Like other feelings, anxiety is a part of our lives and, on the surface, it does serve a purpose when it comes to basic survival. Anxiety alerts our system to threats, changes, or uncertainties.
Our minds often get stuck focusing on the future, anxiously trying to figure out what will happen. Anxiety is also rooted in our need to control. We feel anxious when we experience a sense of losing control. We want certainty and familiarity. It’s risky and requires extra effort to adapt to new and unknown situations.
Our mind and body are highly complex structures that have evolved over thousands of years. Anxiety manifests itself in different ways and forms depending on the individual. We are not the same, we can experience anxiety for different reasons, which may be explained by our temperament, our genetics, upbringing, or cultural inheritance.
There are lots of internal and external factors that determine the way we think and make sense of the things we perceive. It’s as if we have different lenses through which to see depending on the situation. Some of us have a more optimistic, uplifted perspective while others may tend to see things in a more negative way. Some of us are more prone to anxiety, more sensitive to anxiety-inducing stimuli or even interpreting ambiguous stimuli as dangerous. Perspectives can change even within the same person. Some days we may believe that everything’s perfect and we’re capable of anything. Other days we may feel we’re the worst and failure is imminent. Neither are very realistic. We cannot know the future, which may also contribute to feelings of anxiety. We may be afraid of something bad happening to us, speculating on all of the negative possibilities in order to be prepared or to avoid them altogether.
Our autonomic nervous system kicks in, activating the sympathetic parts of the system in cases of danger. We feel our heart begin to race and our breath quicken as our body secretes adrenaline in order to keep us energized and ready to fight or flee. Our primitive mind takes the lead when there’s a perceived threat and our more evolved, prefrontal cortex might not be as dominant in those moments. It’s normal to freeze and feel unable to make reasonable decisions. You may continue to feel anxious even though you think that there’s nothing to worry about.
This response is understandable if the threat we’re facing is acute danger such as a wild animal out in nature. However, in our modern lives, we may face different, more evolved types of threats such as social neglect or fear of failure. In those cases, our mind cannot detect a clear target, which makes us even more anxious because we cannot see the threat as easily. Not knowing the source of this challenging feeling makes it harder to understand the situation and relieve the tension.
Panic attacks, also known as anxiety attacks, are short periods of strong anxiety, which may be accompanied by physiological symptoms such as an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, nausea, or dizziness. Panic attacks are quite commonly experienced and can generally be due to a stressful event, sudden change, or illness. We may feel an intense fear of losing control when having a panic attack. Other health-related symptoms can be easily mistaken for panic attack symptoms, so it’s best for you to consult a professional if you experience panic attacks often.
Excitement can often be mistaken for anxiety as the symptoms of anxiety and excitement are very similar. Increased heart rate, respiration, a confused mind… Being able to name your excitement, whether that be about something hopeful, something you can’t wait to happen, will allow any anxious feelings to give way to a lively and vibrant energy of excitement.
Although anxiety is complex and has strong roots in the history of humanity, it’s possible to relieve yourself of its negative effects.
Moderate levels of anxiety are accepted as normal and healthy as anxiety does serve the purpose of keeping us vigilant in case of danger. It’s also related to increased control and problem solving skills. A moderate level of anxiety keeps us motivated to work harder for our goals and continue improving upon ourselves.
Anxiety is just one part of yourself. You’re not defined by your happiness or your fears and anxiety. These emotions are guests who visit you from time to time. Don’t try to ignore or push down your feelings. If you’re feeling anxious, that’s valid and real.
It’s okay if you have a hard time when you’re anxious. It might feel like it’s going to last forever. But you are free not to follow that feeling. It will eventually pass. So, you can learn not to dwell in that feeling. It doesn’t define you. Nor does it last forever. It’s simply information, it’s telling you something. Each feeling has a purpose and a message even if we may not always understand them.
We generally feel anxious in anticipation of a situation that might go wrong, worrying we might not have strength or resources to overcome it. Think of past situations where you’ve overcome an obstacle or a situation where you felt anxious but then things turned out to be okay. You are strong enough. You have so many tools in your toolbox that can help you navigate this situation. Try not to listen to the voice that says you’re weak or that the threat is bigger than your capacity to manage it. Be gentle and compassionate toward yourself. Think about it this way: There’s a challenge, a new unprecedented situation, or a situation that created unpleasant outcomes in the past. Your mind basically tries to protect you from any setback. It wants you to be okay, safe from any threat. Knowing that these are our natural impulses can make it easier to shower ourselves with compassion when we’re anxious or navigating difficult situations.
Anxiety can be an intense feeling. Sometimes we’re dealing with intrusive thoughts that return again and again. Meditation can help us to be present with challenging emotions like anxiety and to make peace with it.
There’s a broad swath of scientific literature that investigates the benefits of meditation, particularly when it comes to anxiety. One study showed that the anxiety, panic, and depression levels of people who participated in a mindfulness training intervention were lower when compared to those who did not get the intervention. Another study found that mindfulness meditation reduced pain in patients suffering from chronic pain.
Meditation is a great way to begin accepting our feelings, which can be extremely helpful when facing challenging periods. The practice gives us strength and the ability to stay present in those difficult situations.
Regular meditation practice thins the gap between yourself and your emotions, especially when you find some feelings or some situations particularly unbearable. As you get to know yourself and closely observe your anxiety, it can become easier to meet it head on. And sometimes your anxiety lessens as you begin to see that the things that make you anxious aren’t necessarily as big of threats as you imagine.
The more we practice getting to know and make peace with our anxiety, the easier it will get to let those feelings pass. We know it’s there, we know it’s normal to get anxious sometimes. We understand the mechanism behind it and its functions. We become more liberated and we see ourselves as whole and complex entities, a broad existence that welcomes feelings, thoughts, and events.
What Meditopia offers for your anxiety:
- Meditation for Anxiety
- Breathing exercises. Adding breathing exercises into your meditation practice can help soothe your anxiety.
- Body scanning meditations.