Anxiety as a Friend

A frequent first response for dealing with anxiety is to try to get rid of it.  This resistance, however, will often lead to someone simply being anxious about being anxious. What if rather than trying to immediately eliminate our anxiety, we were to first look at anxiety as a messenger, prodding us to look at something that needs our attention? 

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard explained anxiety as a natural condition: “a cognitive emotion that reveals truths that we would prefer to hide, but that we need for our greater health.” 

Confirming this idea, clinical psychologist Dr. Leslie Carr defines anxiety as “ thoughts and feelings that we are not paying attention to, refusing to be ignored.” She points out that the best explanation she has ever heard of for a panic attack is that it is a “ton of suppressed feelings rising to the surface of our experience, simultaneously and in full force.” 

What are the first steps to treating anxiety as a friend?

When we are struggling with anxiety, it can be helpful to at first simply admit to and then accept the fact that we are anxious. In some cases, this is all we can do, for example when facing a dental procedure or another uncomfortable situation. This acceptance alone will often decrease the anxiety a bit.

But during times that we cannot pinpoint the reason for our anxiety, the next step would be to ask what the anxiety is trying to point out. This can be difficult, especially if we are at all avoiding the issue needing to be addressed.

Questions to approach anxiety

Here are some things to consider when experiencing anxiety or panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere:

  • Am I procrastinating or outright avoiding some action I should be taking? Have I been avoiding this for a long period of time?
  • Am I ignoring my feelings? Have I made this a habit?
  • Am I taking on more than I am able to handle? Again, has this become a habit?
  • Am I resisting a needed confrontation or refusing to see my part in a conflict?

Anxiety doesn’t need to be the enemy

These are only a few possibilities, but the main idea is to ask ourselves what we are resisting. As the old saying goes, “What we resist, persists.” Once we are able to spot the source of our anxiety, it then becomes possible to address it.

Anxiety does not arrive with the solution to the problem though. It is only there to direct our focus to the problem, such as when pain lets you know that you have overexerted or when a headache is pointing out that you have gone too long without eating. The rest is up to us.

So, what is your anxiety trying to tell you?