I’d like to offer you an invitation: for the next few minutes—maybe the time it takes you to read this—take a break from your anxiety. Just block it out and be here now.
If you managed that, congratulations! You already have some sort of internal strategy for detaching from anxiety. You’re part of an anxious but lucky minority.
If you belong to the majority of people with anxiety, you’re probably not feeling any calmer just because I suggested it. You’re probably chewing your fingernails and shaking with adrenaline while thinking, “Oh, ‘just block it out,’ you say? Must be nice!”
As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the anxious part of you doesn’t usually respond to your conscious decisions. It’s centered in an ancient, powerful part of your brain I call your “creature self.” When it gets nervous, all the insistence or resolve in the world won’t turn off the flood of anxiety.
However, there are ways of managing your creature-self so that you can step out of anxiety and find a place of peace.
A Quick Trip From Anxiety to Peace
One way to go about calming your creature self is what I’ve called “Kind Internal Self Talk,” or KIST. Try it right now. Find any part of yourself that’s feeling anxious. Imagine it as a scared child or animal.
Begin breathing deeply and slowly while thinking reassuring thoughts, directed at your scared creature: “You’re okay,” “Everything is all right,” “I’ve got you,” “We’ll be fine.” Remember to speak to it as if it’s another being, not yourself.
Once you’ve learned the KIST procedure, you’re ready for the next step.
Separating from Your Creature
However you’ve pictured your anxious self—as a child, an animal, or whatever—close your eyes and imagine that you’re sitting in a chair, and this creature is sitting in another chair facing yours.
Keep offering kind wishes.
Watch to see how the creature reacts. If you keep up KIST for several minutes, the creature will tend to lose its anxious edge and begin to relax, if only by going slightly limp.
When you see the creature shift its energy to something a little less anxious, imagine that you have a remote control that allows you to put the creature on “Pause.” It is now frozen in its chair, waiting to “play” again.
With your creature sitting in front of you, gently turn your attention to the part of you that has been offering the kind internal self talk. Feel this being—the one who can comfort and reassure. Notice that this, too, is a part of you.
Your Superpower Self
In a branch of counseling called Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), therapists encourage patients to locate this comforting part of their personalities. According to IFS founder Richard Schwartz, everyone has the core ability to access compassion and calm. In fact, while we all have many psychological parts, this part is the core of the self. Schwartz calls it Self with a capital S.
Once you are grounded in your Self, you can recenter yourself and find wisdom in any circumstance. While your creature self is on “pause,” explore the sensation of being this confident, compassionate being.
Imagine pressing “Play” and letting the anxious creature move around, fret, pull out its own feathers, or whatever—while staying centered in the calm, observing Self. This may take some practice, but it pulls your identity out of anxiety and gives you a healthy place to stand.
The Integrated You
As you practice becoming your Self, you’ll have easier and easier access to it even when you’re not in ideal situations. Start by taking a few minutes to yourself, shifting out of anxiety and into Self. Then begin doing it while driving, riding the subway, shopping for groceries.
The more you learn to shift your identity into your core Self, the calmer you’ll be in every situation. Soon, you’ll be able to calm down even when you’re dealing with something stressful. Like life.
Now that you’ve finished reading, you can let your anxious creature out to fret. Or you may choose to stay in Self, watching your creature, offering it constant kindness, and moving into a calmer, happier life.
Explore Martha’s course, The Art of Calm: Tools for Finding Peace in an Anxious World.
Discover additional articles, videos, podcast episodes, and mini-books in Martha’s series on anxiety on The Art of Calm Hub.
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AT 5:23 PM