Identifying with anxiety

Ok. It’s official. I’m in love with Headspace.

There are a bunch of really wonderful things about it, but there are two that really help me address the two biggest issues I have with anxiety.

First, Andy, the founder of Headspace, is clearly a conscientious person who understands how anxiety works. In the anxiety pack of meditations, he often speaks about the fact that if you’re a person who experiences anxiety or worry a lot, you’ll worry about if you’re meditating correctly and if it’s going to work. That dude just fucking gets it. And honestly, that’s a huge part of what keeps me coming back to Headspace: I don’t feel alone. I feel like someone has empathy for my experience and truly understands what happens in my brain on a daily basis. I have that in other parts of my life, too, but there’s something about Andy’s understanding of the way an anxiety-prone brain works that is such a wonderful, supportive addition to the work.

The second thing – and this is really key – is that it give me regular opportunities to practice the things I’ve been trying to work on: making space for my anxiety, accepting it. Being able to practice that for a few minutes each day and cultivate that skill helps me to feel more confident about my ability to do that the next time I have a bad day. That is so awesome.

In the session a few days ago, Andy said something that really stuck with me: part of the work of accepting anxiety and changing the relationship we have with anxiety is that we need to stop identifying with it. Because it really is about changing the relationship, and to do that, I need to think about it differently all the time, not just on bad days. And the best way to do that is to stop identifying with it. It’s the difference between saying “my anxiety” and “the anxiety I feel”. Or “I’m an anxious person” and “I’m a person who experiences anxiety”. It seems like such a tiny difference, but it’s actually huge. When we identify with the anxiety, we make ourselves a little bit helpless. We start to see ourselves and the anxiety as intrinsically, intimately tied together, as if our anxiety is an extension of our personality. Because of that, we put more weight on our experiences with anxiety and how we cope with it, and we personalize it. Because if Alexis = an anxious person and anxiety = a negative experience/emotion, then Alexis = a negative, a flaw.

That is dead. fucking. wrong.

That kind of thinking creates tension, which leads to more anxiety(also, I am not a negative. I am awesome, damnit). The goal is to be able to think of anxiety the same way you would think of a stranger walking by or an announcement on the subway: you notice, you acknowledge, and you move on. You want to be able to experience anxiety as something separate from yourself; you want to be able to view it from a distance instead of being caught up in it. Andy usually talks about it as the difference between being out in the middle of a storm and watching the storm through a window. And he’s absolutely right. I would so much rather be watching the rain from my couch than getting soaking wet because my $5 street umbrella has broken in the wind.

All of this is really difficult and requires practice. And to be honest, after a year and a half of therapy, reading every highly respected anxiety/panic related book I can find, yoga, and 2 months of consistent meditation, I’m only now starting to feel a small shift. And I’m honestly convinced that it’s the meditation and yoga that pulled it all together for me, because, as I tell my students all the time: you have to practice the skill. You can’t expect to be perfect at it the first time and you can’t expect that suddenly you’ll be able to do it when you really need to. You need to practice it consistently so that those skills become automatic, a habit; that way, when you really need them, you won’t have to think about it so much. They’ll be there. And because you’ve practiced them, you’ll be confident in your ability to use them when it matters most.

So, I’m going to go practice.

3 thoughts on “Identifying with anxiety

  1. Pingback: Getting out from under | terrible horrible no good

  2. Pingback: It’s only fear – it's only fear

  3. Pingback: Finding a vocabulary for anxiety | it's only fear

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