Anxiety has been a familiar companion for most of my life. When I was a kid I thought that everyone walked around with butterflies in their tummy. I tried to ignore it until seven years ago when I experienced my first panic attack. Then two years after that I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
I suspect that many of you reading this would have been touched by anxiety in some way, whether you've been caught in its rigid, suffocating clutches yourself or watched a loved one be ensnared.
It is concerning to me that anxiety is so common now that it is almost a perverse right of passage into adulthood. It seems that if you haven't experienced anxiety in the lead up to your final school exams, university assessment or an employment deadline, you mustn't be working hard enough!
Anxiety is an awful feeling. It makes our stomachs churn, our legs go wobbly and out hearts tighten. Isn't that heaviness and tightness the opposite to love? Love makes us feel light, joyful and free. Anxiety makes us feel worthless, alone and trapped. Heavy like solid concrete.
I have been trying to get rid of my anxiety since it first threatened to overshadow my life seven years ago. At first I berated myself. I felt that my anxiety and panic attacks were stupid and shameful and therefore I too was stupid and shameful.
Of course neither was true. Anxiety is simply one of our body's innumerable ways of communicating with us and I, the self, was not and am not my anxiety.
After I accepted that my anxiety didn't make me a bad, incompetent or dysfunctional person, I started to explore kinder ways to combat it. I tried exercise such as walking, running in the bush, bike riding, swimming, yoga and Pilates.
I changed my diet, excluding sugar and gluten and increasing my intake of greens and magnesium. I also tried meditation, repeating affirmations to myself and I created a morning routine that included a lot of the above strategies.
They all helped. Sometimes after doing one or more of these things my anxiety would disappear for a while. Other times the anxiety would soften, but still grumble away. At other times however, the anxiety would persist, worsen even. So I would try harder to fight it with acts of loving-kindness for myself.
It was only recently that I realized the paradox of "fighting with loving-kindness." Love isn't a fight. Love doesn't know how to fight -- at least not in the aggressive knock-down-whatever-stands-in-my-way sense. Love is acceptance.
Love is acceptance.
With that in mind, a couple of weeks ago when I felt the familiar stirrings of anxiety, along with my meditation and other acts of self-love, I sat with the anxiety. I turned to look at it and said hello.
As it ebbed away, I realized that anxiety is like a slip-knot. If you pull away it gets tighter and chokes you. If you sit still and calmly accept it, it can't tighten. And it becomes very easy to undo the simple knot.
How are you feeling right now? Can sit with it for a minute? What happens when you do this? Let me know by commenting below.
Have a story about mental health that you'd like to share? Email email@example.com, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.