A Word on Wellness
Let's continue the discussion on accepting anxiety, shall we? Last month I talked about the trap (remember the finger trap metaphor?) of desperately trying to avoid anxiety. Remember, the tricky thing about anxiety is that the more one tries to avoid, the more ensnared they become. This is true of the physical symptoms - I mentioned some last month - but also true of the avoidance of anxious thoughts. Today I want to talk about what it looks like to acknowledge and accept anxious thoughts, rather than either indulge them or try to avoid them.
Indulging an anxious thought could look like this: You have the thought, "I'm going to do terribly on this presentation tomorrow" and then you allow yourself to imagine all the terrible ways you might fail, the disappointment your boss will feel and how it will impact your overall career. You take this thought at face value, assume it's true and then follow it down the rabbit hole.
On the other hand, avoiding this thought might play out like this: You have the persistent fear that you will do terribly on the presentation, but you continue to put this thought out of your mind, you don't indulge it but you also don't acknowledge it, you are unaware. This may create underlying physical anxiety, trouble sleeping, a lack of motivation to prepare for the presentation (procrastination) and could result in you actually not doing well on the presentation.
One trick I love for acknowledging thoughts is something I was taught by one of my yoga teachers, Sean Feit Oakes. It's the "OH LOOK" practice. It's the practice of becoming a conscious observer of your thoughts. So that, in the above example you can say "Oh look, FEAR" and acknowledge not only the thought, but also the underlying feeling. You can continue to do this when the thought emerges, "Oh look, there's that fear again," By doing this, you are acknowledging the thought and feeling - you are AWARE. Because you are aware you can choose how to react. You can tell yourself that the fear is important information, but that the critical, worst-case-scenario thoughts are just thoughts, and not worth indulging. And (this is something I tell my clients constantly) ... just because you have a thought, doesn't make it true. Our thoughts are not necessarily important, accurate or profound.
We approach the anxious thoughts much in the same way that we would acknowledge a physical symptom of anxiety: "This is what anxiety feels like in my body and that's ok. It's simply another sensation and I welcome it"
* Same disclaimer as last month: If this is a new concept, it can be very difficult to put into practice without some help. Keep in mind that I just summarized something that I usually spend many sessions assisting clients with. If you are struggling with anxiety, I hope this is a helpful way to think about it, but it is not a replacement for the support, structure and expertise that a therapist can provide.
Something to Read
Cleveland Cavaliers player, Kevin Love on anxiety and panic attacks. I love seeing public figures use their platforms to break the stigma and normalize what we all go through. “It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles... and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them. " - LOVE