In times of global insecurity and converging pressures most of us are experiencing increased uncertainty and heightened anxiety. The longer term forecast continues to be unsettled and changeable and is calling for us to respond to ourselves, each other and our wider world in ways that are enduring, sustainable and heartfelt.
Anxiety registers as stress in our nervous system, and is experienced through our thoughts, emotions and body sensations. A small amount of stress is useful in that it gives us focus and a boost of energy thanks to cortisol and other hormones; however if anxiety is allowed to build up in our systems over time, we can run into more complex and serious health and wellbeing challenges. As we become more aware of the ways in which we turn away from, and defend ourselves against anxiety, we start to begin the process
of coming into relationship with it.
The long term repercussions of accumulated anxiety.
As anxiety accumulates in our bodies, minds and energy systems it can start to have a greater impact on our experience by;
~ Closing our hearts and shutting down connection with ourselves and each other
~ Limiting our capacity to think creatively
~ Highly dysregulating our nervous system
~ Depressing our immune system
~ Overwhelming our ability to consider beyond the very short term
~ Tending towards reactive and polarised thinking.
Starting to come into relationship with our anxiety.
If, as many of us have been, we have been shamed, judged or ridiculed for our anxiety we can feel frightened of our fears. Gentleness, patience, courage and care are our allies as we start the process of delayering all that surrounds this part of our experience, recognising how important it is to give ourselves the time and space that is required to come closer in to our experience.
Getting interested in the specifics of how anxiety shows up in us is key because there will be elements that are unique to us. We can read books and listen to other people’s experience with anxiety but attuning to our direct experience in our bodies, minds and being is very important.
When our nervous system registers anxiety as a threat, it activates the primitive survival parts of our brain which starts to respond through some version of fight / flight / freeze depending on our tendencies and wiring. This might come out in our thinking as fight based critical judgements towards others; it might show up as compulsive avoidant behaviours like overworking, endless social media scrolling or using substances to numb us as we fall into patterns flight based behaviour patterns or we might dissociate and feel disconnected from our bodies and environment as freeze closes down our embodied experience. If our response to anxiety stays at this level a feeling of overwhelm will start to build up in our system.
Coming out of overwhelm first
There are two distinct stages in coming into relationship with our anxiety.
The first stage is where we become aware that we are overwhelmed and we take steps to come back into a more balanced state. This stage is foundational for us to be able to do the deeper work of exploring, understanding and feeling our anxiety.
Becoming aware that we are overwhelmed supports us to take steps to calm our nervous system and engage the more recently part of our brain the frontal cortex that supports us to be more able to reflect, think rationally and make decisions. In the neuroscience of trauma Dan Siegal has named this process returning to 'The Window of Tolerance'.
The moment we become aware that we are lost in our thoughts, feelings & reactions is the beginning of the journey away from survival stress and back towards being present and in our window of tolerance.
This step can be done through pausing and engaging with calming practices such a conscious breathing; grounding; moving; noticing our environment; bringing our hands to our hearts; speaking kindly to ourselves; connecting with nature; creativity or any other practice that helps you connect with the present moment.
As we start to feel steadier and more centred in ourselves we can begin the second stage of mindfully tracking our experience of sensations and beliefs, and compassionately bringing the care and nourishment that our systems need in order to root further down into stability and calm. Sometimes we can do this for ourselves, at other times it really helps to have a trusted friend, family member or therapist alongside us.
As we come into relationship with our anxiety we might spiral around these steps:
~ Accepting that uncertainty has always been and will always be a part of life.
~ Recognising our signs of uncertainty & overwhelm.
~ Practicing regulating our nervous system.
~ As regulation increases, gently exploring our anxiety.
~ Putting nourishment at the centre of our lives.
~ Listening for anxiety's deeper invitation
Committing to come into a more conscious and heartfelt connection with our experience can offer surprising gifts. The nature of anxiety can be overwhelmingly urgent, pushing us further into ideas and behaviours of separation, but as we start to engage more heartfully with this part of our experience, it becomes more apparent how universal and therefore bonding this part of our human experience is.
Anxiety can be one of the ways in which our hearts call our attention to something in us that is unsettled and needs care, it calls us back when our ideas about ourselves have fallen out of kilter; when our notions of humanity are too centric or when we have forgotten our innate interconnection with all of life.
Befriending our anxiety is a humble path to true resilience. A slow, deep path that helps wake up our personal and collective compassion one heart at a time simply by moving from ‘being against’, to ‘being with’. In these times when what is most called for is heartfelt endurance, tending honestly and carefully to our own and each others anxiety is more than a significant contribution.
Working with me
If you would like to explore your relationship to uncertainty, anxiety and resilience I am offering a series of three 1:1 Deep Listening Sessions to be alongside you in the process. You can find more information here
I also offer a weekly online meditation that is gently guided to support our individual and collective nervous systems to settle and regulate. You can join through this page or sign up for weekly notifications.