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Madeleine Eames

- Psychotherapist
- Mindfulness Teacher

Living with anxiety

mark-twain-quotes-sayings-020

 

I love that quote because it’s just so darn true! Like most people, I have lived with a level of anxiety most of my life. Well, from as far back as I can remember. At times it has reared it’s uncomfortable head more than others, but from the vantage point of looking back over 50 years, I think I can offer some advice. I think of anxiety as showing up in 3 different levels:

 

1) Fear: Real, true, fear… what you are wired to feel when there is real danger. If you encounter a bear in the woods or see a child running into traffic. This is a necessary response accompanied by a tensing of muscles, a surge of stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol, digestion and other systems slow down (not necessary when in danger).

 

2) Anxiety: A general feeling of agitation or worry either in response to a particular event (ie. public speaking anyone?) or thing (elevators?). Here, we have time for a flood of worry thoughts about ourselves (I’ll embarrass myself, I’ll fail) or about the future (what if…?) which is accompanied by the same physiological responses as above. Makes for an uncomfortable time 🙁

 

3) Nervousness: We can recognize and accept this as a normal response that comes with a new situation such as “I’m nervous about starting a new job”, or “I always get nervous before a race”. In other words, the meaning we give to it is acceptable and makes sense. We face the fear and do it anyway.

 

As you might have guessed, the problem with anxiety happens when #2 is perceived and felt as #1. In other words, our brains and bodies can’t tell the difference between real fear and general anxiety yet. I’m hoping we can evolve real soon because this is causing a lot of people a lot of pain! So… on to solutions…

 

Notice: what you are feeling. Tense shoulders? Butterflies in tummy? Feeling of dread? I have found that it helps to get to know this state really well so you recognize it as it arises. Breathe counting to 4 in and exhale. Lengthening the exhale relaxes the nervous system.

Ask: what thoughts are fueling this worry? Get specific. Write them down. Don’t forget they are only thoughts. They are changeable. They are trying to protect you but, sorry, they’re outdated and not necessary. If you were in real danger you would already be running.

Inquire: Is that true? For example, a lot of anxiety comes from what others think. Would people really think less of me if I ________ (enter worst case scenario) ? Is it really the end of the world? Another thing to ask which I have found very helpful is “How much importance am I placing on this?” as opposed to the myriad of other thoughts you could pay attention to.

Offer: Comforting thoughts to yourself. This might take a while. Try it. Each time you do, you reset a neural pathway, but it takes time. Try “It’s ok”. “I’m ok”. “Don’t worry, it will be ok”.

I can say that all the things I ever worried about never came true, nothing I ever worried about matters now and most of what I worried about was just so….not what mattered.

 

Good luck… and “Do your practice and all is coming”  Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

 

Have a great week and know that you are on the right path, because it is your path.

 

Madeleine

 

 

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