How To Make Your Anxiety Work For You

Written by Linda Esposito

I have a client-centered confession: I prefer working with anxious people.

I know, it's like saying, "I prefer my son over my daughters," but I can't help it.

I've been a psychotherapist for over a decade and that's long enough to know with whom I excel, in my clinical book.

It's not that anxiety is easy to be in the room with — on the contrary, sometimes clients are so unfocused, overwhelmed and tense that gaining control of the session is a challenge.

But here's the thing: At the end of the (stressed-out) day, anxious people get the job done.

I totally get it. I wasn't exactly raised in the most calm, cool and collected environment. Nobody taught me the importance of getting in touch with my body in order to relax. I knew the phrase, "Stop being anxious!?" didn't help, but I wasn't sure exactly why.

Maybe you can relate. But the beauty of anxiety is that there are simple actions you can do today to bring more peace, Zen and productivity to your environment.

In addition to lifestyle imperatives like getting adequate sleep, reducing caffeine, and exercising for at least 30 minutes per day, the following tips will help you make the most of your active mind:

1. Breathe to soothe your nerves. 

Shallow breathing is a typical stress response. Hyperventilation can prolong anxiety and stress. Remember, it's your response to anxiety that is helpful or hurtful.

Because your senses are heightened, you can tap into body awareness more easily than some. When you recognize the nervous cues such as heart palpitations, headaches, and shortness of breath, take a time out to get your body back on track.

Abdominal breathing techniques calm the nervous system and reduce blood pressure. A few simple belly breaths can get you from anxiety to Zen:

  • Sit comfortably and raise your ribcage to expand your chest. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Notice your upper chest and abdomen move while you breath.
  • Concentrate on your breath and try to breathe in and out gently through the nose. Your upper chest and stomach should be still, allowing the diaphragm to work with your abdomen and less with your chest.
  • With each breath, allow any tension to slip away. Once you are breathing slowly with your abdomen, sit quietly and enjoy the sensation of physical relaxation.

2. Meditate the nervousness away. 

Anxious people often live one step ahead or one step behind themselves. You may find yourself doing one thing, but thinking about what you will do later. Then later, you might worry about what you missed from before. Recognize this tendency and focus on the here-and-now.

Meditation's quietness offers a way to bring everything together again.

Practice the Just Standing Meditation:

  • Take a moment out of the day to pause and stand still. The arms can rest comfortably at the sides. In this moment, there's nothing else but two feet on the ground and an upright body.
  • Allow a natural alignment with gravity where standing is effortless. Don't think about anything; just stand. If thoughts race ahead or behind, bring them back gently to standing.
  • Sense the quality of this experience and let it sink in. When possible, return to the just standing mediation.

3. Let go of the fear of anxiety. 

A common contributor to panic attacks is the fear of having another panic attack. Think of anxiety as a playground bully who needs you to be afraid so s/he can taunt you and make you cry.

Take the wind out of anxiety's sails by refusing to let the racing thoughts and knots in your stomach get the best of you.

4. Accept your anxiety. 

Part of the struggle is when you try and control your emotions. Why not let go?

Acceptance requires little effort because you're not focused on trying to fix yourself, nor are you looking for a solution. Repeat a phrase such as, "I have a busy mind, and that's ok," to get you back on track.

The fact is we all have something. Your thing is anxiety, and you may as well put it to good use. You can't go back in time and rewire your nervous system, but you can go forward and practice techniques to bring more calm to your day.

The future begins now.

May you experience more internal peace to accept and embrace your anxiety as a strength.

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