Recently I had a conversation over the internet with a young man who has been dealing with anxiety. This seems to be such a common problem, especially with young people who have so much uncertainty about the meaning of life, themselves, and their future. As I reread the text of our conversation, it occurred to me that although this was a singular case, it was also universal. With his permission I have edited out the personal details, but am sharing the overall arc of the conversation. I hope it is useful to some.
Q. What you said about my anxiety has really stuck with me, and I have been thinking about it ever since. I like what you said about letting go and allowing this energy to be used towards my creativity. Here is my question to you. I feel like I’m trying to let go, however I’m really not sure what that looks or feels like.
A. The thing about anxiety is that it comes out of our deep-seated fear and awareness that we are not in control – so it is fear of death, fear of the future, fear of illness etc. Most of the world’s religions try to create a structure or framework to believe in that will appease this deep-seated fear. It would be really good to work through this in therapy, but in the meantime, if you get very quiet and start to pay attention to your breath, you will notice if you are breathing diaphragmatically or not. Is it relaxed? Is your diaphragm soft and pushing your belly gently out as you receive the inhalation? Or is it tight and contracted? See if you can shift into diaphragm breath – not big breaths – but the inhalation should be small and soft – allowing it to received into the bottom of the lungs .
If you notice that there is contraction or heaviness or pressure in your throat, chest, or gut – let your awareness ask into it….what is this all about, what is this connected to? What am I feeling emotionally, energetically? Remember it is only a part of you – maybe a very old part, or a very young part. When was the first time you remember feeling this way? This technique is called focusing. There is a small book called Focusing by Eugene Gendlin that might help you. You need to get to know that part. The functional adult part of you needs to understand and be compassionate to that part .
Q. I have been trying to meditate – to empty my mind but it is so difficult!
A. Most meditation techniques try to empty the mind of any thoughts, but I have found that the trick is to allow the thoughts and compassionately observe them – so you can softly let them move through you. Don’t get into a battle with the thought – it is all thought – even the fear – you are other than your thoughts – this is just monkey mind .
Q. So instead of ignoring the anxiety, accept it and let the thoughts that lead to anxiety just pass?
Q. Yes, that’s it….As you soften the thought with compassion, you start to realize you don’t need to get caught in that trap. The complex web around the fear starts to soften and dissolve. As we reduce the grip that fear has on us, we release energy for other more creative ventures. You can compassionately accept the anxiety and its roots, its underpinnings – it is like talking to the young boy in you who needs to be parented and taught that it will all be okay – he just needs to trust in his life and his path
The truth is once you recognize that you are having a thought – the thought starts to move on through – you couldn’t hold onto a thought for any length of time if your life depended on it!
Q. So with me I need to recognize my anxiety, but not attach myself to it. It doesn’t represent me. However I can’t just ignore it otherwise I won’t overcome it. Am I understanding this right?
A. Yes the anxiety is just based on fear thoughts – so you need to recognize that a part of you is feeling anxious and is having these thoughts but it is not all of you – so it is understanding that young part and having compassion for that part, and it is recognizing that negative thoughts are just thoughts – and in fact whatever we give energy to – grows! So the more we allow these thoughts to govern us – the bigger and stronger and more compelling they become – so it is dangerous to give them power.
Q. That makes complete sense. My awareness needs to shift so I can direct my energy to my positive thoughts. I would imagine then, with practice of course my fear thoughts will become less and less frequent. Thank you for taking the time Margaret to help me out!