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Thanking Anxiety

The words anxiety, compassion, and loving kindness are often tossed around in the arena of Mindfulness and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  I thought I truly understood what they meant but I realized this week it was an understanding of the definitions of the words, not what they felt like to really experience.  My mind is a Western mind and one that often takes things very literally and experiences very logically.  In a meeting with my therapist we discussed the words and what they mean, however this time they meant something more to me.  I'm sure many things contributed to this new understanding but what stands out is the simplicity of his definitions.  Compassion: not wanting to suffer.  Loving Kindness: wishing to be happy.  The simple definition of anxiety: our response to something that seems like a threat.  

Over the last couple of years I've read a few books about ACT and Mindfulness.  I started practicing mindfulness on a regular basis last January.  Perhaps it's been my journey into mindfulness and a greater understanding of the principles of ACT that brought me to this moment of understanding.  I have long struggled with how to honestly accept anxiety.  Many psychologists, doctors, and authors talk about coming to terms, embracing, and accepting one's own anxiety; that by accepting vs. pushing anxiety away it becomes less threatening and more malleable.  I understand the concept and reasons why this is a good thing but truly accepting anxiety has been something that I hadn't been able to do.  

This brings me to the first time that I was honestly able to thank and accept my anxiety.  It began with a discussion that my therapist and I had about anxiety, compassion, and loving kindness.  My therapist said that compassion and loving kindness pervade literally everything we do in life.  To bring this home think about the reason you put your shoes on this morning before heading out the door; the reason that you wore a coat outside if it was cold; the reason that you drank a cup (or pot) of coffee.  We could discuss the various reasons why you did each of these things but at the very core of your desire and motivation was compassion and loving kindness.  You wore shoes outside so that your feet wouldn't hurt when walking on the cold or hot, rough terrain that you encountered throughout the day.  You put on a coat because you didn't want to be cold and then have to put up with the sensation of being cold and trying to figure out how to change it.  You had a cup of coffee because you like the taste of it, how it makes you feel after you drink it and probably because you don't like the feeling of being tired in the morning.  

So what does all of this have to do with anxiety?  I'll ask a rhetorical question why does anxiety exist?  Anxiety is our response to something that seems like a threat and it in it's most pure and honest sense anxiety is trying to help us so that we do not suffer.  Compassion is not wanting to suffer and that's what anxiety is trying to help us with.  There are many times when what seems like a threat isn't a real threat.  But even if it's not a real threat anxiety's intentions are sincere.  It may simply be that the threat no longer fits into the realities of the world that we live in or in my case, the false threats that ocd presents.    

We experience anxiety in our mind and in our body and it's sincere desire that we do not suffer creates unpleasant thoughts, emotions and, bodily sensations.  If the thoughts that anxiety provoked were pleasant and the bodily sensations were good ones how could anxiety possibly do it's job.  Instead of hating or disliking anxiety so much that you try to push it away remember what it's trying to help you with.  Offer it basic kindness instead of trying to push it away.  

"Thank you anxiety, I appreciate you.  You're always here making sure that I'm OK.  You are so loyal and I thank you for that.  I've got this one anxiety, but thank you for trying to help me."

This may often be easier said than done but it's your first step towards thanking anxiety.  

"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."
-Rainer Maria Rilke



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