Tummy trembles. Brain fuzz. That discombobulating feeling that you’re not quite sure what you should be doing but you should be something to keep your act together. Anxiety. Sometimes it slips away with a few deep breaths, other times you need to beat it off with a stick, or some little white pills.
Naturally, we want try to get as far away from anxiety as possible, which usually just results in us being anxious about being anxious. You resist and so it persists. But what if rather than pushing it away, we actually welcomed anxiety when it showed up? What if, rather than dreading the discomfort it brings, we looked at anxiety as a delivery service of inner truth and other such soul goodies? Because every time anxiety shows up, it’s our psyche’s way of saying, “Knock knock, I’ve got something to show you about yourself that you really should see.”
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard explained anxiety is a natural condition. (How liberating!) He believed that anxiety is, “a cognitive emotion that reveals truths that we would prefer to hide but that we need for our greater health.” And that it’s a valuable to for shaping our ideal lives. Think of it this way, beneath the butterflies in your stomach, behind the clouds in your mind—is your greater truth, and it’s trying to break on through.
Turning Anxiety into Power
Step 1: Face reality. “I’m anxious.”
Simply notice your anxiety. Firstly, you need to be aware of your actual indicators of anxiety—they can be different for everyone. A lot of the times anxiety is trying to talk to us and we’re just not picking up on the physical or mental cues. For me, anxiety manifests in what I call, priority confusion. If I wander from room to room in the house, unsure if I should tidy, check my email, walk the dog, or write a novel, then I know something is up. I’m typically very laid back and laser-like decisive so if I can’t figure out what’s first on the to-do list, I know that anxiety has come callin‘.
When you see the signs of it, all you need to do is simply state it. “I’m feeling anxious.” There. You said it. You probably feel better already. Getting real is always the best first step.
Step 2: Inquiry. “So, why am I anxious?”
This is the step that requires real work. It’s the kind of inquiry that calls for both concentration and compassion—a tricky combo. Having an “inquiry image” might be helpful. I often see dilemmas as layers of soft, earthy sediment within myself, and each question is a drilling down through the silt. “So why am I anxious?” I ask myself. “Because I don’t want to be late.” Not quite, that doesn’t feel true. “So why am I anxious?” I repeat. “Because I’ve got so much to do.” Nope, that’s not it either; it’s not making sense to my heart. “So why am I anxious?” I drill down. “Because I’m afraid that when I show up I’ll be rejected.” Bingo.
When you get to the true reason for your anxiousness, and there may be more than one explanation, then there’s usually a softening that occurs when you come across it.
So you called it like you see it. That’s powerful. And you’ve identified the reason—even more powerful. Now you’re ready to rise above it.
Step 3: Take responsibility.
This is where your real power comes in. This is the fun bit, where you get to be a creative, grown up, and the master of your own domain. Once you’ve discovered why you’re feeling anxious—whether it’s fear of failure, or a memory of past hurt or humiliation—then you need to counter the fear and negativity with courage and optimism. It’s that simple … and that challenging.
Whatever you want to call it, positive thinking, re-framing, self-encouragement, ra-ra-rah, this is where you need to step up to the plate, look at your fear head on, and confront it with your truth. The truth being, that you manage to get through every day whether with grace or grit, that fear will not kill you, that your God, or your friends, or your grandma in heaven will have your back; that you have risen above before, and that you will rise above again; that, it’s only life after all.
Anxiety doesn’t come bearing the solution. It’s just there to direct your attention to the problem. It’s like a headache that signals to you that you’re hungry. The headache reminds you that your body needs nourishment, and then it’s up to you to feed yourself. Self-care is a divine responsibility. To befriend anxiety is to choose your deepest strength. It’s turning brain fuzz into brilliance, and the jitters into vital fuel to help you shine brighter than ever.