Separating Anxiety

     Have you ever woken up about 3 AM and started thinking about issues in your life that need to be resolved? Once the wheels start turning, no topic seems to be off-limits. Stuff from years ago might come up. Stuff from middle school friendships and how you felt when you were rejected from a group might surface. Tossing and turning ensue. Other topics arise. The mind chatter won’t quiet. Yep! It is a sign of anxiety.

   Anxiety surfaces and often in my practice I will hear people say, “I am anxious”. “I am afraid”. “I am scared”. It seems like semantics, but those phrases are not really true. When we experience the symptoms of anxiety, we also might be experiencing other emotions at the same time. For example, if I have a big presentation to give, part of me might feel anxious to speak in front of a big crowd and another part of me might feel super excited to share the information. When at a memorial for someone I love, something in me might feel sad while another part of me feels comfort from the stories and the memories being shared. We are complex creatures capable of a lot of different emotions at the same time. So to say I AM anxious is just not true. Something in me feels anxious. A part of me feels excited – not ALL of me, but a part of me.

   So how do we separate from anxiety to allow for more peace? How can we calm the inner turmoil when thoughts seem to race from one anxious topic to the next?

   I came into the therapy profession due to a broad capacity for understanding and empathy. This might seem like only a blessing, but I have often found myself frustrated by my deep capacity to care so much.

   One day when I was reflecting in my “self-awareness journal”, I noticed that when I am in a good mood, I also want and expect others to be also. I noticed that when those that I love are going through a difficult time, it tugs on my heart, and I want things to be different. If my loved one is anxious, for example, I tend to want to calm their fears. Offer suggestions to shoo away the discomfort and provide comfort. As you might imagine, this often backfires. I only have the capacity to manage my own anxiety. Others must manage their own.

How do I separate myself from their anxiety?

   Separating anxiety within myself and separating from others’ anxiety is a practice. I have discovered that it can be done. When I notice myself feeling anxious, it reminds me of a tangled mess. Take my 3 AM scenario for an example. Each topic of concern is its own thread. When they are partnered with other anxiety-producing topics, they can easily get tangled and feel much more messed up because they are all together. 

   Untangling the tangles is a way to access peace. When I can separate the threads, I can manage that anxiety.

   A strategy for this management of anxiety is a way of separating anxiety so that each issue can be sorted. When I notice that I am upset because someone I love is upset, I can first NOTICE. Next, I can take a big, deep cleansing BREATH. And finally, I can ALLOW this concern to be separate. It does not have to be tangled with other issues.

   It reminds me of an unexpected basketball that might come bouncing into the kitchen when I am making dinner. Unexpected? Yes! Disruptive? Yes! Manageable, YES! I’m not much of a sports buff, but I know that on lots of basketballs are the letters NBA. This helps me to remember my strategy for separating anxiety.

   The next time you feel the disruption of anxious thoughts, see if you can practice NBA. Notice the anxiety. Remember it is a part of you, not ALL of you. Next, take a deep breath to signal the acknowledgment and finally Allow this anxiety to be separate. When you do this, you allow it to be dealt with. If it is someone else’s anxiety, you allow them to manage what they need to manage. We have the capacity to manage our own emotions. Sometimes the act of noticing allows for peace. The breath gives the body something to do as it tries to calm. The allowing is a process. Sometimes there is nothing to be fixed and so allowing is a way of “letting it be”. Acceptance allows for peace.

Any Questions/Comments: Contact - Karla at [email protected]