How Focus Transforms Anxiety – Part 1
Isn’t that part of the issue, that we get anxious when we CAN’T focus?
Aren’t Anxiety and Focus Opposites?
There are misconceptions about anxiety that we need to reconsider. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’re able to handle these distressing feelings when we clear up just one little aspect which is mostly tied up with your self-image.
When these feelings are present, do you think to yourself . . .
I’m an anxious person.
I can’t cope.
I’m just sick of myself.
Oh crap. Here I go again!!
There’s something wrong with me.
I’m an idiot!
The first thing I want you to recognize is that people who experience anxiety tend to be very intelligent.
It makes sense. Anxiety is learning from one situation and using clues from that experience to predict what might happen. Understanding the signals of potential danger is very useful. They help us avoid negative consequences and stay out of harms way.
So now you can add to your self assessment . . .
Because this kind of learning is automatic, it may seem like the anxious feelings are coming out of nowhere. Nothing happened. Why am I shaking?
When we don’t immediately recognize what triggered the feeling, we generalize and assume something bad about ourselves. I’m weird. I’m weak. I’m a wreck. I can’t handle anything. Nothing happened!!! Why am I so crazy?!
In fact, the opposite is true. Something did happen. Something did trigger your reaction and before you could catch the thought your body went into protective mode to empower you. Your source of energy has been activated so you can handle the need for fight or flight – to either take the threat on directly or get the hell out of there as soon as possible.
When you feel anxious the first thing to do is to be kind to yourself and remind yourself something real is happening. How large or small your response “should” be is not clear. But it is clear that there is something familiar that created distress in the past. It may not be the best time to figure out what the “trigger” was but when you’re feeling more relaxed you might want to revisit the situation. We’ll discuss that in another article.
While you’re in the throes of anxiety, in the moment, you may be having many different physical and emotional reactions. That’s normal. What you can do to take back a sense of control is to pay attention to the feelings; to focus on the sensations.
Observe yourself. Notice the feelings you’re experiencing with curiosity. What exactly are they? How might you describe them? Dimensionalize them. What specific sensations are there? Where exactly? Rather than fighting them, allow them to happen. Just notice them with interest, without trying to change them. As you give the sensations your attention without self-recrimination, as you focus without judgment they will begin to change.
Feeling anxious is different from being anxious. I know it seems like a trick of words, but calling yourself anxious is a statement of fact, as if it is a constant that’s always true. Feelings by definition are ever changing. If you wait long enough they will become something different.
Anxiety is a feeling that ebbs and flows, sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes not noticeable or there at all.
Ironically, labeling yourself as anxious actually creates feelings of anxiety.
Recognizing anxiety as one of many human feelings allows you to let it move. When it is free to flow, it starts to diminish. In contrast, when you try to stop it, to fight feeling it, you raise more of the hormones that create it in the first place and the intensity grows. It seems to get worse, more stubborn and aggressive, fueled by your wish to kill it.
I learned this trick of allowing the anxious feelings and sensations a number of years ago during a cranio-sacral treatment. It was during the time that my mother was close to death. I was on the therapy table when I felt a rush of anxiety fill me. I felt mortified. The therapist knew me as a competent psychologist. He noticed that I was tensing my shoulders and neck. I told him that I was feeling anxious AND embarrassed. He suggested that instead of trying to contain the feelings I just observe without judgment or trying to change the experience in any way. At first, I felt uncomfortable and a little frightened that I would display more of my “nerves” in front of him. But then, I followed directions and focused on the feelings, the jitteriness, my rapid breathing.
I just focused.
As I did, he reminded me that all feelings are temporary. Even if they last longer or shorter they are temporary.
And as I allowed the shaking and the scare to be present, over a little time the sensations and emotions diminished and then disappeared.
Anxiety can only make you feel out of control when you fight it. When you give yourself permission to be human it naturally shifts. Letting the feelings express themselves moves the energy. You WILL notice a difference, and if you practice giving yourself permission often enough, you will feel less anxious more often.
In the next article we’ll talk about another interesting refocusing exercise.
I’m rooting for you!