Anxiety: it happens to all of us. Everything can be going just fine, then all of a sudden, it sneaks in from out of nowhere. Other times, it can linger, waiting to flare up at the worst possible moment. Maybe the ebb and flow of nerves is even a pattern for you.
So, what do you do when that anxiety arises?
Take a moment now to think of a trigger or situation in which you typically feel anxiety. Maybe you get nervous when thinking about finances or relationships; maybe you hate confrontations; maybe you get tongue-tied when faced with public speaking.
Whatever that circumstance is for you, allow yourself to exist in it mentally for a moment. I know that’s probably not something you want to do—actually, you’d probably rather eat dirt—but what I really want to show you today is that it IS possible to work your way through and out of your anxiety.
Possibly the greatest challenge facing those of us with anxiety is that we’re terrified of it.
Once you’ve begun to feel the seed of anxiety taking root in your gut, it seems like it’s going to be impossible to shake it. You’re already worried about whatever is troubling you, and then you start to worry about the pain and fear you feel, which only leads you to worry that that feeling will never go away.
It’s a horrible and pernicious cyclical mental pattern . . . but it is possible to shift it!
Step One – Breathe
I know, I know: I say this all the time. But that’s because it’s such an important part of reclaiming your sense of peace and control over your mind . . . and because today, we’re going to do something a little different.
Fact: it doesn’t matter how much you shift what’s happening in your mind—if you do nothing to shift your body and breath, the other stuff won’t matter one bit.
So, let’s dive into this. Firstly, I’d like for you to open your eyes, focus on your breath, and begin to expand your focus.
Too often, when we practice our breathing exercises, we close our eyes and try to narrow our focus, looking inward. This can sometimes make us feel trapped and even more tense than when we started.
Instead, use your inhalations to freely expand your body and move your energy outward. Feel your physical boundaries expanding as your sense of self lightens. Focus your eyes on a steady point as you allow your peripheral vision to expand. Take in the feelings and sounds around you: the air on your skin; the ambient noise in your home; the rhythm of your pulse.
Instead of trying to control the length of your breath, focus on deepening it, so that it fills up your entire torso, all the way down to your pelvis. If you continue to feel any discomfort or tightness in your body, imagine that pain expanding outward as well, so that it’s not contained in your body.
Stay in this practice until you’ve expanded your sense of space and you no longer feel trapped by your emotions.
Step Two – Live in the Present Moment
What is it we’re usually doing when our anxiety begins to spiral out of control? We’re worrying about the future.
Most of our fears—the calamities and catastrophes we’re imagining—exist in the future.
– I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to pay my rent;
– I have no idea what I’m going to talk about on this date;
– I’m never going to make it through that speech.
Here’s the question though: Is there anything you can do about those issues right now, in this immediate moment? More often than not, the answer will be “No.”
Instead of obsessing about what is going to be happening two weeks from now, try to quiet all of that noise, and focus on what you need to do in the present moment.
When you’re having an anxiety attack, it’ll do you no good to sit there losing your mind over whether that person is going to call you back or how your boss is going to ream you out tomorrow. That’s a useless pursuit that I like to call “future tripping.”
Instead, keep that breath practice going, and let yourself exist in that present moment for as long as you need to. Bring your awareness into the room you’re sitting in as you expand your energy and slow your mind.
Step Three – Consider Another Possibility
Now, I know that this might seem like a hard concept to buy into at the moment, but I’m just going to put a possibility out there, and I want you to mull it over:
What if the thing you’re most afraid of happening actually ends up being the greatest gift the universe could hand to you?
Hear me out! Let’s say you’re afraid of losing your job . . . but then a magical being descends from the sky and tells you not to worry, because that loss is actually going to make room for something better.
What if you KNEW that the horrible event you’re picturing would be the greatest gift of your life? How would that change your thoughts, feelings, and physicality?
Take a moment now to look back on your life and reexamine your past “losses.” Was there ever an incident in your personal history in which you felt like the world was ending, but in which you also came out on the other side having benefitted from it?
Sometimes life’s most challenging moments now only teach us something and help us grow as human beings, but they also bring unexpected rewards.
Here’s an example from real life: a few years back, I was working with a client who had recently been dumped. She was absolutely devastated. As we began working together, however, she realized that she’d actually been miserable in that relationship. She’d been settling because she hadn’t thought she could do any better, which was actually a reflection of her own lack of self-worth.
Once she opened herself up to another possibility—that the breakup was actually a gift—she began to look at her entire life through a new lens. She changed her perspective, started taking note of the way she treated herself, and developed her confidence until she was able to be her authentic self in the world. She even found a new relationship that brings her genuine joy and makes her feel energized, alive, sexy, and valued. In the end, being dumped by that person was the greatest gift she could have received.
Your life challenges do not have to be endings—sometimes, they are just beginnings in disguise.
The next time you feel anxious, just remember to expand your presence through your breath, focus on the present moment, and consider the possibility that the bad outcome you’re imagining might not be the end of the world.
Thank you for sticking with me today and allowing yourself the chance to consider a new perspective. I love hearing from you and deepening my understanding of the community through your experiences, so please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below. What was one experience in your life that turned out differently than you expected? What techniques do you use when you feel anxious?
Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are and to know on a deep level that you’re awesome.