Anxiety is one of many feelings everyone experiences. Like all feelings, anxiety exists to help us live a full and satisfying life. Feeling anxious is totally normal and part of all living forms when their existence is threatened.
In normal circumstances, healthy anxiety helps bring us to a state of alertness, like a deer or a cat when they raise their heads and look around sensing danger. Anxiety helps us to stay alive by keeping us alert when danger is nearby. Our eyes dilate, respiration may stop or speed up, muscles may tense all over the body or in certain areas like the head, neck and shoulders, digestion may stop completely. All these responses are so that we can direct our attention to staying alive. And these type responses would be valuable if we were being hunted like a deer might be.
But in our world today, we are no longer hunted. Rather, most stress arises from over stimulation. Our senses are engaged all day long in physical, emotional and mental activities in a world filled with attention seeking devices: computers, cell phones, cars, television, radio, automobiles. Unless we intentionally slow down, our culture has us in constant movement and attention which becomes too much for us to handle. In response our anxiety arises and we feel the discomfort of being in a threatening situation, when in fact what we need is to slow down. Slowing down has not been widely encouraged in our society. The fast pace of getting more and having more has drowned out the danger of anxiety.
It's a paradox that while anxiety is part of our warning/survival system, it also can be a danger on its own. When we stay in an anxious state our immune system doesn't work as well and we are more open to illness. Long term anxiety becomes a stressor that takes a physical and emotional toll in many forms of diseases. Keeping an eye on our anxious feelings and keeping them to a minimum can steer us in the direction of better health.
But My Anxiety Isn't From Overstimulation
Whenever we have anxious feelings we are experiencing something that is dangerous or threatening. The threat may be something real, like a mugger or a bear or so much to do that our senses are go haywire. And it also may be that we are responding to our thinking rather than what's out there i n the world. Because our bodies respond to thoughts as if they are actually happening in the world, it's common experience to think about situations and to feel in response, a wave of anxiety. This can happen even though the event we just feared hasn't even happened yet.
Mental Conflict Causes Anxiety
Anxiety also happens when we fear and desire something at the same time. When we want to go to the party and are also trying to avoid being rejected by people at the party, we are asking our bodies to go in two directions at the same time.
Turning off our anxiety requires that we track down how we are creating the anxiety. One way to do this is to simply observe what we're doing in our thoughts, feelings and bodies.
Identifying sources of our anxiety requires paying attention both to our feeling anxious and to thoughts and perceptions connected to our anxiety.
Being still and paying attention to our senses and thinking requires discipline. Mindful awareness of our anxiety and root thoughts and perceptions is a skill which everyone is already practicing, and one that can be improved with daily commitment. Simple awareness of where our thoughts, emotions and senses are focused offers us understanding of their relationship and the opportunity to influence the way they touch and change each other. Emotions can cause thoughts, perceptions can trigger emotions, thoughts can bring on perceptions and emotions the three are in constant cause effect relationship. Our anxiety (and managing it) require our attention to at least one of the three as a way to influence the others.
Two types of thought
Anxiety may arise from conscious or subconscious. Simply put, thoughts can be either something we are aware of, or something below our awareness. An example of conscious thought might be, "Hey there's a mosquito buzzing my face". A subconscious thought might lead to swatting at the mosquito while talking and not really thinking about the mosquito.
Am I anxious by nature?
As mentioned above, anxiety is natural, a response we humans have to danger that is real or perceived. Anyone who has had a lot of tense, threatening circumstances is likely to have developed a pattern of anxiety in response. If the pattern has existed for some time, it may take more mindful response than a short term anxious pattern.
What can I do to slow, change or stop my anxiety?
Mindfulness of our anxiety brings with it a deeper understanding and consciousness of ways to be beyond the fear. There is no limit to the number of ways we can move our minds away from anxiety. Let's look at how we can use thoughts, emotions or perceptions or actions to reduce anxiety.
Introducing a new thought is a simple method of transforming anxiety. It may be that a thought of a negative outcome, or a past outcome we haven't accepted yet is occupying our thought. An intentionally formed thought such as "I now accept that this happened and good will come of it" is capable of replace the negative thought and accompanying feeling.
Selecting an emotion to replace anxiety may seem impossible, but it's not. Keep in mind that your anxiety doesnt' work without your thought process. The anxiety is a resposne to a negatively perceived past or future event. Let's use an example of fear that the dentist will cause us pain when we go for our visit.. We're capable of choosing any feeling we can think of to replace the fear. A definite, stated choice will have immediate effect. Say for example "I choose to feel grateful that I have someone to care for my teeth." The choice of gratitude will replace fear for as long as we stay committed and focused on it.
Being anxious can be transformed by taking action just about action that is heartfelt and dedicated to experiencing peace. Occupying our mind with exercise or helping someone else are examples of becoming active. Going in the other direction, we might be in need of becoming less active, and to stop moving, talking, working might shift our energy. My coworker said she took action on her anxiety about singing and called a new voice teacher.
Percepton of anxiety, is a form of mindfulness. Turning our awareness to the experience allows us to locate the physical place(s) the anxiety is happening. Often this is in the stomach. Thru an intention to bring relaxation to our stomach, we may breathe in peace and calm to quiet our nervous stomach. Where we direct our perception is of immediate and experieneable consequence. Mindful focus on the beauty of a flower being pollinated by a bee, clouds drifting by, the colors of a sunset, a heartfelt poem, are all perception shifts that may also shift our anxiety.