General Anxiety Disorderis a very common condition that affects many of us at some time in our lives. At any one time it is estimated that over 10 million people in the US suffer from some form of GAD. Many are actively seeking treatment through medication or some form of psychotherapy, either online or in-person.
What can I do to help manage my Anxiety?
Through my work as an Online Therapist with clients both in the office and online I find Mindfulness-based therapy to be the most direct and effective for helping people change the underlying patterns of emotional and cognitive reactivity that sustain the emotional suffering of anxiety and depression. I describe some of the highlights of this approach that you can apply by yourself to work with your anxieties.
1. Reframe the Emotion
When an emotion arises, whether anxiety or fear, anger, frustration or feeling overwhelmed, our habitual reaction is to become identified with our thoughts and emotions. We literally becomethe emotion when we say, “I am angry,” “I am sad,” “I am afraid.” This problem of identification causes our identity, the “I”, to collapse into the contracted state of the emotion, thought, traumatic memory or other mental objects that arise. This leads to suffering and this process of identification simply feeds and strengthens the emotional reaction.
We can stop the process by simply reframing the experience from, “I am…” to “I notice the feeling of …within me.” In a very real sense, we keep the “I” separate from the contents of mind and prevent it from contracting into the emotion. Now the emotion or memory or thought simply becomes and object within the mind that I can observe through careful attention (mindfulness). This has a powerful effect in creating a space around the emotion that is essential for allowing the emotion to change and resolve itself. It also keeps you in touch with the “real” you, which is not the contents of your mind, but the consciousness that contains them. You are not your thoughts.
2. Welcome the Emotion
This is a strange thing to ask! Get rid of it, avoid it, resist it yes…but welcomeit?
It has been shown over and over again that resistance and confrontation are ineffective tools for healing inner emotional suffering. Acceptance and non-violence are far more likely to help. Why? Because it is only by looking that we can ever hope to learn and see what needs to change and reactivity always inhibits this process.
What we are actually practicing is compassion: Compassion with those parts of our mind that are suffering and in pain. Compassion is what these emotions need more than anything, and more than our ineffective attempts to control them or “fix” them. A common saying in Buddhist psychology is that the greatest gift we can give to another person is our kindness and friendship. We understand this well enough in our relationship with people, yet do we extend the same friendship to our emotional suffering? No. Instead we do everything we can to get rid of it or push it away. Can you imagine the chaos that would create if we did this with our unruly children? Emotional suffering is very much like an inner child that is in pain. Our inner child needs our attention and kindness in the same way that a real child needs our love when in pain.
We must learn to smile at our emotional suffering, not fight it and create more suffering. It is difficult, but so is fighting the pain. One of these options has a chance of producing healing.
3. Sit with the Emotion
Just as with guests as they arrive at the door, it is not sufficient to just welcome them and then ignore them, preferring to engage in some other more pleasant activity. After a handshake, we invite them to sit down and then we sit down with them and give them our full attention. In Mindfulness Practice and Meditation we practice “sitting with the emotion” in the same way, giving full attention to the feelings behind the emotion. We cultivate a relationship with our inner emotions in which we listen with an open mind and with curiosity and interest. But of course, we watch very closely at the tendency of the emotion to suck us in. Becoming the emotion, becoming reactive and identifying with the emotion is not helpful. Imagine being with a friend in need. He or she needs you to be present for them and here their pain, not to become equally upset and reactive. To help, there must be space and stillness so that we can see the more subtle structure of our emotions and only then can we begin to see how we can help resolve the situation. This is an exercise in patience and stillness, but you will be surprised at the powerful effect that this can have. The power of listening is greatly undervalued in contemporary society, yet how can anything change if we do not listen in this way, with mindfulness?
4. Ask the Emotion, “How can I help you?”
Along with mindfulness, we bring an intentionality to heal. This is called compassion or mettain Buddhist psychology. When we couple the desire to help with the open listening of mindfulness then the emotion will begin to express its needs. But, as said already, this voice is weak and timid and so we must listen very intently. What the hurt may need is nothing more than to know that someone cares - that youcare and that you are willing to stay with the inner pain and not abandon it. Most of our suffering has endured a lifetime of being abandoned; now is the time to do something very different. Anxiety, fear, trauma, anger; they all respond to compassion, to genuine care and love and they will heal in direct proportion to the mettathat you bring to them.
5. Re-visit your Emotions often
As with a person, one visit is not enough to establish a friendship and a working relationship. You must choose to come back to the emotion many times - not to become overwhelmed or identified, not to become lost in thinking about the emotion and worrying, but to come back to the emotion and sit with it yet again - as a friend. Each time you touch the emotion with mindfulness and compassion it will soften and become malleable and begin to change. You are creating the ideal conditions in which suffering can heal, and it will heal by itself if allowed to change, just as ignorance and reactivity will prevent it changing.
Email inquiries are most welcome. Request a Skype session ( Skype Therapy ) today and begin a course of Mindfulness Therapy with Skype Therapist Dr. Peter Strong. You can learn more about mindfulness meditation by reading his book, 'The Path of Mindfulness Meditation' (Amazon.com).