Two Steps for Transforming Anxiety
Written by Natalie Diaz, Guest Writer & Creative Contributer
When I was a teenager, I never really knew what anxiety was. Sure, I could probably rattle off a version of the definition at the time. But in terms of knowing the inherent meaning via personal experience, I don’t think I ever connected the dots. I think I failed to recognize the turmoil I faced as a teen as this affliction called “anxiety”.
Now I am 32. By this point, I have been to both the top of my game in life and the deepest pits of despair. Both places have taught me something invaluable, as well as every cardinal stop along the way. And now, I recognize anxiety. I am familiar with it. In fact, I have come to realize that it has been a key player in my world for over 2 decades.
The evolution of my relationship with anxiety has gone from not even knowing it was there, to outright avoidance of it, to plastering it with limericks of optimism as a way of pretending it did not exist—to now, working with it and leveraging the energy behind it for my success and happiness.
Here are the steps I take to make that happen:
1. The first step is easily said and not so easily done, but entirely necessary:
Stop and breathe deep breaths.
Do this quietly for several minutes — long enough to notice the goings-on of your mind and body. Take inventory and gauge your own stats. For instance.. breath is rapid right now but slowly slowing pace. Thoughts are racing and panicky. Chest feels tight. Be kind in thought. You’re not noticing to judge or to do anything, really. You’re noticing to notice and to be aware. Just be.
I like to think of this as the deconstruction phase. The goal is to slow things down so much that you are able to unpack them without making a mess. Time is on your side here. The slower you go, the greater the calm you create.
For those of us who are fans of instant results, this step is an uncomfortable opportunity for growth in itself. Practicing awareness is a slowly fulfilling process. You will not see instant results here. In fact, it may even feel as though you are doing nothing beneficial and getting nowhere fast, but a watched pot never boils. Do not fall for the illusion. Stay the course and be diligent. Stop, breathe, notice, let go, repeat.. stop, breathe, notice, let go, repeat. These small acts are the equivalent of pushing a mountain with your bare hands. You’ll just need to trust that you’re making a difference.
2. Step two ushers in creativity, and for that reason, it can be a lot more pleasant:
Have a list of your dreams and goals on-hand.
Have you ever heard the saying, anxiety is energy without a goal? Imagine a launched rocket that’s gone berserk in the air, flying uncontrollably every which way at top-speeds causing destruction in it’s path. Speaking from personal experience, that is me on anxiety! It took me a long while to learn this, and it is one of those lessons that I wish someone would have clued me in on in my younger days. The energy that is behind your anxiety is invaluable. The trick is to guide it towards thoughts and actions that will support and elevate you, rather than the typical anxiety-ridden worries that may hurt and impair you.
By maneuvering the current of energy this way, you will actually leverage a weakness for your betterment all by simply being a little prepared. When anxiety strikes, grab your list. Choose one action that is in alignment with the objectives on your list, and do that one thing, wholly and without refrain. Not only will the list distract you from being unnecessarily riddled with anxiety, it will also provide a positive focus that will have you actively invest in your own growth and advancement.
If you’re like me, then you learn concepts best by envisioning what they look like in real life. If that’s the case, then here are a few Goal/Action examples from my own list to get you started:
Goal: Create a home-space that is fully functional and brings me joy
Actions: Organize the junk drawer. Repot any plants that may have outgrown their pot, clip overgrown plants to propagate them, or visit a local nursery for a new houseplant. Create a donation bag and fill it.
Goal: Harness optimum physical health and fitness
Actions: Throw on your running gear and hit the pavement. Not favorable weather outside? Try free Youtube workout videos in your living room or turn on some music and dance it out for 10 minutes.
Goal: Be creative everyday!
Actions: Grab your camera and go for a photography walk. Paint a blank canvas—use your passive hand to make things more interesting. Cook a new recipe.
On a side-note, actions that include physical activity are highly encouraged, provided that you’re in a mindset to recognize when rest is needed. Overdoing it to physical exhaustion is not advised, but exerting the nervous energy of anxiety as something joyful and healthy for your own well-being scores extra bonus points.
The point is that anxiety does not have to be feared as a force that is debilitating or harmful. With just a gradual shift of our automatic response to it and a slightly different approach, we may even eventually find a surprising ease within the unease of anxiety. And that is a beautiful transformation.