Anxiety is a word that gets tossed around frequently and it seems that nowadays almost everyone is afflicted by it. And while I recognize the legitimate experience of what tends to get labeled as anxiety, I also recognize the issue that arises when we become so quick to place a readily available label onto a particular experience or set of experiences and therefore constrict ourselves to the box of that label.
This is the difference between saying “I have anxiety” and “I’m feeling anxious.”
The former is a personal identification with an experience that instills a sense of permanence while the latter is a recognition of a current experience that may or may not have a lasting effect.
Now, the second concern that arises is the issue of definition.
What is anxiety?
If you ask 100 people you may get 100 different answers. To me, anxiety is an uncertainty or worry about the future (even if that future is moments away) that created a sense of stress, tension, and constriction in the present.
The tricky part is that what you’re worried about almost never happens or is never as bad as you’ve built it up to be. So now you’ve created all this stress, tension, and constriction that has no outlet to release. At least when you’re in an actual situation of threat or danger your system can calm back down once the threat has been neutralized or you’ve escaped. When that threat is just a product of your imagination there’s nothing to neutralize or escape from so the stress just perpetuates in your system. And any tension that is not released creates a situation that makes it easier and easier to fall back into that same pattern of anxiety.
So the first step in managing the symptoms of what commonly labeled as anxiety is to recognize the difference between a real threat and a perceived threat.
A good checklist to go through is this:
“Can I breathe?”
“Am I safe?”
“Do I have access to clean food and water?”
“Do I have access to shelter and warmth?”
“Is there love in my life?”
If you can answer yes to all of these question then technically there is nothing to be worried about.
The second step is to analyze where you are resisting the “is-ness” of life. Uncertainty and worry about the future is often a direct result of not being able to be present with the present moment. By definition, anxiety cannot exist in the Now. This is where developing a spiritual practice (i.e. creating space to be alone with yourself without distraction) can be a valuable tool to help you get reacquainted with the present. You can also run through the above checklist and express gratitude for what you do have instead of dwelling on what you don’t have.
Lastly, if your body is already under an excessive load of stress from poor nutrition and lifestyle management, your threshold for stress tolerance is lower and it becomes easier for more trivial things to throw you into a pattern of anxiety. (Think of a pot of water that only a few degrees away from the boiling point.)
So the better you’re able to manage the stressors that are within your control, the better you’ll be able to handle the things that are outside of your control. And the deeper you get into your spiritual practice, the more your sphere of control expands as your sense of Self expands.
And one final thing: whenever you catch yourself in a pattern of anxiety, remember to become aware of your breath. Your breath is a mirror of your emotions and vice versa – if you can control your breath, you can better manage your emotions, anxiety or otherwise.