Managing anxiety is a balancing act. It involves taking a step back and evaluating if your self-talk is realistic, while at the same time, also acknowledging that what you are feeling is very real.
Don't be too hard on yourself
If you feel anxious, you are human. Being human means being vulnerable, messy, intense, and even confusing. At times, our emotions may not make ‘logical’ sense to us. Emotions may seem to come out of nowhere, or feel really overwhelming or hard to deal with.
Remember, no one can ‘control’ their emotions. No one.
Emotions come in waves and move through us – they rise and fall. Sure, there are things we can do to help ride out these waves – like keeping a balanced perspective on things and using helpful coping strategies – but beating yourself up for something you can’t control doesn’t really make much sense. Though so many of us do.
Feeling bad about feeling bad
Not only do we sometimes experience difficult emotions like anxiety, panic, frustration, embarrassment etc… but then we also feel bad about how we are feeling: “What’s WRONG with me?”, “WHY am I feeling like this?”, “Just get it together and snap out of it!” This type of self-judgment can add another layer of suffering. It can feel like somehow we are failing, or that we are weak or defective.
It’s easy to forget it takes a lot of courage to face our difficult feelings head on and actually feel them.
Accepting what is
You’ve probably heard people talk about ‘acceptance’ as an important first step when trying to understand or change something. Acceptance does not mean that you ‘agree with’ everything that is happening to you or that you ‘like’ feeling difficult emotions. Acceptance means that you accept that you feel what you feel. You accept what IS happening, rather than trying to run away from it, fight it, deny it, or attempting to be someone that you are not.
It is also accepting that suffering is inevitable, and that occasional pain, anxiety, or frustration is not a sign that you are doing something wrong. No one can be happy all the time. It is impossible to get through life avoiding difficult emotions - and trying to pull off this impossible goal can actually create more suffering!
Ultimately, this means coming to accept that you will feel anxiety sometimes.
As you start to be more accepting of things, you may even begin to feel some compassion for yourself. This might be difficult at first, especially if you tend to be hard on yourself. Try to ease off a little bit and see yourself as just someone trying to deal with life challenges and get your needs met the best way you can. Everyone has bad days, makes mistakes, and acts in ways they regret. But, there is always tomorrow and another chance to try again.
When people are more accepting and compassionate towards their anxiety and other emotions, they feel a certain amount of relief. In fact, people who are more accepting and self-compassionate report feeling less depressed and anxious, and are generally happier. Many people also say they feel more connected to other people, and realize that we are all stumbling through life together.
In short, learning to be more accepting and compassionate with ourselves is an important step in coping better with anxiety.
- Can I be more gentle or compassionate with myself and what I’m experiencing? If not, what’s getting in my way?
- What am I afraid might happen if I stop beating myself up and start cutting myself some slack?
- Am I more understanding of people I care about and what they’re going through than I am with myself? If yes, why do I think this is?
- What are the costs and benefits of being so hard on myself?
If this idea of self-compassion is new to you, it may feel a bit strange. It may take some time to start thinking in new ways and being kinder to yourself. A good first step is just to simply notice how you talk to or treat yourself. Just be curious about it.
When you are experiencing difficult situations or emotions, you may want to develop some compassionate phrases to say to yourself like:
- I am doing the best I can.
- I am a work in progress and I am constantly learning and growing.
- Suffering is a part of life.
- This is really painful. But, everyone feels this way sometimes. It’s part of being human.
- Let me try to be as compassionate and understanding as I would be to someone else.
Try treating yourself with some compassion when you find yourself struggling. Take a hot shower or a bubble bath, put on some comfy clothes, treat yourself to your favorite food or drink, listen to some music, cuddle with a pet, hug someone, or even give yourself a little foot or shoulder massage.
If your compassion does not include yourself, then it is incomplete.