This month in Well of Being we are focusing on the impact of anxiety and how to move beyond its control. Anxiety is an emotion that many of us will avoid at any cost. It creates difficult emotional and physical responses within us, so it is understandable we don’t think favourably of anxiety!
What if we could experience and relate to anxiety a little differently?
Imagine in your garden you have a wide variety of plants. Some plants produce some beautiful flowers through the year, others have magnificent foliage, there are trees, shrubs, delicate flowers, thorny roses, herbs, and what you may consider to be weeds, all growing together. All belong in the garden, and all have a place and a purpose.
You may not like all of the flowers and trees, and you may feel frustrated that they don’t grow quickly enough, or they grow too quickly. The flowers may bloom and die in a day or two or they may share their colour for weeks.
Imagine if you stepped into the garden as if for the first time. You had never seen such plants before, and you had no preconceived ideas about how they should be. You just stepped in and experienced everything in the moment. And as you set about tending to all of the plants, you saw them all as worthy of your time, your patience, and your curiosity. Each and every plant had its place in the garden.
The plants represent the wealth of experiences we have. Of course, we have come to prefer some experiences over others – we are, of course, human – but what if each of our experiences is worthy of our time, understanding and compassion. Even anxiety.
I’m sure for many, we would turn away from or try to banish anxiety from our garden because it is uncomfortable to experience, just as we may try to pull out every weed or remove every plant we don’t like. This would take a lot of time and attention and would mean we have much less time to give to helping the entire garden thrive. We would have less energy left to focus on and grow the plants that serve us because we are so tired from constantly guarding against the plants we don’t want.
Similarly, allowing anxiety to be present in our garden of emotions, embracing it without judgement or resistance allows us to drop our struggle with it. We can acknowledge its presence and allow it to be there. This acceptance doesn’t mean we have to like it or resign ourselves to live in the discomfort of it, rather we are creating more space for the experience while choosing to focus on what is important and what will make our life richer and more meaningful. By accepting the presence of anxiety, we are stepping away from the cycle of trying to control which in turn allows us the freedom to live a fulfilling life with it present. We are accepting of the less desirable plants in order to focus our time and attention on the entirety of the garden.
Whether you have a garden, a window box, or a plant pot on the windowsill, I hope you can place your attention upon accepting, growth, and nurturing, even when life feels challenging.
With August love. Sarah
1: Why do I feel so anxious?
Anxiety is a natural response to help us deal with and survive threats. Anxiety is a part of human experience, alerting us to potential dangers. Sometimes anxiety can feel like it takes over everything. When it becomes excessive or controls our lives, learning to accept and manage anxiety can be helpful.
If you would like to learn and understand more about managing anxiety differently, Well of Being offers a short course
2: Can I get rid of anxiety completely?
The goal, in ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), is not to eliminate anxiety, rather to change our relationship with it. Trying to get rid of anxiety often leads to more struggle. Acceptance, or opening up to the presence of anxiety without trying to suppress or control it, allows us to focus our attention on meaningful actions.
3: How can I stop anxious thoughts from taking over?
Instead of trying to stop or change anxious thoughts, ACT encourages opening up to our thoughts and making space for them. The key is to notice these thoughts without getting caught up in or being controlled by them. Imagine them as clouds passing across the sky, acknowledging them and letting them pass by. Over time, this approach can lessen the grasp of anxious thoughts.
4: If I accept anxiety I’m giving in and giving up surely?
Not at all. Accepting anxiety is about acknowledging its presence and choosing to move forward despite it. Acceptance empowers us to make choices based on what is important to us in our lives, rather than being controlled by fear.
5: I’m afraid to face situations which trigger anxiety for me.
ACT introduces the concept of “committed action.” The commitment part of ACT encourages us to set goals which take us towards what is important to us in life, even with anxiety present. Instead of waiting for anxiety to disappear, we learn to live beside it and take actions aligned with our deeper hopes and goals.
6: If I accept anxiety will it make it worse?
You may be surprised to know that struggling against anxiety often magnifies it. As you you learn to open up to anxiety, you will come to observe and experience it without adding extra layers of fear and worry. Over time, this can reduce the intensity of anxious feelings.
7: How does acceptance lead to change?
As we acknowledge and accept our current experiences, this acceptance frees up mental energy that we would have used to struggle with anxiety, so that it can be directed toward/ setting goals to help you move towards changing and/or achieving what is important to you in life.
8: How long will it take for this approach to make a difference?
Change varies and is unique to each individual. Practicing acceptance is a gradual process which takes time and consistency, but even small steps can lead to real changes in how you relate to anxiety
9: Will I ever find peace while experiencing anxiety?
Yes! Peace doesn’t require an absence of anxiety; it is about finding calm even when anxiety is present. As you learn to focus your attention on what is important rather than on fighting the anxiety, you will cultivate a sense of peace as anxiety has less and less control over you.