"Keep Your Friends Close--and Your Enemies Closer."
Contributed by Melissa Watson, LPCC-S
I recently read this and immediately started thinking about the many clients that walk into my office reaching out for help. Despite the differences in all my clients, I see a common enemy-- anxiety. It may present differently among each person or even have different triggers that exasperates it. But anxiety is the enemy and it has the power. It is the enemy that keeps us up at night, stops us throughout our day or maybe haunts us periodically of something we did or said 5 years ago. It creates endless possibilities that confuse us and wear us down. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, occasionally settling in the pit of our stomach, increasing our heart rate or gifting us with sweaty palms and rapid breathing. It shows up in big moments when we contemplate our future or small things like when we are trying to decide what vacuum to purchase. The power of anxiety controls us with endless thoughts, questions and self-doubt.
There are so many tools out there to help with anxiety. In therapy, we often focus on reframing thoughts, practicing wise mind, using deep breathing and meditation, using exposure therapy to desensitize, journaling, or using a thought diary... and many many more. All are effective coping skills and can help to reduce the severity of the anxiety.
But I want to invite you to get closer to your anxiety, with the idea that we first need to accept the anxiety. The more we push our anxiety away, or dread the resurgence of it, the more power we give it. The more our enemy has power over us, the less voice we have on our own lives. Let’s welcome our enemy with open arms. Let’s accept anxiety.
So what exactly does acceptance do? First, it validates our feelings, thoughts and physical symptoms that present along with anxiety. Getting validation is huge in treatment, but that validation needs to come from yourself most importantly. You will never stop having anxiety. In fact, anxiety is a natural and necessary emotion. Anxiety pushes us to strive for success and protects us from danger. It teaches us to be cautious and prepares us for various circumstances. No matter how experienced you get or talented you become in managing your anxiety, there will always be triggers. But like our enemies, if we learn how to live with them (those relentless anxious thoughts)— to forgive, understand and maybe even accept them — rather than let them chip away at us. Maybe, just maybe, we can get ahead of the game and survive this common enemy. “Hello Anxiety, I see your purpose and I get it, now that I better understand you I can manage this!” It’s always about balance. It’s the idea that practicing acceptance will give you the strength to overcome it.
Is anxiety a challenge? Yes, and definitely some of us experience it in devastating amounts. Does it always show up unannounced or at the worst time? Of course. But if you try practicing self compassion and acceptance, you may be surprised in the progress you notice. Focus on its purpose and it’s strengths rather than the disruption it causes. Expect it and allow it to be present so you can better manage it. Changing our mindset to getting close to our anxiety and understanding its purpose, might just change how we experience it and therefore give us the power. And with that power, we have the control and ability to make change happen.