We Are Warriors of Anxiety

Sometimes anxiety lives as a gentle rumble in the background of our daily lives.

But sometimes, the floodgates of our experience are flung wide open, and raw anxiety surges in the body like a tidal wave.

Maybe we are going through a tough time in our lives, a crisis, a change, the end of a relationship, an illness, the sickness or death of a loved one, or the falling-away of an old dream or "safety net", and scary thoughts trigger an anxiety response in the body. Maybe our anxiety comes out of nowhere. Maybe we are touching into a past trauma, and old painful feelings are threatening to emerge into conscious awareness. Maybe we are simply imagining things that aren’t really true, invoking things that aren't really there. Maybe something just needs to be processed in us, dealt with, felt to completion, brought into love, integrated into a bigger picture of self.

Yes, sometimes anxiety comes, unwanted and unexpected, into the foreground of conscious experience, instantly bringing a pounding heart, a racing mind, heat and sweat and tingly limbs, nausea and tightness in the belly and chest and throat, and a feeling of the ground falling out from under us. We feel like we want to run, to crawl out of our own skin, to escape to safety, to find solid ground again...

Anxiety can be mild, or it can be really intense and scary and powerful like this. When anxiety comes in such a tidal wave, it can really feel like “Something is going horribly wrong!”. Our thoughts may tell us that we are about to die, or pass out, or have a heart attack or stroke, or go completely mad, or lose ourselves in some terrifying void.

The anxiety itself can feel unsafe. We can become anxious about our anxiety!

The truth is, these symptoms of anxiety are completely safe. Pounding hearts are safe. Muscle tightness is safe. That ‘sinking feeling’ in the belly is safe. Racing thoughts are safe. Heat and sweat and that dizzy, groundless, disconnected feeling is totally safe. It might not feel safe in the moment, it might not feel pleasant, but it’s totally safe. It is just a passing storm of sensation and thought. It’s the body deep in protection mode. It’s nature at its most brilliant and ancient and fierce. It doesn’t mean that something “bad” is happening or is "about to" happen.

We learn to ‘lean in’ to the storm of our anxiety, to let the body do what it’s doing. To recognize that we are experiencing anxiety in the present moment, to name the visitor, to bring mindful awareness to it, and to compassionately touch into it, with courage and slowness and breath. We begin to allow the heart to race and pound, and we allow the shakiness and trembling and the heat, and we allow the tight belly and the tingles and that doom-laden sinking feeling. We allow the moment as it is, messy and intense and uncomfortable and alive, as it is. We tell ourselves, “Yes, I am experiencing anxiety right now, it is really really intense, but it is totally safe, it is the nervous system rushing to protect the organism, and nothing more than that, and it will pass, and I can hold it all…” We learn to step into that bigger part of ourselves, that ever-present Being in the midst of the somatic storm.

We learn to stop fighting the anxiety, to stop shaming it, to stop calling it bad or wrong or dangerous (and if these thoughts come, we recognize them as anxious thoughts too!). We learn to stop running from our anxiety, stop trying to get to some “safer place”. We learn that the safest place is actually right here, where we are, at the very heart of our anxiety! We learn to bow to anxiety’s awesome power and intelligence, and to ride the wave of anxiety as it arises, reaches its peak, and crashes back to its source.

We become warriors of anxiety! We get brave enough to touch into our fragility and vulnerability, to meet this most sacred and ancient of somatic visitors, which is only trying to protect us, keep us safe, and remind us of our true power.

~ Jeff Foster

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