I think it's time we go our separate ways."
Yes, I'm breaking up with my anxiety, once and for all.
I grew up in a household where anxiety was the norm. It was something that one didn't have control over and it could stop you from doing things like driving on the highway or travelling in an airplane.
I was a fearless free-spirit (with the exception of sharks) so was furious anytime I came up upon restrictions imposed on my by someone else's fears, worries or preoccupations. Anxiety was the trigger for my rebellion. I would see a risk and do it anyways, swinging the pendulum in the other direction to the point of recklessness. I saw how caged anxiety could cause someone to be and I refused to get in that cage with it but what I didn't know was that simply being exposed to Anxiety on a regular basis normalized it for me. Anxiety was powerful. It was stronger than the people who experienced it and it was contagious. Eventually I adopted it as a coping mechanism that I too flirted with - and then established a relationship with.
In the late 90's Anxiety told me that I was living in a terrifying and hopeless world where I was a victim of everything and anything around me. There was probably a strong dose of depression added to the mix at the time as well. It told me that I wasn't able to do the things I wanted and that if I failed at meeting other people's expectations I would lose their love, or worse.
It got so bad that I started having horrendous nightmares and refused to sleep at night. This caused me to find new solutions. I would sleep under the desk at break times at school where I had I arranged a gym mattress and some coats to sleep under the desks at break time during school in the winter and in parks during the summer - never for more than 20 minutes at a time. When the lack of sleep caught up with me I knew there was a problem.
Part of me believed what Anxiety was always whispering in my ear, and part of me knew that the terrifying world was mostly in my mind.
Anxiety was taking away my power and freedom and the relationship was becoming toxic, but I couldn't get away from it on my own. I got help and strategies from a therapist, some pharmaceuticals to help me regulate serotonin production and learnt a little but about diet and hormones. By the time I was 20 and living on my own in London, anxiety and depression were in the past.
What's the deal with Anxiety's anyhow? Why can't it just chill out?
Fear is a biological warning bell that your physical, mental or emotional safety might be at risk if you continue with a course of action. It developed so that you could divert energy from regular everyday things like digestion and procreation to your muscles to fight or flee a situation (like a tiger chasing you). Fear is useful and one of the greatest protectors we have.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is fear based on imaginary threats. Now, the threats may or may not actually occur - eventually - but the difference between anxiety and fear is the fact that fear is a natural reaction to an actual threat that you have to deal with RIGHT NOW. Anxiety is the same chemical cocktail, diverting your energy from this moment so that you can fight or flee from something that is ONLY IN YOUR MIND.
Studies show that the human brain fires the same chemicals whether something is real or imagined. This is amazing because it can be used to your advantage. Manifestation visualization can give you the pleasurable feelings of meeting your goals (and pleasurable, or feel-good feelings are why we have goals in the first place) without ever leaving your armchair.
So if you can imagine feeling good. You do. And if you can imagine something good happening to you, you feel the emotions and sensations that go with that (and you take steps towards it's manifestation but that's for another post).
The downside is, when you imagine something bad happening, you feel that, too.
Anxiety can't stop telling you the scary stories about what might happen because it's trying to protect you - but it's futile. Suddenly your breath shortens, your pace quickens, you feel frenetic and your mind is racing to find a solution or an escape to something that's NOT EVEN THERE.
Recently I personally bumped into Anxiety again in the same way you'd bump into an X at the supermarket. We were friendly and made plans to grab a coffee and catch up.
Catching up Anxiety told me that the recent events in my life like separation and a medical scare were dangerous, that they could lead to other scary and dangerous things happening. Anxiety said it had the solution...
🦸♂️It would PROTECT me!
What a beautiful offer, I thought... If anxiety was taking care of me making sure NOTHING BAD COULD HAPPEN then I didn't actually have to learn to face fear at all and become my own super hero. If I allowed Anxiety to run the show, I didn't have to do the work of realizing what is and isn't in my control and I didn't have to do the work of being present with my current discomfort. I could, instead, go into a world of make-believe where I creatively came up with 'what-if's and then tried to imagine all the possible solutions to these negative fantasies.
