I remember it like it was yesterday; my high school graduation. Hundreds of eyes were watching as each student received his or her diploma. My heart raced. I felt nervous about just walking in front of such a large crowd. I joked about tripping during the ceremony, hoping that would assure that it would NOT happen. The walking up part was successful. However, as fate would have it, the climb down the stairs from the stage proved to be my “moment.” I stumbled and fell—right into the sure hands of my principal.
Normally, I know how to walk and use stairs, but the anxious part of my brain switched “on,” causing me to feel a sense of alarm and panic just long enough to forever mark me as “the girl who tripped during graduation.” And, here I am years later, just fine and even able to laugh about it (mostly).
Most of us function with some amount of anxiety. In specific situations, a feeling of panic may even be necessary for survival. For example, if you were to see a bear while on a walk, the “flight or fight” response that bypasses rational thought to avoid any further exchange with that bear can be a very good thing!
Anxiety as an Inhibitory Emotion
Anxiety can be vital to survival, but many times it is just uncomfortable and miserable and prevents us from participating in life the way that we want. In her book, It’s Not Always Depression, Hilary Jacobs Hendel describes anxiety as an “inhibitory emotion.” She writes that “when our brain senses core emotions [such as anger, sadness, or fear] that we previously learned were not welcome, inhibitory emotions will rise up to stop the flow of the core emotion energy, causing muscular tension and inhibiting breathing. The effect is like hitting the accelerator and the breakers on a car simultaneously.” Anxiety can “stop” us dead in our tracks. Sometimes it’s enough to make someone fall down the stairs!
Managing Anxious Feelings
How should we manage anxious feelings? How do we not let anxiety become so overwhelming?
- The first step is to recognize that you are experiencing anxiety.
- Remember that you have several tools you can use to deal with the anxiety, e.g.:
- Take big, deep breaths.
- Slow down.
- Take note of your surroundings. What are the colors and textures of the things around you? What sounds do you notice? This simple exercise of noticing will help you think and feel more clearly.
- As your body relaxes and slows down, remember that you hold the reins.
- Next, talk to a trusted friend or family member. Call someone as a way to check in and get grounded in the present moment. It can help just to know that you are not alone.
Remember that the most important thing is to get back up and keep going. We all fail. We all fall (even sometimes down the stairs of a graduation ceremony). We all have anxiety. The goal is not to let it become inhibitory—not to let it stop you from living and moving forward.
Breathe. Slow down. Talk to a friend. Remember all the times you got back up.
And keep going.
If you need support in overcoming your anxieties and fears, schedule an appointment online or give us a call—we’d love to support you.