Befriending your Anxiety

By Kristen C. Dew, LMFT, CST

How do I stop feeling anxious?

The key to managing anxiety is to understand that you can’t make it go away. You might have a few tips and tricks that help, but to really get control over anxiety you have to work at a few different angles.

  1. Somatic Coping Skills – learn some skills (like deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.) to manage when anxiety gets to be unhelpful and distressing
  2. Cognitive Coping Skills – the stuff you say to your brain (#1 and #2 are briefly described in my last post Your Anxiety Has Something Important to Say)
  3. Making friends with this part of you and embracing it

This third step is the focus of today’s post. It’s like building a house and having a strong foundation to build on. You can go ahead and just learn the coping skills, but your house might fall down (metaphorically, of course).

To make anxiety management really stick you need to *befriend* your anxiety. Think about how friendship works. When you make a new friend do you avoid talking to them, or tell them you hate being around them? Some of you might be saying yes (hardy har) but really you won’t have good friendships if that’s how you do it. Why do we treat ourselves this way? When we disown and push away parts of ourselves, we ignore the pain but we also ignore the good. You have to be kind and compassionate to all of you, not just the parts that other people approve of, the ones that are comfortable all the time, or the ones no one bullied you for.

So let’s take a look at your anxiety. Really, if you could see it outside of yourself, what would it look like? Can you imagine yourself walking up to it and introducing yourself? If the anxious part of you were across the room at a party could you go talk to it? Get to know it? Maybe even like it? Maybe even hit on it?? I know some of you socially anxious folks out there are sweating, and I feel that. Here’s an imaginary dialogue for both self-friendship (aka self-esteem) and anxiety management that is a GAME CHANGER.

A Conversation with Anxiety at the Party in Your Head:

  • *makes eye contact across the room, then walks over*
  • Hey anxiety, how are you?
  • I know, talking makes you nervous. That’s ok. What do you need? Sure I’ll give you some space. Oh and here’s a snack (FUN FACT: the magic of your imagination knows EXACTLY what your anxiety wants right now)
  • I see that look. Anxiety, today I just want to talk without being a judgmental @#%* I know I have been mean to you sometimes in the past. I’m sorry for that. I know I have been pushing you away and I want that to stop.
  • So, what do you do for work these days? You look our for any and all danger and think of what to do in an endless cycle until the danger passes? Damn that sounds tough.
  • What do you do for fun? Those to-do lists are really helpful, thanks for that.
  • Do you remember fall semester 2005 finals week? You kicked ass that year, we got a 3.9 GPA. Thanks again for that.
  • What’s on your mind today? Yeah I hear that, sounds pretty stressful. You’re really on top of all that stuff, wow.
  • How did you get this job? Oh right, that embarrassing moment from 4th grade. Yeah I totally understand why you react quickly to other people sometimes. That’s okay, I still love you.
  • I’d like to get to know the reason behind some other stuff you do too when you’re ready to share it with me.
  • Hey I keep forgetting to thank you for always remembering mom’s birthday and making sure I get her a gift.
  • You’ve been a really good friend, thanks for trying to keep me safe. There is a lot about you I like and appreciate.
  • Hey I have to get going. Can I get your number? I’d love to chat more with you and send you some funny memes.

Your anxiety is a part of you and it’s a great part of you once you get to know it. When you can listen to and talk to your anxiety with compassion, it lessens its response and you can have a more productive dialogue with it.

Photo by Josue Michel on Unsplash