What is anxiety?
It is actually quite a complex thing, and every individual will experience anxiety uniquely. Sometimes, anxiety can mean having repetitive thoughts and worries that make us feel uneasy, out of control, as if a whirlwind of doubt has descended upon us.
The more we try to block out these thoughts the more they tend to dominate our minds and we can feel that we are in a real inner struggle. Sometimes, anxiety can mean physical restlessness; being compelled to do the housework, the gardening, surfing the internet, anything other than sitting still - anxiety simply can feel like a whirlwind of activity. Like jumping off safely from a galloping horse, it can feel overwhelming to try and stop ourselves from physically doing things. Anxiety can also involve panic attacks. Our hearts can beat quickly and we may feel like we are hyperventilating; we may feel we are in danger and about to collapse. Anxiety can involve deep-rooted feelings of dread and fear - feelings that can be evoked by the thought of going to work, answering emails, performing well in an exam.
A good therapist can explore what anxiety means to a particular person, how they cope or not, what situations, people, places may trigger anxiety. A good therapist can also provide strategies to cope with the triggers to anxiety. Ultimately, I have found that befriending anxiety is important. If we try to do nothing but fight against our anxiety, this can make it worse. The more we try to battle against it, the more we dislike what it does to us, and the more potentially we can dislike ourselves. I have discovered that by accepting anxiety compassionately within ourselves, by holding it with warmth in our hearts, by saying to ourselves, "There it is again, anxiety, but it is okay and I understand where it comes from and why". Somehow this can take the sting out of the distressing symptoms. If we can come to accept that anxiety has played an important evolutionary role in humans, that it is part of our structure, this can somehow enable us to be more tolerant and this tolerance reduces anxiety. Of course, we can then also draw upon various therapeutic techniques to further make peace with anxiety.
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