I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone has to say it.
You can’t control anxiety no matter how hard you try, so you should stop trying.
Not only is it impossible to control, your struggling and resistance actually helps anxiety grow stronger.
It becomes the fuel to its fire, and the wind in its sails.
You can imagine your mind as an ocean.
At times it’s completely calm and the skies are clear, just like the relaxed state we might long for.
But most of the time there’ll be some wind and waves, and you’ll have little choice but to deal with the unsteady ocean.
In our metaphor, these waves are representative of anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings as they form in your mind.
At times it can even feel like there’s a full blown storm rolling through, with big and scary waves coming right at you.
And when you struggle and resist against anxiety, that’s just like trying to fight these waves.
It’s like repeatedly swimming opposite of and crashing straight into the walls of water. Hoping to somehow push through and find a calm ocean on the other side.
What you find instead is that this approach only leads to you being pulled under and trampled by the full force of the ocean.
And it obviously does nothing to soothe the storm. It’ll keep raging regardless of your struggling.
The only reasonable thing to do if you wanna keep your head over water would be to swim WITH the waves.
Let the water pick you up and let it carry you, as you gracefully ride each wave toward the shoreline.
The same exact principle is true for anxiety.
Trying to hold back or otherwise control anxiety is just as pointless as trying to fight the waves.
There’s also very little you can do to stop the waves from forming, it’s simply outside of your control.
The same way trying not to think of a pink elephant only serves to bring a pink elephant to mind.
And the same way you can’t force yourself to be happy, sad, in love, etc. there’s not much that can be done about anxiety occasionally showing up.
Anxiety simply can’t be willed away. It’s a part of you, as much as any other feeling, or even your arms and legs.
You’ve seen this with your own two eyes through years of experience.
If struggling and resistance worked, you’d no longer be troubled by anxiety, but that’s not the case, is it?
It’s entirely natural and understandable to reject something as uncomfortable as anxiety, I’ve even tried it myself.
But let’s be real, it doesn’t work.
So I ask you now. What do you have to lose from experimenting with a new approach?
Instead of trying to control what you feel, let’s attempt something entirely different.
The next time you feel the winds starting to blow and the waves of anxiety forming:
1) Acknowledge the painful and uncomfortable feelings you’re experiencing.
Pay attention to your mind and body, what’s actually happening? Can you differentiate between thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations?
2) Name the sensations you observe.
- “I can feel my heart beating fast”
- “I’m having a thought that my heart can’t safely beat this fast”
- “And I’m experiencing a feeling of wanting to run away”
3) Ride the waves
Just like waves, anxiety will come and go on its own. Struggling and resisting only serves to make the experience more uncomfortable.
Leave anxiety alone as it does its thing. Pay no attention to it aside from a gentle and curious acknowledgement.
4) Go about your day by controlling your actions
Contrary to your feelings, your actions are actually under your direct control.
And ultimately it’s your actions that will lead to meaningful changes in your life.
Now I want you to ask yourself:
- What has the constant resistance and avoidance of anxiety kept me from doing in my life?
- What would I have done differently if I wasn’t constantly fighting against these uncomfortable sensations?
- And what’s really stopping me from taking those actions right now?