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Attending to the Anxious

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”  Amit Ray

I am befriending my anxiety, as it goes with me everywhere these days.  Happy to report that I have mostly given up the futile fight against it and I am finished with all of my subversive techniques to flee. Instead, I have been giving anxiety my full attention, which it turns out, is easier said than done. And here’s why: anxiety isn’t really a state of mind or even I have found, an experience that is produced exclusively by the mind. Rather, it’s a condition of being that lives in our body and maybe even is a material part of our soul. Although, it’s easy to believe that it is our thinking that generates all of our anxiety. As any anxious person will attest, any if not all of life challenges will fit the bill when we are consumed with the energy of anxiety. And for the record, anxiety is pretty much happening to all of us at some point. Not surprisingly, anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses, impacting over 40 million people in the US daily. Depending what study you look at, anywhere between 20 and 40% of the US population suffers from some form of anxiety every day.  Sadly, most of the vast percentage suffers alone, never seeking help or treatment.

It is easy to see why and how we attach anxiety to a story in our life. Linking our anxious experience to something going on around us helps to normalize the huge and changing waves of emotions that roll in and rush out of us with anxiety. Not only can the experience of anxiety show up in seemingly unrelated feelings like edginess and fogginess, but it is often associated with things like obsessive compulsions and depression, not to mention substance abuse. Living closely with my own anxiety and rolling through many of those experiences in just one day has shown me why it is so comforting to fall back into ruminating over the stories that my anxiety clings to. Even the ones that justify the experience like my upcoming abdominal surgery or having my son all alone in a big city with a bad case of flu, or the loss of an important employee, or just being a part of those who fear for the future of America….All of these stories only fuel the fire of my anxiety and serve to distract from the real interior experience of being anxious.

The Buddhists refer to this anxious state of being as Shenpa and when things get really out of control, I listen to one of my favorite teachers, Pema Chodron, share the suffering with her own regular bouts of anxiety.  She says that getting lost in our anxiety, ruminating about the stories is like kicking the wheel of our own suffering. This slippery slope of being anxious is so familiar, so sticky that it’s almost a seduction.  We don’t really want to suffer but it’s also really hard to turn away. It takes all our attention to not make it worse. Without using our attention deliberately and separating the interior experience from the story, we feed the cycle of pain and lose ourselves inside of it.

Not making it worse takes all of my energy when the anxiety is high and multilayered. Sometimes even my best efforts to stay with my furry anxiety animal inside gets lost to a fog that moves in and completely obliterates my ability to attend to anything. I have checked out of my own body and didn’t see myself go. I have to start over again and again, finding myself in a quiet place, even if it is only for a moment at a time. And while there is no talking anyone out of anything, practicing positive thinking does make a difference in combating anxiety.

Reframing our anxious experience and adding love to it, in any form whether it’s a grateful recognition of someone’s helpful gesture, acknowledging our own past resilience in the face of adversity, or having the courage to speak up and express our worst fears to a caring ear. All of these transform the experience of being anxious and open us up to the silver lining of our fears. Adding love and compassion to the places that hold us back is where we can tap into a creativity that we may have forgotten we hold. It is a slow and deliberate walk back to connecting to goodness and learning to cope with anxiety. But it is far better than identifying with the worst of us.

Stay tuned to learn more coping skills for anxiety, here at Good Clean Love.