All of us anxious people have our own special, horrible “flavor” of anxiety, like the worst wine in the world.
My usual anxiety has a primary flavor of overwhelm, with strong notes of powerlessness and an underlying base note of terror and despair. Maybe yours is all about tension, or futility, or fear of criticism. See if you can describe yours. However it shows up, I’m sure it tastes awful.
The good news is that when we take the right steps, we don’t just get freedom from anxiety, we get its opposite. Instead of feeling like the center point of a disaster, we tap a source of calm, peace, and joy from the core of our consciousness.
All for One and One for All
This kind of healing happens when we deliberately choose to use tools that shift the brain away from fear and into creativity.
My belief is that we can’t just erase anxiety and leave a blank slate; to make our relief permanent we have to replace anxiety with creativity, so the brain is working in a way that doesn’t allow us to fall into anxiety ruts.
The part of the brain that reacts to unfamiliar things with curiosity triggers another part whose job is to connect. If we shrink away in fear, we move into anxiety-brain. When we consider things with curious attention, we’re more likely to activate connection.
For example, if your toddler (or spouse, or friend) has a tantrum, it’s easy to get anxious, back away, and defend ourselves. But if we can stay put, breathe deeply, and genuinely try to figure out why they’re feeling miserable, we move into the “calm connector” part of our brains.
At this point, anxiety often disappears, and we’re present with our unhappy loved one as compassionate, interested witnesses. We connect.
You can try this with parts of yourself, as well. If part of us feels upset, we can either become worried about our own discontent, or regard it with kindness and curiosity. We can literally say to our anxious selves: “Hey, I’m here for you. What’s going on, honey?”
Even if you have to fake this, it’s worth trying. The results can be amazing. As you move out of identifying with anxiety and reach out to connect, you activate a part of your brain that can take you into the opposite of your anxiety.
Your “Flavor” of Joy
Try this: Write down the words you’ve used to describe your anxiety. Then write down the opposite of each word. Make two lists.
Here are the lists I made after describing my own anxiety:
Martha’s Own Special Anxiety Flavor
My Anxiety’s Opposite
What comes up for you when you write your list of anxiety opposites? Your list probably isn’t identical to mine or anyone else’s, but I’m sure it’s delicious.
Find out what it is, and know that this feeling is waiting for you when you learn to guide yourself into curiosity and connection, rather than shrinking away from what scares you.
Use Your Anxiety As Raw Material for Happiness
These days, with anxiety at an all-time high, most of us have plenty of our own yucky, bitter fear in easy reach. Instead of recoiling from your own unease, use it. Like every negative emotion, it is the raw material for its opposite.
So find some anxiety, describe its “flavor,” and then move into curiosity and connection.
Carefully observe the anxious part of yourself. Imagine it as a child, or an animal—something you want to understand. Ask it questions. Offer it kind wishes: “You’ll be okay.” “Everything’s fine right now.” “Just be here with me.” “You can handle this.”
As you spark the curiosity and connection that are designed to help you move through the world, you’ll find your anxiety shrinking. Repeat this exercise often, and little by little, your own horrid brew of anxiety will lighten, lessen, and then give way to connection and creativity.
You’ll have all the ingredients you need for the most delicious life you can imagine.
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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