Lowering your anxiety: identifying internal tensions

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Anxiety is your internal tensions fighting it out.  Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

WHAT IS ANXIETY

Anxiety is a state of being in which there is internal tension.  If there was no internal tension, there would be no anxiety.  To prove this to ourselves, we can look at two examples.

  1. A person who is entirely focused on getting a particular thing done, with no room for anything else.  This person is not anxious, because their mind and body are working as one to achieve a particular goal.
  2. A person who has entirely accepted that nothing can be done.  This person is not anxious, because their mind and body are relased from the tension of action.
The first example explains why our anxiety dissipates when we are actively participating in, say, helping another person.  Our focus sets us free.  And the second example explains why our anxiety dissipates when we are truly resting with a clear conscience.  Our acceptance of our own inaction sets us free.

THREE BASIC TYPES OF ANXIETY

Most of us exist with a background level of anxiety.  This is because most of us experience internal tension, a sense of self-inconsistency.  Using the above model, we can define three main types of internal felt inconsistency, and therefore anxiety:

  1. CHOICE ANXIETY.  We may be doing one thing, but feeling we should be doing another.
  2. PASSIVITY ANXIETY.  We may be resting, but feeling that we should be doing something.
  3. ACTIVITY ANXIETY.  We may be doing something, but feeling that we should be resting.
ANXIETY IN CONVERSATION

When I am helping people with their mental health, I witness each of these on a regular basis.  These are a few typical comments I hear.

  • CHOICE: “I went into town yesterday and did some shopping. I should really be sorting out my admin though.”
  • PASSIVITY: “I know I should probably be sorting out the mess, but all I can do is sleep at the moment.”
  • ACTIVITY: “I am completely exhausted, and I know I should be looking after myself, but I can’t say no when they ask me to help.”
FEELING ANXIETY IN THE BODY

The anxiety does not have to be expressed in words.  Sometimes the tension feeds into a behavioural or bodily response.  In this way:

  • CHOICE: The person enacting shopping, but also needing to sort out their admin, may experience choice anxiety in the form of panic.
  • PASSIVITY: The person enacting rest, but also needing to sort out a mess, may experience passivity anxiety in the form of panic.
  • ACTIVITY: The person enacting help for others, but also needing to rest, may experience activity anxiety in the form of panic.
RESOLVING THE TENSION

Anxiety is experienced because we are trying to attend to two screaming children inside ourselves at the same time.  Correspondingly, a good way to deal with anxiety is to allow both screaming children a voice, and find an accommodation between the two.

  1. For CHOICE ANXIETY, we need to let both side of the argument speak, so that the dilemma loses its tense grip.
  2. For PASSIVITY ANXIETY, we need to let our resting self speak reasonably with our active self, so that the urge to act does not need to shout.
  3. For ACTIVITY ANXIETY, we need to let our active self speak reasonably with our resting self, so that the urge to rest does not need to shout.
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A MEDITATION

Am I anxious?  If so, how would I express the tension in words?

Am I experiencing a choice between two alternatives?  If so, can I run through the arguments on both sides, and find a settled view?

Am I enacting rest, but feeling a need to be active?  If so, can I listen to the need to act, and find a way of negotiating with it peacefully?

Am I enacting busy-ness, but feeling a need to rest?  If so, can I listen to the need to rest, and find a way of negotiating with it peacefully?

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