A 4-step checklist to cut through and let go of anxiety.
1. Breath check
3. Locating the source.
4. Calling out the lie!
This is for anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by constant and repetitive anxiety. This is specific to help let go of anxiety that is habit based and more related of a negative state of mind. This is not for someone in the middle of a trauma.
1. Breath check. How is the breathing?
We say “the” instead of “my” because we intend to be objective and neutral about what we discover, like a scientist. Is the breath held anywhere? Restricted? Is there any free breath at all? Panic often starts when normal function within the body feels threatened, especially following periods of time when the airflow is restricted…allow the body to breathe again. It’s natural!
If you find that it’s really too difficult to release and allow the breath, that might be a good sign that it’s time to exercise. The accelerated breath during aerobic exercise can really help unwind the restrictions on the diaphragm and breathing accessory muscles. It’s not rocket science, but most anxious states are drastically reduced by exercising. Then we can move to step #2.
2. Is there another way I can label this experience?
Anxiety is a large category. Sometimes we find that being specific is super helpful. Instead of just feeling anxious maybe I can describe HOW I feel instead of just giving it a label. For instance: I feel tightness in my chest. Or, I feel a knot in my belly. I feel like my shoulders are tight like a rope.
Or a description metaphor: ‘I feel like I am drowning and can’t breath.’ ‘I feel like I am floating on a cloud and I may fall.’ ‘I feel like I have an elephant in top of my chest.’ The key word is LIKE. It’s not actually happening, but feels that way.
Sometimes it’s great to share our experience of relabeling with someone we trust. But if not, writing it down on paper (like in a journal) is another great release.
3. Where on the outside is this feeling come from?
We may not know the answer to this question but it’s a great place to start. Feelings and emotions are like colds, they are contagious! One new person comes into a room and it can change the way we feel entirely! Sometimes we have been affected over and over again by someone we see all the time, like family members. We can also catch negative emotions by indirect means, like when the news is on and you walk by and pick up the tones of what they are implying.
Just by asking this question we begin to detach from taking our feelings personally. It’s not just “my” anxiety, but an anxiety that I am picking up, like a radio wave. This will help us switch from being a sponge into being a mirror. A sponge absorbs everything, it literally becomes the mess it takes on. A mirror allows everything to reflect unto it, but there is no residue. It simply fully reflects back what people will see, and then it is free in the next moment to experience something else. The key to being being a mirror is to be still in the mind. The key to being still in the mind is to not take what you feel personally! It’s a moment in time and it will change (like the weather) in the next moment in time. Even by a little bit, and that’s all it takes!
We do #3 not because we want to assign blame, remember that person caught their emotional state from another person as well. The idea is to let the chain of contagious emotions be a choice (we all want to contract happy emotions, don’t we?) . You won’t catch any emotional debris that you don’t want when you are in the state of the mirror. As a sponge you will contract everything! The key is to be aware, you just have to remember to be objective, it’s not yours alone, it’s just what you are observing — like the scientist. Sometimes we may allow ourselves to experience anger or sadness, but it will be a choice. Sometimes we can allow anger or sadness to move us forward to enact change. Anxiety is seldom a choice that moves us forward.
4. Calling out the lie!
Anxiety (and all the other things we can choose to call it) has one big trick. It makes you think that it can be solved (and then go away) by fixing something, often yourself. It’s not true. First of all you need no fixing, only awareness and growth. Secondly, this worry man will always find new material. He’s like a really unfunny and boring comic, always looking things to get worked up over.
The thing about anxiety is that if you are somehow able to finally “fix” what you think is making you anxious, 99% of the time it will just move on to something else. First it’s finances, then relationships, then appearances, and then we can often even have anxiety about our anxiety. There are times when we are actually going through a real trauma, but quite often people share that these are not always times when anxiety is at its peak. If the worst has happened, then we tend to care less about anxiety. It’s only as time passes that we begin to get anxious again.
Worrying never ends until you finally decide it’s not an effective strategy. Allow yourself to become bored by worries, it’s always the same voice over and over again. It’s incredibly boring. Life is an adventure, and without the risk and danger we would have no growth. That’s the game of life — for now anyway. The worrying doesn’t change anything anyway, it’s a false sense of control. The worry state of mind is full of lies! He will never leave your mind until you pay him little attention. Then he will also get bored and go brother someone else .
In the middle of an anxiety attack is not the time that worry man is going to go away. We have to practice patience and we start with the first 3 practices to deal with tough and chronic moments. But after that there will be moments of time where the anxiety is low level but the worry man is still there, planting seeds of doubt. This is when we starve out the worries. Without sunlight (our attention) seeds stand little chance of growing. So let’s put our attention on the seeds we want to grow and allow the worry seeds to sit in the cold and boring shady area. A few might pop up, but not enough to take over this garden of the mind. Remember how he came in (contracted from someone or somewhere else), he has nothing to do with who you are and why you are in this world.
Let me know how this goes and if you have any questions!