Image Credit: Calm

Allowing Anxiety without Surrendering to It

This morning, I woke up before 5 AM. I woke up troubled, wracked with anxiety, and unable to fall back asleep. Over the last 12 weeks, this has been common.

I’ve always been a night owl who could sleep through anything. I have literally slept through storms that brought tornadoes which devastated my hometown and the landfall of Gulf Coast tropical storms. When I slept, I slept the sleep of the dead.

Now, I go to bed early, hoping to sleep a few hours before I inevitably wake up, predawn, preloaded with stress ahead of any of the actual events of the day. My sleep is light, restless, full of dreams I can barely remember but that always seem full of struggle. I’m unable to fall asleep easily or return to sleep once awake, and I sleep so lightly that it has become common to only get four to six hours of poor-quality sleep per night.

I was doing much better, a week or two ago, but the process of dealing with trauma, grief, anxiety, and depression often involves several steps forward and one step back. My trauma recovery is still trending in a positive direction, and, by all standards, I am exceeding my support team’s expectations. Still, every day involves managing what easily could be crippling anxiety.

As I learn to practice mindful meditation, I learn to allow, acknowledge, and greet feelings and sensations, like anxiety, without focusing too closely on them or giving them control over my speech or behavior. I am practicing increasing my capacity to simply observe what I’m experiencing without the burden of a compulsion to act on my feelings.

In our culture, many, if not most, people feel that they are entitled to express their emotions however they see fit. They say and do things, motivated by their feelings, and then rationalize them after the fact — often employing very faulty reasoning. This type of selfish speech and behavior causes immeasurable suffering, because many of the things people say or do are not loving or good.

The motivations behind a great deal of hurtful speech involve fear, worry, and anxiety. We would alleviate much suffering in the world if we could simply practice mindful awareness of our feelings without feeling entitled or compelled to react to them in ways that could harm others.

Too few people embrace the possibility of allowing anxiety to pass into your awareness, acknowledge it, greet it, and then allow it to fade as you shift your focus to something else, such as gratitude, in the present moment. I don’t do this often enough! I struggled with it, this morning!

What we resist persists. By struggling, we remain in the struggle. We do not overcome by striving. We can recognize the current of life, which can carry us to many different outcomes when we learn to yield, bend, stretch, and perceive time, space, matter, and souls flowing according to their natural tendencies.

Living life is more like sailing or surfing than rowing, because life is more of an ocean than a pond. Those who go farthest are they who have large ships with capable crews working together, good maps, and a solid understanding of the currents of air and sea.

Storms of anxiety will come. Take down your sails when they do. Hold on, and ride them out. Focus on the present moment. Care for your crew and yourself. In time, the storms of anxiety will pass.

You cannot fight the wind. You are responsible only for harnessing it when you can and presenting as little resistance as possible when you can’t. This is not surrender, it is living to sail another day.

Be friendly with the wind. When the energy of life is flowing in the direction you want to go, harness it, and ride that current as far as you can to get closer to your desired destination. When the currents are against you, don’t fight them; rather, batten down the hatches, and take the opportunity to ride out the storm below decks with your crew. There’s nothing like surviving a storm together to bring people closer in the bonds of trust and friendship.

© 2021 Noel Bagwell. All Right Reserved.

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A consultancy working with leaders, who have suffered a personal or professional setback, so they can Lead Again™.