By Batya Ross, MFTi
We experience the world through internal responses. These responses are not communicated with words. Chemicals get triggered and we feel emotions. It can seem like our feelings are playing a game of charades with our conscious mind. Sometimes these messages are easily understood. For example, it would make sense that a finger would throb with pain if it was just hit with a hammer.
But what happens when the feelings aren’t clear and are more intense? How do we understand what our bodies are sharing with us? I have prepared three tools to keep in mind when trying to decipher the messages of anxiety.
1. The anxiety is not you. People can easily get confused and assume that a feeling that has been with them for a long time is an extension of who they are. Just like an app isn’t a phone, rather a program that the phone can run, so too are your feelings. This program is merely a function not a definition of the system itself. Feelings are something your being creates, not is.
2. Anxiety is trying to protect you. Let’s say Pat had a bad experience on a bus and then every subsequent time he got close to one, fear came trickling in. This fear lead Pat to avoid busses all together and it succeeded in lowering his anxiety level. But as time went on this got in the way of Pat’s flow of life. Now the anxiety that was adapted to protect Pat was also getting in his way. Somewhere along the line anxiety stopped working for him even though it’s original purpose was to protect. His internal system was doing the best it could with the tools is had. It is easy to focus on the things that need to change and miss the ways that we are doing the best we can.
3. You don’t have to do this alone. Imagine a large field of grass. If you walked the same way each time you crossed the field, then the grass would be flattened in that area and a path would emerge. It could appear that this path was the only option for getting across the field. The first time you would walk on another area of the field, it might feel uncomfortable. The grass may scratch your legs and it would be hard to see where you’re stepping. However, the more you would walk that way, another path would be visible. If you walked the new path with someone else then you’d have another pair of eyes to navigate, another pair of feet to push down the grass, and a listener who would hear your concerns. Getting support and starting therapy can assist your process. You don’t have to do this alone.