Accepting Anxiety in Order to Tame It

Leslie Booker
June 9, 2021

There’s a funny thing about anxiety: all of us experience it, and all of us think we shouldn’t be experiencing it.

Anxiety is, after all, part of your human nature. Being a human means being a little messy. Things are not permanent, they’re not meant to be perfect, and this universal experience of anxiety is not only yours. Just like you, there are a lot of folks out there with the same doubts, insecurities and fears. And you can always reach out for support from others, and from the natural world.

Anxiety is also part of nature, period. We don't fault the sun for setting at night. We don't fault the clouds for raining. This is just what happens in nature. Similarly, inside our own bodies, things arise and they pass away. When the conditions arise, we have these anxieties and these fears, and then when the conditions pass, the fears also pass, like the wind.

And to be sure, there are plenty of those conditions in our lives today, from the pandemic to ongoing, often painful reckonings with racial injustice. There is pain and trauma still inside that has not been processed yet. There is continued political uncertainty and violence. And there’s the everyday stress of comparing ourselves to others, amplified by social media. So of course you’re anxious!

If you think about it, anxiety is not necessarily an enemy. Ultimately, its intention is to protect you – it’s just gotten a little out of control. And when you can befriend anxiety, it becomes something that's no longer the enemy, but actually a portal towards deeper wisdom for yourself.

One way to do that is through meditation. Meditation is like a laboratory where we can do all different kinds of experimentation, but in a container that we control. And then we go out into the world, hopefully knowing a bit more about how we are and how we show up.

For example, you might explore experimenting with titration – of opening to our anxiety in small intervals, knowing we can return to a sense of safety when we need to. (Oren Jay Sofer wrote about titration in the context of Covid transition last month.) In meditation, that might look like finding your anchor, a place in your body where you feel a sense of ease – maybe the stillness or solidity of your body resting on the ground, or the expansion and contraction of the breath breathing itself in and out. 

And then, when you feel ready, move toward your anxiety by intentionally bringing to mind whatever wakes your personal anxiety monster. Maybe it's that deadline that’s hanging over your head or a social engagement where you're anxious about being judged, or…. well, anything! As your body and mind get closer to the experience of anxiety, see if you can coexist with it, with compassion for yourself. Perhaps you might even express some appreciation and warmth toward it. 

And then back to the body, noticing where there is stillness and calm. Back and forth, back and forth. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat. 

This is how, over time, your anxieties and fears can begin to soften: you learn to recognize them a little bit faster, and develop a more intimate relationship with them, rather than simply wishing they would disappear. 

In these experiments, the critical ingredients are lovingkindness and compassion. Can you pause when you feel anxious, recognizing what is happening? Can you be kind to yourself, and get curious about your anxiety? 

See if you can extend some warmth to yourself, perhaps feeling your own strength and resolve, and perhaps repeat these phrases, resting with them for a few moments: May I face my fears with compassion and care. May I become braver over time.

Booker teaches the integration of ancient wisdom practices that support us in navigating our modern world. She shares her expertise nationally as a guest lecturer at conferences, universities, and meditation centers, on expanding our vision around culturally responsive teaching and care.

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