One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from emotional anxiety is that it is simply a symptom of resistance.
Our emotional body is ruled by the element of water: sometimes volatile and indubitably powerful, but mostly ebbing and flowing like the sea. Our emotional body kisses the shores of our physical world, easing into and out of our conscious mind—not unlike the tide’s response to the movement of the moon.
Water is responsible for weathering and erosion. Water is submissive to containers and barriers for a time. When passively restricted, it breaks down physical limits gradually. When energized, it is impossible to ignore. When there is a hurricane, you know it.
So it is with our emotions. The emotional body will passively await the attention of our conscious mind. Self-reflection allows us to delve into our inner world: what needs my attention? What is important? Which of these thoughts are fears? How can I manage this?
When we resist emotions, they wear at our psyche just as a stream gradually carves a river into a landscape, or eventually into a gaping canyon. Anxiety is the ever-present reminder of unfinished business of the emotional body.
When we resist emotions, they present themselves as anxiety until we pay attention to them. Anxiety is not an actual emotion. Anxiety is a state of being…an alarming physical/chemical response to the neglect of the emotional body. The physical body tells us, “Something is not right.”
For example, I am sad. I don’t want to be sad. I try all day to feel happy, and by the end of the day, I am anxious. I acknowledge anxiety. What emotion is hiding beneath the anxiety? Ah, sadness. My old friend. I acknowledge sadness, invite her in, maybe I cry for a while, and the anxiety is gone.
I am angry, but I love the person I am angry with. I don’t want to be mad at them. I gloss over it and low self-worth sets in. Anxiety arrives: will it get worse? Will they do it again? Do they care? Do they know? I acknowledge anxiety. What emotion is hiding beneath the anxiety? Anger, fear, resentment. I spend time with these emotions.
I ride waves of anger as I work through the complex relationship of fear, betrayal, and sadness that accompanies it. I take responsibility for my co-creation of this experience and resolve to set new boundaries and expectations to help prevent the same situation from occurring again. Perhaps I calmly speak my truth to this person I love, and am relieved that they are happy to hear me out. Anxiety vanishes.
I am frustrated. A decision needs to be made, and I am waiting on another person. I disempower myself with blame, and anxiety arrives. As time passes, the anxiety worsens. I ask what lies beneath the anxiety: frustration, insecurity, lack of control. I realize that everything is fine now. I have faith that the answers will reveal themselves at the right time. I control what I can right now, and take responsibility for myself, thereby taking back my personal power. Anxiety disappears.
Someone has placed an expectation on me. I want to please them, and exchange my self-sacrifice for the illusion of unconditional love. Anxiety arrives. As I continue to serve their expectations, anxiety worsens. I sit with anxiety and ask what is really bothering me: resentment, fear of abandonment, loss of personal power. I love myself first, so that I don’t emotionally depend on their acceptance of me. I let go of resentment and take back my personal power by setting boundaries. Regardless of their reaction, I know I am loved, and anxiety has left.
We must sit with uncomfortable emotions. When anger, fear, sadness, resentment, insecurity, or any of their relatives surge in like a tide, we must acknowledge their arrival and spend time listening to where they came from. When you refuse to greet them, they transform into anxiety…impatiently waiting in a dark corner of the mind. Yet still visible in the peripheral perception of your life. Anxiety will build until it makes you shake, until you are physically incapable of ignoring it any longer.
When we resist our anxiety, and thereby resist our resistance to other emotions, we compound the issue. When we meditate or try different relaxation techniques during anxious moments, the purpose of the relaxation and meditation must be to figure out what we are resisting, not to try to rid ourselves of the resistance.
Practice self-love. Pause. Breathe. Look anxiety in the face. Ask: what are you a disguise for? Emotions reveal themselves. They’re not the ones you prefer, but sit with them anyways. Feel them hard if you need to. Feel them for a moment, an hour, or a day. Feel them until they are all used up.
When we resist uncomfortable emotions, they stick to us. When we sit with uncomfortable emotions, they will flow through us and be released.
[Author’s Note: I’d like to clearly state and acknowledge that there are various types of anxiety, many of which are very real mental health issues. Much of anxiety is fear based, and may be deeply rooted due to traumatic events, for example. Depending on type and severity, it may require medication/professional counseling. I am speaking on general, emotionally-related anxiety that is a relatively common experience.]
Author: Caitlin Sommer
Image: Unsplash/Tanja Heffner
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina