Remember Mad Libs, the word game where you insert a part of speech of your choosing into a pre-written sentence? Now you can Mad Lib your specific anxiety! Won’t that be fun? Ok, it probably won’t have the gasping laughs Mad Libs is supposed to produce. Instead it will be filled with healing and empathy.
If you’ve been feeling anxiety over a specific situation/objective/desire/decision take note of that. Each time you see (confusing objective) insert your specific anxiety-producing situation/objective/desire/decision into the sentence. Connecting to your personal experiences will help give you clarity and guide you to relief.
Have your situation in mind? Here we go.
Do you really want (confusing objective)? If you experience anxiety this might not be an easy question to answer.
When you experience anxiety what does it feel like in your body? Is it a tightening in your gut? A lifting across the back of your shoulders? A sensation of closing in of your whole body? Scan your body and ask what anxiety feels like to you.
If you experience anxiety do you think that means there’s something wrong with you? You might assume you shouldn’t be feeling anxious in whatever “normal” situation you’re in and therefore conclude that if you are feeling anxious then something must be wrong with you. Or you might think that the anxiety itself is what’s wrong with you, as if it weren’t related to anything else.
But what if your anxiety is right? What if those sensations of anxiety you feel in your body are trying to guide you? Your body has knowledge of which your conscious mind is unaware. What if those sensations you label “anxiety” are trying to tell you something about yourself?
If you experience anxiety on a consistent basis it can be challenging to tell when your anxiety has shifted and it could benefit you to listen. It’s a little like the story of the boy who cried wolf, but with a twist. If the boy has cried wolf so many times before without reason then why would you listen to him now? Except what if there always was a wolf those other times but you were looking in the wrong place? What if you were looking across the field so you didn’t see the wolf because this wolf was hiding in the trees? You thought wolves were only on the ground so you wouldn’t even look in the trees, nor would you believe the boy had he told you a wolf was in the trees because that didn’t fit your concept of a wolf’s behavior. So you’d assume something was wrong with the boy, or that he was lying. Except the boy knew something you didn’t. He saw the wolf even if you couldn’t and he sounded the alarm.
In a similar way the anxiety you feel might be your body’s way of sounding an alarm. Just because you don’t consciously perceive the cause doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Don’t be so quick to dismiss it and claim the alarm sounded for “no reason.” You might be looking in the wrong place. You might only be looking in the places you’ve been taught to expect. You’re looking on the ground when things are hiding in the trees. And why would you look in the trees? No one else around you has wolves in their trees! They’re going to think you’re nuts if you start looking for a wolf in a tree. Who ever heard of such a thing? Even if you find one others might not believe you. They might claim it’s your own fault that you have a wolf in your tree, as if you did something to put it there.
You’ve been educated by your culture to believe you should feel at ease in certain situations and if you don’t feel at ease then something must be wrong with you. Perhaps you quickly assume that if you can’t find an obvious reason you’re uncomfortable or anxious then something must be wrong with you. Now is the time to listen to your body instead of what you’ve been taught to believe about yourself.
So do you want to (confusing objective)? If you feel anxiety at the thought (confusing objective) and decide that means something is wrong with you then that means the anxiety is something to conquer and control. Instead of listening to it and empathizing with it (and yourself) you try to stop it and rein it in. But there’s nothing wrong with you. That anxiety is a good friend who showed up to let you know something’s wrong, not with you, but with your logic, with what you’re trying to convince yourself of. If you’re trying to convince yourself you want (confusing objective) and you’re experiencing that gut wrenching, clenching, tightening sensation you call anxiety, that’s your body saying to you, “Hey, what’s going on? Something’s not right here.” Stop and listen.
So while you’re trying to convince yourself you should definitely want (confusing objective) you’re also experiencing these sensations called anxiety. Then it can seem like the problem is the anxiety, while the real problem is that you’re trying to force yourself to do something you don’t actually want to do. Maybe there’s a little voice in your head saying, “I’d really rather want (opposite of confusing objective).” But you respond, “No! I’m supposed to want (confusing objective)!” And then you feel more anxiety. That internal fight is often the anxiety.
Do you really want (confusing objective)? If you imagine (confusing objective) and you get a clenching, heavy, or tightening feeling in your body that you call anxiety, that’s a signal that no, you don’t want (confusing objective). It’s not a sign that something’s wrong with you. You don’t need to try to fix yourself or get it under control. You don’t have to fight it or argue with it or try to convince yourself that you enjoy something you dislike. Instead you can listen to it. It takes some skill to listen to your body, especially if you’re used to listening to the outside world. Often the answer isn’t simple either. Maybe you don’t want (negative aspect of attaining confusing objective) but you also don’t want (negative aspect of forfeiting confusing objective). In that case you may experience sensations of anxiety with either of those scenarios. That’s your body still telling you you’re not on the right path. There are other options in which you can gain the positive aspects of (confusing objective) without the negative aspects. When you realize what these are you’ll begin to see more options. And your body can help guide you.
So please stop assuming that these sensations we call anxiety mean there’s something wrong with you. They might be showing up to help guide you on your personal path to your true self. Your path, not someone else’s.
If you’d like my own specific example of working through anxiety from a bodymind perspective, go here.