Make Anxiety Your Friend - Not Your Enemy

Racing heart, pounding in ears, nausea, stomach cramps, difficulty breathing, dizziness, blurry or spotty vision, thoughts of dying or going crazy, dry mouth, sweat, and numbness in the face, feet, and arms. Do these symptoms sound familiar? If so, you have met our friend anxiety. All of us have experienced anxiety at different times in our lives. Whether we felt our dry tongue and lips sticking together when giving a presentation in class. Or the butterfly-like feeling taking over our stomach when going on a first date. Or that dreaded job interview, where our bodies were so anxious that we could not feel much besides the drops of sweat evacuating our armpits and back. Yuck….Why would anyone call anxiety their friend?

Anxiety protects us from danger. When we are in a dangerous environment or at least perceive something as a dangerous situation, our bodies trigger the fight-flight-or-freeze response. This response starts a chain reaction of physiological changes all over the body which are intended to prepare you to either flee, confront, or stay still as you face the threat.  A question we may ask: “Why would I get nervous when on a date with someone I like? He or she is not dangerous or scary…is my body confused?” Well interestingly, even threats to emotional well-being such as fear of embarrassment or a thought about something going wrong on the date can trigger the same bodily reactions as being chased by an alligator!

Although anxiety is a normal response to different everyday situations, excessive or severe anxiety can become debilitating. Instead of protecting us, it interferes with daily activities and tasks. So what’s the solution? Get rid of it???  NO.  Pushing anxiety away, can only help for a short period of time. Similar to being afraid of the dark, you can wait out the night until the daylight. However, whether you like it or not, the nighttime will fall again. Anxiety is part of our body and whether we like it or not, it will get triggered in time.

A way to cope with anxiety is to accept it and to experience the feeling for what it is. Become one with anxiety, become friends. Remember that you are not anxiety. Anxiety is a friend who comes to visit. When anxiety is visiting, use coping skills such as rhythmic breathing, muscle relaxation, guided imagery, physical exercise, or other things you enjoy doing to help the encounter be less about anxiety and more about you.  Anxiety is a friend who lacks boundaries and it comes over at times you wished it would not. But when it shows up unexpected it is better to greet it as your friend rather than push it away as your enemy. Next time you run into anxiety, take it as an opportunity to practice your coping skills and just hang out with it.  You are in control of this friendship!

Sandra Knapp, MS, LPC
Mind Matters Therapy Services, LLC

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