How to deal with anxiety - Part 2

Last week's tip for dealing with anxiety was "tend and befriend". If you decided to give it a whirl, you may have noticed anxiety subsiding, or perhaps forgotten about your worries entirely, while you were sipping cocktails with your BFF or taking in a game with your pals. On the other hand, you may have been paying such close attention to your mental/emotional state that it felt like anxiety was in fact rising to the challenge (more about this later). Perhaps you forgot the tend and befriend tool entirely, in which case, the best thing you can do is notice how easy it is to fall back into old habits, forgive yourself (you are a human being after all) and move forward.

So, you might wonder, tend and befriend is all well and good when you have access to a great group of friends and can find the time to get together. But, you think, what happens when the sun goes down and it's just you and your worried thoughts tossing and turning in bed? Are you ready for this?

Tip #2: Just Say "Yes"

That's right my friends, the second tool for coping with anxiety is saying "yes" to this uncomfortable, unpleasant and uneasy state. Counterintuitive as it sounds, current psychological research indicates that having a welcoming position towards anxiety can actually help us cope and reduces the impact it has on our lives. 

How, you might ask, could accepting anxiety, make things better? 

First let's take a look from a Western psychological perspective. Cognitive-Behavioural Theory (which is most common in Canadian medical culture) views anxiety as a belief that we are unable to cope with the challenges we are faced with in our lives. This underlying belief is said to cause the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety. So, if we feel anxiety and resist it, not only do we feel unable to cope with the challenges in our lives, we also feel unable to cope with the anxiety itself. It's as though we give more power to the anxiety by fighting it and we feel even smaller and more powerless.

According to Eastern Psychological theory, much of the suffering in our lives is caused by our constant seeking of things which feel pleasant and avoidance of that which feels unpleasant. Again, by turning against fear and worry, we create the suffering of aversion. If, on the other hand, we are open to experiencing anxiety (in it's various manifestations), we notice that it comes and goes and that we are able to endure times of stress and unpleasantness.

Looking at anxiety from yet another lens (an Emotion-Focused perspective), if we resist or fight anxiety we miss the incredible opportunity to listen to the messages that are contained in the worries. Maybe our fear is telling us we are feeling a lack of control over our daily affairs. Perhaps it is signalling we need to seek relationships where we feel more protected and nurtured. If we get caught up in trying to control the anxiety we miss out on it's adaptive function entirely.

Saying "yes" to anxiety can feel like taking a giant leap off a cliff without knowing where you'll land. It is important to start out slowly and explore the thoughts and feelings gently. For example, you might decide to work with the physical sensations of anxiety (such as a tight chest, sweating or heavy breathing) the next time it arises, gently saying "yes" or "allowing" to yourself as the waves move through your body. You might also start a brief mindfulness practice and dedicate some time to observing how worry thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky. Whatever you choose, it is important that you are able to "put the tool away", so to speak, when you are finished and can resume your daily activities.

If you are experiencing anxiety that is overwhelming or debilitating, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Whatever route you choose to pursuing positive mental health, there is help available and things can get better!