It’s a state.
Like stress. Or depression.
Anxiety, stress and depression are usually states that wrap around a cluster of emotions, thoughts or beliefs.
So what is anxiety?
Anxiety is usually an activating state that comes with being over aroused because there are uncomfortable emotions built up. They aren’t getting the chance to process through.
What’s weird about it is that the anxiety wraps around the emotions that want to come through, making it hard for you to detect that there are actually emotions in there that are trapped!
You might feel anxiety to varying degrees.
For example, you may feel some anxiety about an assignment or a work project deadline. That anxiety could be encasing fear about getting it done in time, worry about whether you will do the task correctly, any performance or self worth related beliefs, ect.
The discomfort propels you to do something about it once the discomfort gets to a level that feels like too much. Even if you are procrastinator, you start working on your assignment when the anxiety about getting it done is high enough. Then that takes you through an all nighter.
Or you may feel anxiety that is long standing because there have been years of emotions pushed down. Emotions might have been pushed down because it has not been safe to process your feelings. And/or you may not have been taught or shown (by someone modeling them out) how to process emotions in a healthy way.
So, all those emotions become compressed. Thought patterns or belief systems build up to keep the emotions packed in tight and then you are just living with a level of consistent level anxiety. So consistent you might not even register that you are living with it!
Of course, our bodies do have genetic programing that does predispose some of us more toward being anxious. This means your sympathetic nervous system is more easily activated under stress. This does not mean someone will develop a disorder, it just means they are more likely to trend toward anxiety in response to stress.
Just the biology can be a factor. All that means is that you find ways of accepting your ways and working with them. If you know it is just part of your disposition, you can focus on sensing whether the anxiety is helpful. See below to know when it is helpful. If it is in the unhelpful range, you can redirect your thoughts or do something physical to move the anxiety through your body.
Benefits of Anxiety
We don’t want to eradicate all anxiety. It is not all bad! Look at this list of things it helps you do:
One: Anxiety helps you stay alert and observant.
It helps you keep your eye on deadlines, tasks that need to get done and next steps.
Two: It helps you plan and organize.
Part of the way people naturally get relief from anxiety is planning and organizing so they can feel prepared and clear.
Three: It gives you the energy to perform and get things done.
Notice how people who tend toward anxiety in response to stress tend to get their assignments/projects/tasks done early? Anxiety is helping them!
So, we don’t want to stop anxiety, we just want to bring it down to a helpful level.
How to Work with Unhelpful Anxiety
Whether the anxiety you experience is long standing due to biology or due to emotions being compressed (or both), there are ways to work with it.
One: Be patient and persistent
It does take some time re-program your nervous system. It takes some time to unravel any underlying beliefs or overactive thought patterns that have been accompanying your anxiety.
Two: Learn to re-program your nervous system
The easiest way is to work with a therapist to guide you through this process. The first step is often creating new programs in the time of your session. It starts here because it is hard to catch the anxiety in action on your own, unless it is super intense. When it is super intense, it’s hard to remember all these tools. So your therapist will work with the anxiety that is arising in the actual session. Your therapist will help you look at the thoughts and feelings then help you redirect your attention and relax your body right then. Then, once you see how it works, you can practice it outside the session. Then you are on your way!
Three: Recognize the thoughts that are reinforcing or causing your anxiety and re-program them
Again, the easiest way is with a therapist because they can help you catch those thoughts and redirect them to start creating new thought patterns.
Four: Learn to get out of your head
Thoughts and beliefs can feed and reinforce anxiety. Since the state of anxiety is uncomfortable in the body, you will naturally want to put your attention on your mind to escape the unpleasant sensations in the body. Those same sensations are the ones that help you get stuff done so you can have relief from the anxiety.
If you learn to bring your focus into your body, you will start to get clues about the tangle of emotions inside causing the “state” of anxiety.
Five: Learn how to identify and process emotions
Feelings are stored in the body. They have their own individual cues. A couple of examples:
Sadness is pressure in the chest and throat.
Anger is heat and tension in the shoulders, arms and jaw.
Fear is heat in the belly.
If you are able to separate out the feelings, you can download their messages and the emotions can be processed. That way, you are not just continuing to compress them and carry them around.
What do can you appreciate about your anxiety? What does it help you get done?