I have a history of anxiety. I was the girl who didn't do very much of anything. I considered standing up on the bus an adrenaline-boosting activity. When asked by a prospective boyfriend what I liked to do outside of work, I responded, "I read a lot." I secretly took an Ativan each evening on my first sailing trip. But then everything changed.
You might be wondering, based on the above, who the heck I think I am to be offering advice on how to beat anxiety. But I prefaced my story with this, so you know this comes from experience. I'm not a researcher who studies other people trying to create a theoretical solution to a problem. Although, in a way, I've become one in my work as a coach. I have success story after success story of this strategy working not only for me but for the clients I've shared it with.
These days, I'm a woman who tries skiing black diamond runs every now and then. I just signed up for a stand-up comedy class that concludes with a live performance onstage at a popular comedy club. I slept without Ativan the last time I went sailing.
So, here's the secret.
It's a powerful, potentially life-altering mindset shift.
If you suffer from chronic anxiety, you've dealt with frustration that your anxiety just doesn't seem to listen and that you can't just relax like other people.
At the core of these thoughts lies an assumption: the assumption that anxiety is bad.
I want to ask you a couple of controversial questions.
What if your anxiety isn't actually a bad thing? What if it doesn't need to be fixed?
Now, I want to go further with a few bold statements.
You don't need to be fixed.
There's nothing wrong with you.
You're not broken.
Do you feel that?
Peace. Relaxation. An exhale.
Those are the sensations and experiences that I had and other people have, too—when they process the radical idea that they don't need to be fixed. That there's nothing wrong with them. That they're not broken.
Peace. Relaxation. A letting go. This is the opposite of anxiety.
When we resist those statements—when we tell ourselves that we do need to be fixed, that something is wrong with us, that we are broken—we step right out of peace and right back into anxiety.
The way we frame anxiety can either decrease it or increase it. Considering it as a problem—which is the foundation we're on when we wish it would go away—is a way to think about anxiety. It's a way that we choose.
We could step off the foundation of "bad" and move into the unknown and unfamiliar territory of "not bad" or "neutral." Not bad. Not good. An experience. Sensations. No worse or better than the ones we experience when we get excited, sad, or elated. Just sensations.
The unknown and unfamiliar is uncomfortable. We like familiar territory. Even if that territory is feeling like we're about to have a heart attack, time and time again. Even if that familiar territory—resisting our anxiety, considering it "bad"—is costing us peace.
Here's another question: What might you gain if you were willing to step into the unknown, the unfamiliar territory of reframing how you think about anxiety?
If you've started to list things like more happiness, less stress, more peace, more confidence—based on what I've seen, you're on the right track.
If you want to keep going, and test out getting there, you can try this:
The next time you start to feel anxious, ask yourself: What am I telling myself about this moment? What am I telling myself about my anxiety?
Write down your answers.
If you're casting the moment or your anxiety as a villain or a threat, it's time to write another story.
Before you test that out, try repeating this, over and over: I accept this moment. I accept every cell in my body. I accept my anxiety. (By the way, that mantra is one I got from a coach named Martha Beck—who also has anxiety. You may have heard of one of the people she has coached: Oprah.)
Once you've started to feel more peaceful, write your other story. Asking yourself this can help: If I were to rewrite how I think and talk about anxiety from a place of acceptance, how would I describe it? What would I say about it if I didn't consider it a bad thing? What would I say about it if I was seeing it as neutral?
You're right—that will take longer than five minutes. I'm including it here in case you need it.
Here's what you really need to remember:
What if your anxiety doesn't need to be fixed? What if it's not a bad thing? What if you're not broken?
If you're willing to go there, transforming your anxiety could take a split second.