We are all feeling it to some degree, and it doesn’t feel good. Yet, our attempts to resist it, struggle against it, and fight it with all our might, only serve to make our experience worse. As the saying goes, “What we resist persists.” It’s true, our emotions are a natural response to our environments – internal and external; and, yes, they will eventually pass. But at times, our excruciating discomfort feels eternal. In addition, heaped on top of our painful feelings of anxiety is a big dose of guilt and shame for not being able to fix it. Society and our quick fix mentality pressure us to “heal” in a prescribed manner and amount of time – those guaranteed three easy steps to success. And if you can’t, not only have you failed, you are a failure for not having tried hard enough to feel perfectly perfect.
Abbe Greenberg and Maggie Sarachek, the authors of, The Anxiety Sisters’ Survival Guide: How You Can Become More Hopeful, Connected, and Happy, understand this un-winnable struggle; they spent a good part of two decades buying into this quick fix maxim and relentlessly searching for the “solution” to their anxiety. Then, they accepted the reality of our emotional responses – they can’t be fixed! They can be adjusted, rewired, and ridden out with more ease, but not fixed. The Sisters realized, “We need a paradigm change because this pursuit of stopping anxiety isn’t working. And this is where we are going astray. Once we figured that part out our lives changed really profoundly and relatively quickly.” From this shift in approach, they then devised a “Secret Sauce” that we can all adopt to learn to shift the habitual responses from fighting your feelings to riding them out, just like surfing a wave.
So instead of fighting our experience, we can learn to recognize it and name it. “What we name we can tame… When we know what to call it, we can sit up and tell it to sit down.” And thus achieve a return to agency. ‘When we are in that reaction mode, that fight, flight or freeze reaction, we can’t access our frontal lobe – we are in a restrictive mode with limited options for response. We have put up walls and taken out our arsenal for protection – it’s not a creative, collaborative space for problem solving. It fosters positional thinking, and separateness. Instead of this habitual reaction, we can learn to (and practice) interrupting our automatic response and instead: we accept, breathe, calm, and soothe ourself, in all the ways we now know to handle this challenging situation of our uncomfortable emotions and very real physical experience, with all its varied responses. ‘
Knowing that this emotional and physical experience is anxiety and we are not alone is the biggest gift The Anxiety Sisters give us. To normalize and destigmatize our experience and be able to talk about the truth of what’s going on. The comfort we get from knowing that this is anxiety and that other people feel that, have that too, is immense. To know we are not alone and understand what we are feeling, and that it’s anxiety and there is support. There is nothing more valuable than being seen, heard and understood, gaining a connection and a validation that it will be ok.