There is a famous saying by ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu:
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
His advice is, essentially, get out of your own head and live in the moment.
Easier said than done, right?
Today, there is such a constant stream of ‘life hacks’ for beating anxiety that it can actually be anxiety-inducing trying to achieve the unattainable level of perfection being presented (with the best of intentions) and figuring out how to implement each of these ‘must-do’s’ in a practical way.
There’s the pseudo-spiritual quotes on social media that are supposed to fix all of our problems, yet often serve as a reminder of our failings; the endless stream of barefoot Hemsworth pics that we’re meant to futilely aspire to, without anywhere near the same resources; well-meaning ‘advice’ from anxiety-free friends to take a long bath or walk on the beach which, in reality, doesn’t calm everyone down (some of us actually need a good, old-fashioned punching bag); and persistent calls to meditate, even though we have no idea how to do that (‘do I need yoga pants for that’, I hear you wonder).
You might be sitting here, worrying about your anxiety, having been given a multitude of instructions and quick fixes to ‘stop being anxious’ (that have gone in one ear and out the other) and ended up feeling even more anxious than before, due to the simple fact that you’re feeling anxious in the first place. After all, we’re not meant to feel anxious, it’s a flaw, people will notice us sweating, we don’t look like the people on social media, we just can’t get anything done and…. Aaahhhh!!!
You know what? Worrying about the future – particularly at this historical juncture – is a very normal response to a very difficult time and a very understandable space to be in right now.
How about taking the anxiety down a notch by simply acknowledging its presence and giving yourself a break for feeling it?
With all the uncertainty and almost daily challenges surrounding COVID, anxiety rates are at an all-time high – even for people who have never before experienced a mental illness. You’re definitely not alone!
In fact, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia - at the best of times. It’s estimated that more than 2 million Australians are suffering from anxiety at this very moment. That’s a lot of people! So, the next time your inner critic starts chipping away at your confidence, just politely give them this statistic.
Rather than adding to any existing anxiety (and, ahem, perfectionist tendencies) you might have about not being the best, most calm version of yourself every second of every day, how about simply sitting with your anxiety?
That’s all being ‘present’ really is. The present moment doesn’t have to be blissful. It can be uncomfortable, sad, scary or annoying. That’s OK. Being present means simply stopping the million things you’re doing, checking in with how you’re feeling (emotionally/physically), acknowledging your anxiety and accepting “it is what it is”.
Then hold that thought. Emotions are NEVER fixed. There is not one emotion you’ve ever felt that has consumed the entirety of your whole life, right? We all drift in and out of different emotions all the time. Granted, sometimes we stay in unpleasant emotions for longer than we’d like, or in enjoyable emotions for less time than we’d like, often due to circumstances beyond our control. Eventually though, they all pass. (PS they pass a lot faster if you let them do their thing for a little bit and don’t try and supress them in an unhealthy way.)
Emotions are like waves. They honestly can’t hurt you if you’re willing to go with the flow and ride them. That means giving yourself permission to feel what you feel, on your own timeline, and trusting that “this too shall pass”.
In and of itself, anxiety is not a negative. It is merely alerting you to the fact that something isn’t quite right and needs addressing in your life. It’s what you do with your anxiety (behaviour) that has the potential to be problematic. While giving yourself permission to feel, remind yourself that you are in control of how your feelings might impact on your thoughts and subsequent behaviour.
If you find yourself ruminating on thoughts that are causing you distress or not serving you, or that you are starting to act out in ways that are harmful to yourself or others, remember that you have the power to turn off that tap. Ask yourself, “Why am I giving away valuable real estate in my brain to these bad tenants?”
Calming your anxiety may mean different things for different people at different times. Experiment with what works for you. Pay attention when your anxiety is on the rise and identify what might have both triggered and alleviated it.
This could mean doing something restful (e.g. having a massage), something to switch your mind off (e.g. a silly movie), something artistic (e.g. colouring in), something hands-on (e.g. cooking or gardening), something physical (e.g. yoga or running) or something therapeutic (e.g. talking to a friend or counsellor).
If you’re having trouble identifying your triggers, articulating why you feel anxious, sitting with your anxiety, learning what alleviates it and managing your behaviour, remember, it’s always OK to ask for help or seek clarification from a professional.
In an emergency, call 000. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 any time for free.
Artius Health’s team of qualified, caring and experienced Psychologists offer ongoing support to help you develop the tools and skills needed to successfully manage your anxiety and live a calmer life.
Pension Card and Health Care Card holders receive a discount and some NDIS plans may cover the cost of treatment.
We accept NDIS, DVA, WorkCover, Private Insurance & PHN referrals; although you do not have to have a referral to access this service.