A question that changed how I think about anxiety

For many years I lived in a fog of constant, low-level anxiety. No matter where I looked there seemed to be things to worry about. In fact, there weren’t enough hours in the day to fit them all in, so I’d often wake up to think about them at night too. 

One day, when things were particularly grim, a friend asked me this question:

“Are you anxious about something – or are you simply anxious?”

At first I was indignant. Of course I was anxious about something. How could anyone suggest otherwise?

But the more I sat with the question, the more I realised there was something there. 

On paying close attention, I noticed that I often seemed to be looking for something outside of myself to worry about, to justify the way I already felt on the inside. The anxiety didn’t appear as a result of what was happening to me: it was there first.

Realising that opened up new possibilities for response. 

I discovered that my default strategy of rushing around trying to fix all the external things that were bothering me was actually counterproductive. I might find momentary relief, but then I’d simply discover something else to worry about. 

What did seem to help was noticing and naming what I felt and then being as kind to myself as I possibly could. I didn’t find that easy, but discovered that treating myself as if I was a bit poorly helped. (I suspect I’m not alone in finding it easier to access self-compassion around discomfort of the physical rather than the psychological kind.)

That switch from an external, fixing-orientated focus to an internal, nurturing one made a big difference to me – so I wanted to share in case it’s of interest to you too.

And it got me wondering – what do you find helpful when you feel anxious?

If you feeling like writing, I’d love to hear…