What do you like about your anxiety?
This is a question I’ve asked many of my patients. Unsurprisingly, almost everyone’s initial response is “nothing.” But over time (especially in people who are determined to get the most out of their unpleasant experiences) I’ve seen anxiety become a gift that re-orients people in a profound way.
I’ve learned many strategies for managing anxiety directly, some of which I shared in my last article. They can really help. However, my greatest intention isn’t merely that we can effectively manage anxiety when it arises, but that our basic orientation is to be attuned to what’s good, what’s working, and what we love about life.
So this time I’m going to share self-care practices to guide you back to the love beneath that fear.
It’s true that fear isn’t usually a healthy expression of love, but sometimes it is – like when love spurs fear in a parent and they rush into harm’s way to save a child. Most of the time we’re afraid, though, the underlying love is so contorted by the mind that it doesn’t feel like love at all. It just feels nasty and horrible, and we get into a vicious circle whereby the feeling prompts fearful thoughts and the thoughts heighten the feelings, and so on.
But deeper than all of that craziness, we love life, we love ourselves, and we love others. I would like to invite you this week to bring your anxious feelings back to the loving point of their origin.
1) Practice good posture. Having a straight spine automatically helps you to breathe more fully. It also has a subtle effect on your mood. It’s easier to feel threatened, weak, or like a victim when you’re slouching; conversely, when you sit or stand tall, with a straight spine, you’ll naturally feel clearer and more confident.
2) State the facts (in the morning and always). What you do in the morning affects your whole day, so start with a brief and enthusiastic session of truth telling. What is good right now? Are you alive? Are you breathing? Did the sun rise again? Do you have enough to eat? Say it.
Who do you choose to be today? A light-hearted person? A truth-telling person? An emissary of love in the world? A devoted servant to the highest good of the world? Say it.
Pausing, noticing, and stating the facts about what’s good in your life is like hitting the save button. It programs your mind to continue to spot the good stuff. It reconfigures you for peace.
And stating the facts during fearful times is like becoming a warrior with a razor sharp sword. With your loving fierceness, you cut through the collective illusions and emotional fog, reminding yourself and others, We didn’t jump into the world just so we could cower from life. The truth is bigger (and better) than the story we’re telling each other.
3) Get connected to the elements. Spend time in nature, ideally including some direct contact of skin to earth and natural bodies of water. Some people with anxiety also report that they feel much better with sun exposure. Others feel a benefit from sitting in front of a fire or even several candles. Besides helping to realign you with the rhythm of the natural world, it’s also a nice break from your electronic devices and media.
4) Establish a daily routine and stick to it. Predictability helps stabilize a wayward mind and helps the body get into a consistent rhythm. This means setting a regular bedtime and wake time, having meals at the same time each day, exercising on a regular basis at the same time, meditating at the same time, bathing at the same time, etc. Of course, your routine shouldn’t be strict in a way that generates stress if you stray from it – it’s something you do out of kindness for yourself.
5) Love actively. There’s no use in trying to obliterate fear. That would be like trying to destroy the sound of ‘middle C’ on a piano. Fear is a frequency of energy. No matter how you train yourself to cut it out of your life, you can always call it up again. Instead, focus on the love beneath.
What do you love that your mind tells you is threatened? Give your attention to loving what you love instead. Love is so much stronger and bigger than fear, and unlike fear, love is a unifying and creative force. If you’re out of practice, find the things that are easiest to love, like kittens and donuts, and feel the love opening your heart. Then practice expanding that love to envelop yourself, your neighbor, your houseplants . . . and your fear. Then go bigger.
All along, keep opening your heart. Just imagine it opening like a golden ring in the center of your chest. Learn to feel when it closes, and patiently open it again and again and again.
Love will prevail. Always.
Dr. Peter Borten