When anxiety comes slithering into our days, it can be difficult to remember that it has any value at all.
With its physical and emotional demands, anxiety seems to take more than it gives.
It can make us doubt our abilities, limit our activities and isolate from others. In a work setting it can even impact our effectiveness and influence leadership abilities.
Why would we want to listen to anxiety when it seems determined to undermine our lives? In spite of the many problems anxiety brings, most of the time there is wisdom to be gained from it.
Sometimes anxiety is a result of ignoring your own needs for too long. Our minds and bodies tell us what we need, but we don’t always listen.
We are busy putting in long hours, multitasking, over-caffeinating ourselves and avoiding things that we don’t feel inclined to deal with. And in spite of all that, anxiety finds its way around all of this activity and avoidance; it meanders in and starts an impromptu dance party with our nervous system.
Cortisol and epinephrine are stress hormones released in the brain. They are silently at work within your mind and body, even when you’re not acknowledging stress or anxiety consciously. Stress hormones send messages to all areas of the body. Think of it like a distressed, vague Facebook post telling the world (or in this case, the body) “Things are awful. Can’t elaborate, just saying. Not happy.”
So, we’re left guessing why we have stomach aches, insomnia, racing thoughts and a myriad of other weird symptoms. Many times anxiety is quietly whispering what is wrong, behind the scenes. It can be hard to listen to that tiny voice over all the loud symptoms and external noise in our lives.
How To Quiet The Noise
It may be difficult to even convince yourself that it is important to quiet your mind and body to listen to your anxiety. It may feel scary to do so. If slowing down to listen to the anxiety brings you even more anxiety, you know you are on the right track. Often the feelings we most wish to avoid are the ones that need the most exploration. At times like this, we need to lean into the anxiety instead of following our natural inclination to avoid.
There are many helpful ways to quiet the mind and body. Try a variety of methods to see what works best for you.
Everyone is talking about meditating these days. While it may seem like a trendy fad, meditation has been part of documented human culture for approximately 5,000 years. It taps into an intuitive need for stillness and calm that serves us well when we will allow it.
If you are new to meditation, take a class or download an app to guide you. There are many free options available online. If you have a particular type of meditation you want to do, you can certainly find a host of guides available for a variety of styles.
Connecting the mind and body through yoga is an invigorating to check in with your wellness. Check into local resources for yoga instruction or explore types of yoga online to determine which style will best suit you and your needs.
There are a plethora of relaxation techniques to use for reduction of stress. Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Creative Visualization and even simple full body stretches can promote relaxation within the body. Often when our bodies can relax, our minds follow, and vice versa.
How To Listen To Anxiety
When the body and mind has been given a chance to quiet itself, pay close attention to what your feelings are asking of you. Ask yourself a few questions to narrow it down.
- What are the top five things causing me anxiety in my life lately?
- Where do I carry it in my body?
- When am I experiencing the most anxiety during my day/week/month?
- Why has it increased recently?
- How can I make changes to reduce these sources?
Create the following lists:
Don’t filter your thoughts, write whatever comes to mind. Part of the success of this activity is in the spontaneity of it. When we over-think things in a brainstorming stage, perfectly good ideas can be disregarded because we’re in a rigid mindset.
- My life would be less stressful if:
- Things I need more of in my life:
- Relationships that increase my anxiety:
- Tasks that increase my anxiety:
- If I were to truly listen to what my anxiety is saying, it would probably say:
Make A Plan
After establishing what this feeling is asking of you, develop a plan to honor your needs. Create a goal from the exercises above. Is the source based in being unable to say no to the demands of others?
Perhaps a goal around limit setting or self-advocacy is the key. Does some of it stem from too little work/life balance? Maybe working toward a diversity of activities in your day would help.
There is a misconception that success demands a certain level of anxiety.
This notion likely stemmed from good intentions, but the reality is, there are better ways to find motivation. Anxiety can be instructive and useful. It will always tell us when things have gone too far in one direction or another.
When we try to disregard it in favor of “pushing through,” it will be waiting on the other side. Sometimes even the effort of pushing anxiety away no longer works. Rather than avoiding anxiety, try walking toward it with self-compassion and a listening ear.
When we can sit with our emotions and learn from them we have a greater chance of releasing ourselves from the fear that we will be overcome. When anxiety has been part of one’s experience, many times a lot of energy is spent dreading the next bout of anxiety.
Part of breaking the cycle of anxiety lies in the ability to sit with it, pay attention to the messages it offers and heed the advice it gives.