Dear friend, it’s hard to admit that anxiety is a struggle for you, isn’t it? Your experience of life has been tense and fraught for so long that it seems normal. You want to feel less anxious, but it seems like an impossible dream.
I get it, I really do.
I started twirling my hair compulsively when I was in kindergarten. At school there were so many things to learn, so many people to please. When all of that felt hard to handle, I’d wrap strands of my brown hair around my fingers.
I’d twirl my hair up tight and then let it go, over and over. In fact, I self-soothed this way so much that I actually learned to write left-handed. (Since I was born right-handed, I twirled with my right hand and picked up pencils with my left.)
Your Anxiety Drives Me Bananas
Fast forward two decades and I was still writing left-handed and twirling my hair, both literally and metaphorically.
So yes, I know what it’s like to be anxious, to move through the world with an impossibly long list of expectations scrolling like a ticker-tape through your brain.
Since you can’t stop striving all day, you’re exhausted at night. But when you lie down, the fearful energy coursing through you makes it hard to fall asleep.
Or maybe you don’t think that you deal with anxiety; it’s just that you can’t stand being around anxious people. But it’s them, not you! Right?
Back when I worked as a special needs caregiver and administrator, I had trouble feeling calm around adults with disabilities who displayed high anxiety.
Grumpy and glowering and even yelling I could handle, but repetitive questions, anxious tics, and approval-seeking? Those behaviors drove me bananas.
Sure, I’d try to hide how I felt. I’d take deep breaths and do my utmost to be patient. But it always felt forced.
The Day I Looked into the Mirror
One day, a man named Paul (not his real name) asked for help packing his lunch, and I agreed. It was a typical daily task, but his anxiety was off the charts.
Paul asked for approval about everything from lining up the slices of bread on his sandwich to choosing an apple. He said, “Am I doing okay?” at least a half-dozen times.
Though I tried to reassure him, my words didn’t seem to register. His eyes were unfocused, almost glazed with panic. By the time we stowed his lunch in the fridge, I was ready to pull my hair out.
Later on I asked myself, Why is it so difficult for me to love Paul? Why do I feel so angry after spending time with him?
Then it dawned on me: I was looking into a mirror.
Constantly asking for approval and reassurance? Hyper-aware of other’s people expectations? Super-fearful of failing? Check, check, check.
Little Kids in Disguise
In order for me to learn how to deal with so-called “difficult” people like Paul, I needed to learn to accept and love the anxious girl within myself.
Little kids just want to feel loved and safe … and grown-ups are just little kids in disguise.
Healing from anxiety as an adult meant reconnecting with the hair-twirling little girl I used to be.
Feel Less Anxious for Real
The more you run from your anxiety, the bigger it becomes. Resistance makes the problem worse. The first step is surrender to how you’re feeling. It’s saying, Oh, hello anxiety, my old friend instead of slamming the door in its face.
(It’s also helpful to strengthen your energetic boundaries so that you don’t inadvertently “take on” other people’s anxiety.)
Concurrently, learn about the true nature of anxiety. Once you understand that anxiety is about resisting feelings such as fear and anger, anxiety loses some of its fearsome power. If you’re willing to feel any feeling, you’ll experience less anxiety.
Anxiety arises when we’re afraid to feel our hurts. As such, the recovery process involves learning to trust ourselves to feel all of our feelings.
One great way to start building trust in yourself is to work with your inner child, the little girl or guy within you who is so scared of not measuring up.
Reconnecting with Your Inner Child
To reconnect with your inner child, take out a picture of yourself at age five or so – right when you started embracing the role of good girl perfectionist. Hold it in your hands. Notice that she doesn’t deserve your judgment, only your love.
Talk with her, yes, but mostly listen.
Use techniques such as opposite-hand writing to ask her how she feels, what’s important to her, and what makes her feel safe. (Shaming the child only hurts our world, but listening to the child helps to heal it.)
When she speaks to you about her needs, heed them as any loving parent would. Take care of her well being in simple, humble ways: a nap, a soft blanket, a hug, a story that has a happy ending.
Want to feel less anxious today? Take ten minutes to listen to the younger version of you. Offer that anxious girl a safe place to land. Be the voice of reassurance that she has always wanted.
Give, so that you can finally receive.
Do you want to feel less anxious? What helps you to feel calm? Join the conversation in the comments below!
PS – Ready to change the thoughts that keep you stuck and stressed? Join me and Brooke Adams Law for Protect Your Energy: Stop Draining and Start Living, a four-week online course starting Monday, July 10.
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