For most of my life, I’ve suffered from varying degrees of anxiety. I’ve often wondered to myself, “Where does it all come from? Is it genetic? Is it gender-related? Is it because my grandfather was a Jewish psychiatrist?” These questions lead to more questions, which question themselves, and pretty soon the whole cycle becomes uncontrollable.
This is what I’ve found to be the essence of anxiety: circularity. You have a thought that triggers the anxiety. That thought turns to 5 thoughts, and each of those 5 thoughts turns to 5 other thoughts, and before you know it, you feel absolutely paralyzed. It can be rather terrifying. Most people have had the experience.
That’s a somewhat severe example. Sometimes your thoughts stop but they keep swimming around in circles. Your questions keep trying to chase one another down. The mental energy you could be spending on acknowledging the present becomes depleted.
That’s the thing a lot of us don’t realize. Why are so many modern people so tired all of the time? It’s because anxiety is ridiculously grueling. It’s hard work. The chronically anxious expend the mental energy of multiple days of rigorous academic testing, or jury duty, or arguing.
In the same way that we can’t sprint for 8 hours and expect our body to just recover immediately, we can’t let ourselves get anxious without taking some time to reflect. We injure our minds this way.
I have experimented enough with anxiety-relieving techniques to have learned a few things. I’m still young, so there’s a long way to go, but I imagine there’s a certain anxiety that comes with youth that diminishes with age: wondering about the future, feeling overwhelmed by one’s options and the subsequent negation of other options that comes from the constant choosing, the constant major decision making.
Regardless, though— anxiety is anxiety. We can use certain methods to deal with it. Here’s mine:
This sounds obvious, right? Of course we should acknowledge anxiety in order to get rid of it. But it’s not always that simple. Stress creeps behind you and sometimes strikes when you least expect it. You’re left feeling like you’ve been sucker punched. The reason why meditation aids anxiety relief is it gives us more mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to recognize when we’re stepping into murky waters. Try to practice activities that cultivate mindfulness rather than distracting yourself with food, entertainment, sex, drugs.
Make peace with it.
Sometimes I recognize my anxiety and immediately become more anxious. “Oh shit, I’m anxious again, I hate this, I wish this would stop.” That sort of internal dialogue only causes more anxiety. Resisting anxiety is like trying to extinguish a fireplace by blowing on it; you’ll only feed it further. Instead of resisting, make peace with it. Of course, this is easier said than done. How can we make peace with something that’s torturing us?
Sit back, lay down, find a bathroom stall— whatever you need to do to get yourself alone and comfortable— close your eyes, and breathe. This is meditation. You don’t need to do it on a special cushion or in a yoga studio. And you shouldn’t do it just to alleviate anxiety. Instead, breathe for the sake of breathing.
That energy that we use up when we’re feeling anxious often prevents us from breathing properly. When you recognize your anxiety, pay attention to your breathing. You’ll find it’s probably stifled or erratic. Meditation teaches us to return to the breath. Breathe in, acknowledging your anxiety. Breathe out, imagining the negative energy exiting through your lungs, then your nasal passages, and finally nostrils. Envision your anxiety as a red energy. Mine resides in my stomach. I breathe into it rather than away from it, carrying it up and out.
Don’t be scared.
This is a simple process, but it works wonders for anxiety. I find the reason to be precisely what I talked about earlier. Anxiety snowballs. If we can catch it while it’s still minor and breathe through it, focusing on our bodily processes and finding an anchor with our breathing, we can nip it in the bud. The key is practicing this so that we become comfortable with it. It’s a place to start, and if you do it regularly, it will help.