I can't count the number of times I've heard people with anxiety say that if someone tells them to "just breathe" or "push through it" when they are in the middle of an anxiety attack, they will scream. And it's true, few people get what it's like to have persistent anxiety and how much it affects a person's life.
But the battle is not just with others. One of the first things I address when someone suffering with anxiety comes into my office is identifying steps to take better care of herself. People with anxiety often function at a very fast pace. There isn't space and time for slowing down, which means vital processes like eating, sleeping, and (yes) breathing, suffer. Make sure you are eating regularly, getting enough sleep, moving and stretching your body, listening to your intuition, and not taking on the burden of others' problems: these are all essential tools in learning to manage and even overcome anxiety. Yet true caretaking begins with a process even more fundamental. Sometimes the first step is simply learning to accept your anxiety.
Anxiety sucks. There's no question. Nobody wants anxiety; nobody wants to accept it when it arrives, uninvited on your doorstep at 11 am minutes before an important work meeting, or a plan to get tea with a friend while the kids are in school. But if you refuse the anxiety, you're also refusing your true experience in the moment, and in a way, refusing yourself. This makes for a fragmented experience of being, which only exacerbates the problem.
What if instead of pushing the anxiety away, you walked right up to it and embraced it? What if you said to yourself: In this moment, I have anxiety. I don't like it, but I accept it. It's here and I will make space for it, and make space in my day to deal with it. Because I am suffering like this, I will take really good care of myself. I wonder what it is I need right now?
Meg Tinsley is a Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in working with women who struggle with anxiety issues. Her offices are located in Petaluma, CA. For personalized support with your own or a loved one's anxiety, please call (707) 776-6494 for a phone consultation. Meg offers sessions in person in Petaluma, or by phone for those who live in California.