Written by: Erika DeSchiffart, MA, Psychotherapist with Capital Choice Counselling Group
It is an understatement to say that anxiety is not a pleasant emotion, especially with its accompanying physical sensations. This is why it is natural to adopt a “fighting” stance towards the feeling, because who wants to experience prolonged anxiety or panic attacks? It makes sense to no longer want to feel anxious, to “battle anxiety”, or to want anxiety counselling to get rid of the feeling entirely. Psychotherapists who treat anxiety get caught in this stance as well, asking clients whether or not they experienced anxiety in the past week, as opposed to how well they managed the situation.
Unfortunately, a frequent byproduct of the fighting stance is that it in actuality increases the feeling of anxiety and physical symptoms. A frequent metaphor that is used is a Chinese finger trap. Once you have your fingers in, the harder you pull, the tighter it becomes. It is only once you move your fingers towards each other that it loosens.
Anxiety symptoms can be thought of in the same way. It is only when you “lean in” to the feelings, or accept them, that the symptoms become manageable. To clarify, accept does not mean endorse in this situation. Accepting the fact that you are feeling anxious does not mean you have to be happy about it, or that it is a good thing. It simply means that you have recognized that you are anxious in the situation, and allowing yourself to feel the anxiety.
Does this mean that you just have to stew in these feelings? No—for once you have recognized that you are anxious there are many things you can now do. You might find that your breathing has become shallow, and that by taking deep breaths you feel the sensations lessening. You may create an image in your mind where the negative thoughts that perpetuate the anxiety are let go of. You might gently remind yourself that these thoughts are simply that—just thoughts— and that they do not have inherent power to guarantee a negative outcome.
Lastly, accepting anxiety can help us to grow. Instead of avoiding, we begin to learn what we are most fearful of. We can take steps towards what it is that we want in life. By “leaning in”, we learn that it is okay to feel anxious, in fact, in some situations certain levels of anxiety are to be expected. But more than that, we begin to learn that we are capable of not only feeling the anxiety, but also moving on through it towards what we value and desire in life.
This type of perspective shift is not easy, and many people often benefit from having anxiety counselling in order to help with this attitude change, as well as having a safe place to explore strategies for managing the symptoms. If you would like to find a qualified anxiety counsellor near you, call Capital Choice Counselling Group at 613-425-4257.