably either going to be asking for a lot of help or spending a lot of time feeling anxious. These are every day tasks. When bigger stressors come along, you might just be in freakout land.
But imagine that those things didn’t stress you out at all. Imagine that you didn’t get stressed until the hot water heater bursts, you’re hit with an unexpected $3,000 bill, and your severance package offer is for 6 months salary. You probably feeling a lot more ease if anything less than that is easy, right? This is why we grow our skills.
So, let’s look at that definition of the second face of anxiety again. Anxiety is the feeling that comes when you anticipate an event that is larger that your power or skills to handle it.
Anxiety is the feeling… If we change our thoughts, that will lead to a change of feeling. This can shut down anxiety right here.
… that comes when you anticipate an event… When you stay in the now, there is no anticipation. It’s just now. That future thing isn’t here. It’s somewhere else, so there is no reason to feel anxiety now.
…that is larger that your perceived power or skills to handle it… There are two parts to this. The first is the word “perceived.” Feel free to reality check this. Feelings are not reality. I might feel that I am too stupid to be considered for a prestigious position, but if I look at all I have accomplished, there may be no evidence that this is true. I could feel like telling the truth opens me up for ridicule. Or I could focus on the satisfaction I feel from being true to my values instead and my perception changes.
The second part has to do with power and skills. There are always going to be problems that are larger than our power or skills to handle them. Nobody can stop death. We can’t control accidents or random events. We don’t have control over other people. So stress never goes away. We can, however, grow our skills so that we encounter incidents, problems, and crises instead of just crises. We do that by growing our skills.
Physically healthy people and skillful people have less anxiety. The good news is, you can be one of them! Why not start today?