By Lexy Ulrich, LCPC
“The more you oppose your thoughts and emotions, the more you will have them.” – David Carbonell
Anxiety can be seemingly powerful and demanding of your full attention. When you feel it creeping in, you actually have two choices about how to approach it.
You can deny that feeling for the moment, and distract yourself until you feel as though it’s left the building. But the trouble is, your anxiety won’t be satisfied. It may as well whisper to you that famous line from The Terminator, “I’ll be back,” and sure enough, it’ll reappear, never at the right time. It might be there in the grocery aisle, or waiting for you as you walk into a big meeting, or right there when you lie down for sleep. When you push anxiety away, it always pushes back.
So here’s your other option. Invite your anxiety right in. Open the door and give it a warm welcome, like a guest over for dinner.
When I share this concept in therapy sessions, I’m often met with a raised eyebrow, my client clearly wondering what is going on and hoping they heard me incorrectly. It’s hard for people to imagine why they should invite their least favorite guest to the party.
For the record, you’re more than welcome to not invite people to a party. We’ll discuss that later, when we talk about boundaries. But since anxiety doesn’t respond well to boundaries, if you close the door, it will come in through the window.
So I want you to try this. Stand right by the door and open it kindly when anxiety comes by for a visit. Like any intrusive person you know, it will probably be unpleasant and stay too long. But the trick with anxiety is to welcome it in when it comes rather than fight it, and eventually the visits will be more manageable. You might even learn something from them. Most of the time, all you have to do is stop and observe the anxiety and make yourself as comfortable as possible. While its trying to tell you all its scary ideas, you can nod your head politely until it’s done, and keep on with your day.
Eventually you’ll find that these visits will be less intrusive. You’ll find yourself saying, “There’s anxiety again. I see you, and I’ll just ride this out until you’re done,” like you might do with some boring relative. Before you know it, the visits will drop down in frequency and you find that through acceptance of anxiety’s presence, it has way less power over you.
So here’s the point: if you want to beat your anxiety, start by letting it in.
(PS—Sometimes you may need extra help to learn how to talk to your anxiety and grow more comfortable letting it in. If that’s you, we hope you will call us and let us help you make anxiety a welcomed guest.)