Has anxiety become your security blanket?
The other day I was making my journey into London to work for a charity with a group of frontline staff. I help frontline staff who work in challenging settings who often struggle with stress and overwhelm. I help them to discover their capacity for resilience and wellbeing. This is a game changer for people who work in highly changeable settings in terms of how they show up at home, and work and with themselves.
I've been travelling a few times to work with this charity but the process with this particular group is still in its early stages, I'm still getting the measure of them, what they need, and what the organisation needs. Since I’ve became a freelancer I find myself worrying about my ‘performance’, wanting to make sure that I'm 'good enough’. I’ve had anxious thinking about it. Freelancers often tell me they feel like you're only as good as your last job so there’s a real pressure to be “’bang on’ every time”. This expectation is often fuelled by worry about money and the precariousness of freelance life. I get it.
I feel calm and I realise I cannot fail.
However, on this occasion something feels different. I'm feeling something unfamiliar, my head feels surprisingly free. I'm searching for the right word to describe it, but it feels like something's missing, something I’m not considering. I’m a little concerned. I check in with myself. What’s going on?
And then it dawns on me, I realise - there's no anxiety. Nothing. No familiar unease in my stomach, no busy thinking in my head, no mental working through the session. No thoughts about how I will ‘be’ in the space and how I will respond. No thoughts about imagining how I will respond to various difficult situations. Nothing. The previous journeys had felt very different to this one as I'd been ‘managing’ over thinking and anxious thinking about the sessions.
For a moment it’s disconcerting. No anxiety. Nothing. I feel vulnerable and exposed. I catch myself having another thought. What’s wrong? Maybe I need the anxiety? What if I can’t perform well unless I have it? But even that thought (anxious thinking about a lack of anxious thinking) quickly dissipates. I find myself being curious instead. This is interesting. What if I show up to this session without all this mental planning? I wonder what will happen? How will it be different?
In that moment, I know that it doesn’t matter. I feel totally calm and realise that I can’t fail. I will find what’s needed in the moment when its required. I chuckle to myself that I was about to get anxious about not being anxious!
I thought I needed anxiety to function
Experiencing this moment became a fantastic opportunity to remind me of the journey I have been on with anxiety and the realisations I now have about my human experience. I realise now that feelings of anxiety have been a bit like a habit. I had become so used to feeling anxious before particular situations that I expected it to be there. I'd become accustomed to the unease in my stomach and even though this was unpleasant, familiarity meant there was something reassuring about it. I thought I needed the anxiety, a degree of white knuckling, to perform well. If I didn't have anxious thinking about what might happen keeping me on my toes, how would I get through potentially difficult situations? Anxiety had become a bit of a security blanket – and, an extension of ‘me’. Do you recognise this situation?
So, if you’re seeing for yourself that anxiety has become your habit, there are four things you need to know that will help send you in the direction of peace and clarity of mind rather than anxiety and worry.
1. You are not your anxiety.
When we are having anxious thinking it feels like it's part of us, and that’s not surprising because we are having physical sensations that can sometimes feel like will overwhelm us. We think that if something feels this strong it must be telling us something true, otherwise we wouldn’t feel like this, would me?
2 .Feelings are a signal but not what you think they are.
Feelings of anxiety are indeed a signal, but not what we think. They are not a cue that the circumstances out there are too challenging for us or that we are not up to the job. Feelings are a signal that we have got caught up in anxious thinking and that we need to settle. We all get tripped up on this from time to time.
3. Peace of mind is available to us all the time.
So to return to my little example. I was surprised to discover in a moment where I was expecting to anxious be I actually experienced calmness and peace. Without trying. It turned out session that I delivered was great - the level of thinking I thought I should be doing had not been required. I realised afterwards what a wonderful lesson this was.
So, even amidst this current COVID-19 crisis, peace of mind also available us. If we let go of our anxiety blanket we’ll see this in the present moment.
4. The present moment cannot hurt you
When we are in the moment of NOW, we will realise there’s nothing to fear. We are designed to handle what life throws up.
So, I'd love to invite you to reflect on what opens up for you in the moments when you notice you feel peace even amidst the uncertainty.
Rather than focussing on the uncertainty, look in the other direction – the direction of creativity, resourcefulness and calm. It’s there that peace of mind lies.
If you’d like to know more contact me here