The #1 Thing Clients Ask Me About Anxiety (And What I Tell Them)

“How do I sit with my anxiety?” I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have been asked that question.

In a given week, I am asked that question at least ten times. Unfortunately, I am not surprised.

We are told that anxiety is BAD.

We are made to believe we need to get rid of it.

We tell ourselves that we “should just get over it” and that we “should be able to control it.” Sometimes well-intentioned others tell us that too.

We push it down, or we escape, or we numb just like many other emotions and feelings that we don’t want to feel (or feel like we shouldn’t be feeling).

Just like with anything I talk about, this topic brings up a lot of “feels” (no pun intended) for me because I too have struggled with it.

Before I went to treatment in July, anxiety was one of the many feelings that I tried to numb with drugs and alcohol. If there was a way not to feel bad (or emotions I had labeled as bad), I was interested in it. I did not care how it would impact my body, relationships, or career.

After going through residential treatment for drug & alcohol addiction in Summer 2019, I can finally say that I have found the solution to the aforementioned question of, “How do I sit with my anxiety?”

The answer?

You sit through it.

You. just. sit. through. it.

You sit through it, and you allow yourself to feel all the feels. That’s it. That is the way out. That is the ONLY way I have personally and professionally discovered that this works. There is no fancy formula, no quick fix, no medication that has a side effect of “acceptance” — nope. You just have to sit through it.

So, you might wonder, how do you do that?

I have found that mindfulness techniques are a great way to accomplish this and to practice acceptance and letting things be as they are, where they are, and how they are.

One example of how you can do this is to focus on your breathing for 1-2 minutes. I recommend square breathing which is a technique that I was taught in residential treatment which I now use with clients.

Following the breathing, try to identify what you are actually feeling beneath the anxiety. Anxiety is usually a symptom of the real issue, so identifying what is behind it can be incredibly helpful.

Are you feeling hurt?

Are you feeling helpless?

Are you feeling rejected?

Are you feeling fear?

Try to ask yourself what it is you are feeling and notice (with curiosity, without judgment) where it shows up in your body. After you have asked your body “What am I feeling? What is making me anxious?” — and once you have the answer, try to speak into yourself: “I am feeling _______.” “I am feeling hurt.” “This is hurt.” “I am hurt.” Or whatever you have identified.

Now, where do you FEEL it?

Do you experience fear by tightness in your chest?

Do you experience rejection by a pang feeling in your gut?

Approaching my anxiety with curiosity and wonder instead of judgment and trying to get rid of it has revolutionized my life, and helped my mental health immensely.

Where do you feel it? Identify it, and then tell yourself what you are really feeling versus just anxiety, or anxious. Then, simply just allow yourself to sit with it.

This practice is also useful for cravings for drugs and alcohol. Our desire to use is almost always triggered by a feeling. Focus inward on your feelings first and try the technique described in this post. You might be surprised what you find is the emotion behind feeling triggered.

Thoughts? Questions? Feedback? Leave me a comment!

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