Anxiety and the self
Anxiety is often thought of as a response to what’s “out there”; people, places, an activity or event. But what if it’s also a sign that something needs attending to “in here”, or within? What if anxiety is the body’s way of telling us to pay attention to ourselves? That we are missing something about our own feelings, needs or experiences?
Working with people over time, on a range of anxiety issues, be it social anxiety, generalised anxiety or panic attacks, I began to realise that most people suffering from anxiety had something in common – they were all in some way neglecting their own feelings and needs and/or putting others first on a habitual basis. This lack of attendance to their own true feelings meant inner needs were ignored and intuitive or emotional messages of discomfort or distress were often dismissed. In these circumstances the body takes on a general discomfort from all the unattended to feelings and emotions.
It seems to me this discomfort will often find a “hook” in the outer world, something to explain the inner discomfort… and as a result the bus journey, or the drinks party, the trip to the cinema or coffee with friends can become problematic.
Of course this is an over-simplification, and there are other triggers and causes of anxiety which need to be honoured and explored. That said, improving our relationship with ourselves and our inner world is something we can all do and can help us with managing the anxiety which is such a common feature of modern life.
In anxiety states, the focus is outwards, on the world outside. Attending to the self brings our focus back onto what’s going on in our inner world, what’s happening for us. Mindfulness activities and asking ourselves “what’s happening for me” can help bring our focus in. Breathing techniques that help us be with our bodily experience and consciously relax are successful in managing anxiety because they help us to come back to the self in the moment.
Paying attention to the self, to feelings needs and experiences, is something many people need to learn. It’s a journey. One with gifts and challenges. And one worth taking if it helps you to understand, get a perspective on and learn to manage anxiety.
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About Joanne Strong
Joanne Strong MSc MBACP is a Counsellor working in private practice and the NHS. Joanne currently runs a private practice from a wellbeing centre based in South East London.