First Article published on TinyBuddha.com!
“Anxiety happens when you try to think what you need to feel.” ~Unknown
Anxiety results from unfelt feelings. I battled anxiety for years because I was scared to admit that I was scared. When I felt a wave of anxiety, I would harden myself like a concrete pillar and refuse to be moved. I thought this made me strong, but it halted my emotional progress.
I didn’t have anxiety until my last major breakup four years ago. I refused to consider myself weak, so I hid the pain in the back of my mind like skeletons in a closest.
When I ignored the skeletons knocking on my door, they turned into ghosts. And when the ghosts howled in the night, I’d pretend it was the wind through the trees. I had many clever responses to anxiety, but I always remained unchanged and unmoved.
But when Michelle entered my life, all of the invisible forces I had battled turned into a human being. And I began to love her.
Michelle was too beautiful to hide from and too sweet to rationally be afraid of. She was also the first woman I had gotten to know well since my last big breakup.
We played volleyball together, we hiked, and we went out with friends. She loved how I challenged her to think for herself, and I loved the opportunity to practice what I preach. We spent a ton of time together.
Before I knew it, Michelle became dear to me. She even helped me overcome my anxiety.
Last night Michelle and I expressed strong feelings about our growing friendship. It was extremely vulnerable for me because I had spent the last four years single and focusing on the relationship with myself. But it was something I’d secretly hoped for.
When I relaxed into bed after our three-hour conversation, I felt that dreaded wall of anxiety. Every emotion surrounding my failed relationships hit me like a ton of bricks, and suddenly I had fear about falling in love with my friend.
My first thoughts were “Oh s*&$! Why am I feeling like this?!”
I bolted upright and wanted to run. I wanted to do anything but acknowledge my feelings. But I realized that I couldn’t be afraid of this sweet girl, and I couldn’t regret being close with her.
So I did something different.
I sat with my feelings and identified them. I was scared. And instead of becoming consumed by anxiety, I repeated aloud that I was scared, almost like a mantra.
And I wept.
I wept for fifteen minutes and transformed that wave of anxiety into a fully felt feeling.
As I cried, I felt okay to be scared. I thought of the way my other relationships ended, and how hard I have worked to build lasting love. I allowed myself to experience the grief of former heartaches, and the uncertainty of new love.
In the tears I felt an active transformation. I was healed through my emotions.
Instead of giving into fear, I felt grateful for the opportunity to put into practice all the things I had learned about relationships. And I felt confident in being able to make mistakes on the road to unconditional love. Acknowledging and experiencing my true emotions made all the difference.
I used anxiety to heal myself.
If you’ve battled anxiety, there may be important emotions you haven’t allowed yourself to feel. Here are five tips to help you heal.
1. Identify the feeling of anxiety.
Anxiety is a powerful signal feeling for deeper and more specific feelings such as anger, sadness, jealousy, and embarrassment. Identifying the feeling is the first step to letting it go. Brain scans actually show that verbalizing negative emotions calms the brain’s emotion center and helps us release those feelings.
So, as I did, ask yourself, “Why am I feeling like this? What’s really bothering me?”
2. Stand your ground.
The feeling of anxiety can make you want to run away mentally and physically. I shot straight up in my bed and was prepared to get up and move, but then I made the important decision to sit with the feeling.
I repeated the question “Why am I feeling like this?” until I had a concrete answer. I was really, really scared. And when I recognized the cause of anxiety, I felt empowered to sit with the feeling—to stand my ground.
You can too.
3. Repeat your feelings.
Aloud, preferably. Hearing your own voice declaring the reality of your emotions is empowering like nothing else. Since anxiety feeds on silence and the unknown, declare your feelings aloud to dissolve it.
This step will give you the courage to be vulnerable, and to fully experience the emotion that needs to be felt.
4. Hold yourself.
Since being vulnerable takes so much courage, you need all the encouragement you can get. Holding yourself is the best way to show that you’re in it for the long haul—that you’ll be by your side no matter what. It will give you the strength to fully open up to your emotional experience.
Retreat to a quiet space and hold yourself. Rock yourself. Tap your chest gently and repeat your feelings aloud.
5. Let the emotion flow through your body.
After all these steps you’ll be ready to experience and release the emotions that weighed on your spirit.
Repressed emotions are actually toxic to your body. And when you leave them inside, they stagnate and promote sickness of your entire being. So let the emotions flow.
Emotion comes from the Latin root “Emovere,” which means to move through.
You may feel your stomach clench and your chest heave. This is your body finally processing unfelt feelings and moving them outside through your tears. Allow the physical process to take course. Assist it. And feel gratitude wash over you along with the tears.
In many cases, simply feeling your feelings is enough to let them go. Other times, your emotions may point you toward an unmet need. For example, if you recognize anger underneath your anxiety, you may need to set firmer boundaries. In this way, anxiety can be a gift, since it helps you recognize what you need to do to take good care of yourself.
The feeling of anxiety, once confronted with courage, helps you to reconnect with feelings that need to be felt. By standing your ground and experiencing your root emotions, anxiety will help you grow into the courageous and balanced person you were born to be.
Feel the pain. Feel the sorrow. Feel the grief. Whatever feeling it is, let yourself move through it and learn from it so you can let it go.