When I was in 6th grade, I remember waking up each morning before school with a knot in my stomach. Back then, I didn’t know what I was feeling— I just knew if felt awful. Today, I would describe that feeling as anxiety. The way I define anxiety is as a generalized feeling of fear, worry, nervousness or apprehension in the body. Before we go further, it’s important to note that anxiety in and of itself is harmless; it’s our reaction and our resistance to it that causes problems.
Below you will find three tips on how to manage feelings of anxiety.
1. Make peace with anxiety
Pushing away our feelings will always feel worse than allowing them. Our bodies know what to do with all of our emotions–even the uncomfortable ones. Our emotions are controlled by the levels of different chemicals in our brain. These chemicals are often triggered by our thoughts; some thoughts produce good feelings, while others produce the opposite. When we experience anxiety it’s important that we simply allow it to be there. Try to relax into the feeling by accepting it. What would it feel like to just breathe into the feeling of anxiety rather than resisting it? Imagine a beach ball that you push down under the water– the harder you push, the more resistance you create. When you release the ball, what happens? It shoots from the water with incredible force. Resisting our emotions is similar to forcing the beach ball down under the water. The pressure builds as we try to push it away. As a result, we are now feeling not only the anxiety but ALSO our resistance to it. Making peace with anxiety is a more effective strategy. Like a beach ball gently floating alongside us in the water, we can learn to make peace with anxiety as we move about our day.
2. Realize what’s causing it
Our feelings are caused by the thoughts in our minds, therefore, we are only feeling anxiety because of the sentences in our brain. When we feel anxious feelings it’s important to remind ourself that these feelings won’t actually harm us, they are just uncomfortable. When we understand that our thoughts are the creator of our feelings, we can recognize that the anxious feelings won’t last forever–they will eventually cycle through and be gone.
3. Be patient in changing thoughts and feelings
When we realize that our thinking is creating our anxiety, we might be tempted to immediately change the thought that is fueling our anxious feelings. In other words, “What should I think instead so my anxiety will leave?” However, it’s not usually that simple. In most cases our brain has been thinking certain thoughts for long periods of time and simply deciding to “unthink them” won’t necessarily work for the long-haul. The key is learning to observe our thoughts and feelings. As we get better at noticing the thoughts in our mind and observe the feelings we’re creating, it eventually becomes easier to move on from them and let them go. If you find you’re in a big rush to move on from anxious feelings, you probably haven’t made peace with feeling them yet. You might still be resisting them.
Learning to feel ALL the feelings takes acceptance, courage and practice. Even the uncomfortable emotions are part of the human experience and there’s no need to fear them. Our feelings are like a compass that keeps our lives on track. When we learn to allow them instead of resisting them, we realize there is no emotion or feeling that we can’t handle and our confidence really grows.