Meditating on Anxiety
I woke up feeling agitated and tense. I am supposed to pick up my parents from the train station. The drive takes me about an hour each way. I laid in bed not feeling up to doing anything. As my anxiety continued to build, the inner dialogue started to get nastier.
I kept asking myself: what’s wrong with you? Everything is fine … why don’t you focus on this moment instead of dreading the drive to the station? Why can’t you be grateful for all of the things that are going right instead of anticipating something going wrong?
The mental dialogue didn’t help. It increased my anxiety and the slight agitation turned into anger—towards me.
I finally got out of bed, dreading the day.
Anxiety is my constant companion, my ever-painful buddy that doesn’t leave me for long. And when it does, it comes back stronger and more potent than before.
How I handled anxiety in the past
Whenever I felt anxious, I went through the same cycle of thoughts and reactions that can be summarized below.
Anxiety and the future
“I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance” ~ Seth Godin
The above quote resonated with me. When I think of anxiety, I think of the future, of something that hasn’t happened yet.
My approach is usually to bring myself back from the future to the present moment. I try as much as possible to focus on what I’m doing now.
But that doesn’t last long. I start drifting back to the future—what I need to do and when I need to leave.
Reasoning with anxiety
After a few attempts at presence, I move to questioning and trying to understand why I’m feeling anxious.
Every time I questioned my feelings and didn’t come up with a good reason, I felt more frustrated. I tried to convince my mind not to be anxious. I tried repeating affirmations and breathing deeply. They worked but not for long.
Resistance is anxiety’s best friend.
Trying to bring my focus back to now and questioning my reasons for feeling anxious gave me one solid result—more resistance.
My mind kept asking what’s wrong with you. Why are you anxious? You’ve done this a thousand times.
No matter what tricks I tried my anxiety stayed the same at best and in some cases got worse. The more I resisted the worse I felt.
A different approach
As I felt tired and drained before my day started, I decided to try something different. Here is what I did.
Anxiety and now
I always thought of anxiety as escaping the present moment. If I’m feeling anxious, it’s because I’m thinking about the future.
But this time I started to think differently. I’m feeling anxious and tense right now at this particular moment—regardless of the cause.
Meditating on anxiety
I decided to meditate on how I’m feeling. I shifted my focus to the anxiety. I let my thoughts go wild and then traced the feeling in my body. I felt the tight knot in my stomach and the hint of nausea. I felt my arms and my legs. Then noticed how shallow my breathing was.
I allowed myself to be one with my anxiety, then I smiled. After 20 minutes, the anxiety was still there but I felt much better about it.
No understanding required
After feeling better, I stopped thinking about the cause and decided just to go with the feeling.
I kept on doing my thing and when it was time to go to the station, I got in the car. The roads were busy and traffic wasn’t going smoothly. I felt the anxiety, but instead of asking questions and looking for answers, I let my body express it.
I felt the tightness in my body with every brake, the pain in my stomach with every traffic congestion. It was tiring but it was less tiring than arguing with my feelings.
For the first time I let my anxiety be instead of arguing with it. I became the observer and allowed it to come through me while I continued to do what I wanted to do. A
s my journey progressed, my anxiety started to diminish. By the time I was home, it was gone—on its own.
Managing anxiety in 3 simple steps
Anxiety is part of life—the sooner you accept this fact the easier your life becomes. How you deal with your anxiety is what makes a difference. I can summarize my experience in the following steps.
1. Sit with the feeling and be still. Notice how your body responds. Stay there for a while if you can. The more you allow your body to feel, the more you accept the emotion and become okay with it.
2. Don’t try to understand why you’re feeling this way. You can’t reason with your emotions—no one can.
3. Don’t let your feelings stop you from pursing what you want to do. You will feel worse if you freeze. Do your thing and allow your anxiety to be in the background.
Being at peace with anxiety was one of the best things I’ve done. Instead of taking it out on traffic or people, I just focused on the feelings I had in my body. Some of the feelings were not pleasant but that’s okay. I don’t expect everything to be comfortable.
Make a conscious choice today to move forward without trying to change the way you feel. Instead, do your thing and let your emotions do their thing. You will reduce friction in your life and get better results.
If you surrender to the wind, you can ride it. ~Toni Morrison