How To Redefine Your Relationship With Anxiety
Written by Cedar Ridge Academy,
in Section Therapeutic Insights
I recently shared on my Instagram account how I'm an anxious person. It's a personality trait that I've lived with for most of my life and am pretty certain I will continue to live with for days to come.
Through my education as a mental health professional and years of psychotherapy, I have learned how to transform my relationship with anxiety. It used to be a feeling I would try to avoid at all costs and end up acting out. Now, I can say that I open the doors of my inner world, for whenever it wants to pay me a visit. I am now more open to let myself be transformed and grow from it, than to let it control my life.
Even though the journey is not easy, redefining your relationship with anxiety can help you develop a healthier relationship with yourself and with others. According to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, "Anxiety can be a spur to achievement as well as a barrier. Picture a bell curve with extreme anxiety on the far right and extreme lack of anxiety on the far left. If you’re too anxious to the point where it’s physically and mentally debilitating, then your performance suffers. If you're not anxious enough, if you’re not engaged and slightly activated by anxiety then your performance also suffers.”
In healthy amounts, anxiety can mobilize us and motivate us to reach our goals. But, when it becomes unbearable or uncontrollable, it can paralyze us.
Instead of trying to eliminate anxiety, learn how to manage it
Anxiety, especially as a personality trait, is one of those emotions that doesn't go away. Instead of investing your energy towards "eliminating" it, think about ways in which you can manage it.
Some of them include:
- Talking them out
- Reconnecting with nature and/or art
Identify how anxiety shows up in your body, and put a name to it
Anxiety is a sneaky feeling because it's a shape-shifter. What does this mean? It takes the form of different situations, thoughts, feelings, actions, and even people. It can make us think we are bored, hungry, hyperactive, or impatient. When in reality, we might be feeling anxious.
Learn to identify how anxiety feels in your body. For some, it feels like "butterflies in their stomach" (or sometimes, more like bats). For others, it might feel like a tight jaw or goosebumps. Shaky legs or nail-biting. Whatever way it shows up for you, become extra-aware of these signals and give them a name. Start by saying to yourself, "I'm feeling anxious," and then gradually share it with others who you think can help you process and honor your emotions in a healthy way.
Learn to differentiate what things are under your control and what things aren't
One of the most freeing things you can do for your anxiety is learning to separate what things are in your control, and what things aren't. To do this, take a piece of paper and make three columns. The first one is for those areas of your life that make you feel anxious (for example, family, relationships, job, health, future, money). The second column is to write what things are in your control, and the third column to write what things aren't.
This exercise has two purposes: the first one, to allow you to have a conversation with your anxiety, instead of avoiding it. And, the second one, to learn which areas of your life are the ones with the most emotional needs. This can also help you seek help to tend to the area of your life with the most anxious energy.
Anxiety can tell you where your worries and needs are
Those aspects of our lives that generate the most anxiety, are typically the ones we need to work on the most. If we allow ourselves to question our anxiety and be curious about it, we can develop a keen ability of self-awareness. Our anxiety, if managed properly and regulated in healthy levels, can work as an inner compass for the areas of our life that need the most work.
Develop a support system that can honor your anxious feelings
One thing that makes the most difference when managing anxiety, is to have people by your side that can receive it and deal with it in a healthy way. Family members, friends, and even a mental health team on your side, can help you navigate through this difficult emotion and end up with a new understanding.
It's important to clarify that these guidelines do not substitute or replace seeking help with a mental health professional, especially if you're living with a mental health condition such as an anxiety disorder. They are a few helpful tools to relate to anxiety in a different way and should be used as additional resources to treatment.