So I got back into a relationship with this old 🔥. I believed it when it told me that I was in danger in finances, health or relationships. I let it guide my actions and thoughts.
But letting anxiety back into my life even just a little bit was a huge mistake and led to old patterns:
🧐scrutiny, investigation and analysing
😫obsessing on irrelevant details
😱catastrophizing, fear and dread
⚕️my body producing cortisol + adrenaline, both of which, long term, cause damage to health*
Wow- I thought, when I finally saw the pattern - This is a really toxic relationship I have going on with Anxiety. It's not protecting me... If anything, it's creating all of the perceived danger in order to control me and feel useful!
My natural gift of imagination was sabotaging me in many areas of my life!!!
So here was the solution: I broke up with anxiety, treating it as you would treat a toxic x-partner. I explained I no longer wanted it in my life and then proceeded to implement techniques such as the grey-rock method and no-contact.
The grey-rock method technique used to divert a toxic person's behavior by acting as unresponsive as possible when you're interacting with them. With Anxiety, I would become hyper aware that it was appearing and then divert my attention to something else completely (mostly knitting). It wasn't easy as the thoughts and 'what-ifs' continued to come at me, but eventually my brain got bored and got more involved with what I was doing as I diversion. Temporarily. At the next occurrence I would implement the same diversion method.
No-contact is another technique used in toxic relationships where you become aware of how you sometimes seek out the interaction yourself and cut that out. I recognized that some of my relationship with Anxiety came directly from me enjoying some of the elements of feeling that way, or not knowing an alternative. I promised myself to avoid choosing to think thoughts that invited Anxiety to interact with me.
Anxiety is a learned behavior. It's a inefficient way to seek security, which is one of our basic human needs. If it can be learned. It can be unlearned.
I also flipped the script on Anxiety. Each time I wasn't able to ignore or avoid the thoughts that would pop in my head I attempted to claim ownership for them and choose the opposite. In other words, I'd get in a fight with Anxiety and tell it it was wrong.
For example, if Anxiety said: "You're never going to have enough money when you retire to support yourself and you're going to end up eating cup of soup in a studio apartment when you're 65." I decided to imagine and feel into the DIRECT opposite of that proposed future... which in my case is this beautiful tree house in Costa Rica with all of my friends and family surrounding me in full abundance. (who wants to join me?)
I used visualization techniques until I could truly feel the energy I would feel walking through the breezeways and slipping off my sandals to have a dip in the pool.
Lastly, I looked at the particular subjects that the Anxiety was pointing to (as, yes, in some ways Anxiety is helpful) and reframed these subjects to be able to see them from a space of What-Is RIGHT NOW and not what I am afraid for in the future. In evaluating what I could control right now about the triggering subjects and allowing myself to let go of what I couldn't control, I was able to relax into appreciation about what is working and all the beautiful things I have to be grateful for. (Anxiety will rob you of gratitude)
Coming back over and over to NOW is really the key.
I know that the Anxiety I experienced recently is far milder than some people suffer with and I have so much compassion for those of you that struggle. Anxiety is a terrible emotion that often manifests physically. If you are having a hard time and Anxiety is affecting your daily life then there are many ways to seek help in therapy or with chemical aid. Inform yourself and find what works for you.
Likewise, any practice that aids you to exercise being in the moment - meditation, breathwork, art, music, movement - will improve your ability to deal with Anxiety as it arises.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that if Anxiety is in your life it is only one part of you. Therefore, it cannot possibly be stronger or bigger than you. Reframing any beliefs about it being incurable, unmanageable, overwhelming, chronic, or unhealable will automatically put you in a position of more governance. You are strong and capable and so so creative. When you begin to use that same amazing creativity to imagine the things you do want to occur in your life instead of fret about the things that you don't, you'll become a manifestation powerhouse.**
** If you would like to enter into a coaching program with me to deal with your anxiety, to learn how to manifest anything you choose in your life or to simply become a happier, healthier version of who you already are, please check out my 12 week coaching package Magical YouNiverse