Anxiety is a tool each human being has been given. It is an instinctual energy that we use to guide us, to keep us safe, and help us make decisions that are for our best interest in our lives. When I begin to tell my new clients this information, they usually gasp in disbelief and resist this concept at first. It is the "disordered anxiety" also known in the mental health field, as an anxiety disorder, that causes us excess distress and trouble. The key to managing anxiety, along with many learned tools in therapy, is to switch gears. Turn the problem inside out, and learn to work with your instinctual anxiety and not against it. We call this in my office, turn yourself inside out, and outside in...Changing the internal belief system that this chronic stress is a threat itself.
Today I am noting ten years since I found my way in terms of treating my own stressful patterns and anxiety differently. I use the nerves, stress, and internal guidance for my greater good. As a small child, I remember being fearful of most everything, bugs, tornadoes, and especially wolfs, (not sure where that came from) but it was a huge fear!
In my 20's and 30's, I worked hard to rid myself of my anxiety, denying it's power, it seemed to overtake me at times. Then the shift happened, around the time I was studying psychology, and clinical counseling, through Cognitive Behavioral Practice, and Mindfulness, I learned that shifting and listening to myself instead of telling myself there was something wrong with the way I was feeling, I felt relief almost immediately. It is a practice, not a one time fix, to accept and listen the fears we experience as human beings. It is okay to be nervous, scared sometimes, and have anxiety around certain things. Humans are born with this instinct, to keep us safe. I tell my clients, anxiety is one of the most adaptable traits, and we are now going to practice learning how to love every part of you, and take care of every part of you, even the anxious part of you! When we listen, with mindfulness, and self compassion, to ourselves and value our needs and emotions, it takes our anxiety from a disordered level, to a manageable level. We learn to set boundaries with unhealthy behaviors and relationships, make self care a priority, and practice self compassion when we are feeling overwhelmed.
I typically will use animals as a reference to this model of anxiety and mindfulness for stress reduction. The eagle is my favorite animal to use, so beautiful, wise, and protective. The eagle does not apologize for its nerves, it owns the energy, and soars high above the ground honoring the safety of their nest and their young. There is nothing wrong with instinctual anxiety, it is our gift to honor and to take care of. With the assistance of a trained counselor, disordered anxiety can be treated and shifting into a life of mindful, intentional living.
Jaclyn Fortier, LCMHCS