3 Steps for Moving Through Anxiety

Anxiety is the fear of something that is not happening and might never happen. It runs through your days and your nights, tensing all your muscles and chattering endlessly in your ear. You feel weak. You feel crazy. You feel threatened.If you try to fight anxiety head-on, it is likely to fight back. I know that some people advise you to ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that is likely to happen?” I think that those people are not in the grip of anxiety. In the grip of anxiety, it might take a very long time to imagine all the bad things that are possible, evaluate the probability of each, and then choose the worst among them.How does that work for you? Does it leave you shaken, not stirred?Here are three tips that will stir you so that you are ready to shake off fright, flight, and freeze and instead get moving, focusing on what you can do and what you can change.

Tight muscles and tightly wound thoughts depend on each other. If you loosen your muscles, you are more likely to also release some of the tension in your thinking. Do yoga. Go for a walk, using music or a friendly companion to keep your movements relaxed and energized. Dance or run or play a game. Whatever you do, do it with enough energy to hold your attention and enough stretch to gently create space between the fibres in your muscles.

Hang out with a good influence. It doesn’t even have to be someone you know, as long as it is a person who turns tension into action and then repeats. Good candidates include small children and superheroes (you might have to find the superheroes on a screen or in a book). Real face-to-face encounters are best, but a great story helps too. Imagine yourself connected to someone who confronts challenges with energy and uses the tension that results to create voice or movement.

Dream more actively. The way to convince yourself that the future will be a good place is to put your imagination to work constructing it. This is hard in the grip of anxiety and you will have to practice in very small increments at first. Begin by paying attention to tiny moments of pleasure or goodness as they occur, and work up to imagining a future that is tough but satisfying. Eventually, if you work hard, you might be able to look forward to moments of pleasure and comfort that haven’t happened yet.
All of these strategies are available to you. But it does take strength to move against a tide of anxiety. And strength is built through conditioning. Like an athlete, you need to start with what you can manage now, and work up. Your movement is constrained by anxiety, and it takes discipline to gently stretch until you can move more comfortably. Your connections with other people are also constrained by anxiety. You may have to begin with imaginary friends (the kind you find in stories and movies) and work up to actual connections with complicated human beings.

Most importantly, you need to work on your dreaming. Dreaming doesn’t just happen: it has to be supported by imagination and hope and a stubborn determination to move beyond a bad situation. These are strengths that can only be conditioned through repetition. Imagine something good. Hold the thought for as long as you can. Let it go. Repeat.Imagine your mind is a kite. When it fights with the wind, it crashes. But when it leans into the wind like a dancer, it can fly high into the sky, free and far-sighted. And even if you get distracted and it comes back down to earth, you can rewind the string and send it up again.

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