When Ami* got in touch with me, she’d been experiencing anxiety in her year-long relationship pretty much the entire time. At first, she put it down to new relationship jitters and not being used to dating “such a nice guy”. After a while, she blamed her ‘baggage’, intolerance and being “too sensitive”. As is the way when we play down the significance of something and dismiss our feelings, the anxiety kept niggling and building. Next thing, it was keeping her awake at night.
One of life’s ongoing challenges is discerning whether the anxiety we’re experiencing is due to past issues, our insecurities, or our intuition trying to alert us to something that requires our action. This isn’t something we just ‘know’ how to do. Social conditioning actually taught us to distrust our feelings and boundaries in favour of being obedient and compliant.
Ami did what many of us do: rationalise our anxiety so much that we miss the wood for the trees.
We build a case against ourselves and wonder why we’re experiencing anxiety “for no reason”. We devote ourselves to trying to prove that we’re wrong or faulty instead of acknowledging that the body, even if it’s a little or even a lot off base, is trying to communicate something. Our anxiety indicates that we’re not based in the present. We’re responding based on old pain, fear and guilt or going against ourselves. Or both.
We wonder ‘Why am anxious for no reason?’ And it’s not that there’s “no reason”; we are rationalising, minimising and ignoring ourselves.
Ami was anxious for the entire relationship because she told herself that she shouldn’t feel anxious because he was “nice”, “educated”, and “fun”. Relative to past relationships, she figured this one was “better”.
She talked herself out of her feelings because the relationship looked good on paper.
It was as if there had to be something drastic and unequivocal to pin her feelings on. Like he had to be a serial killer or something, not just someone that wasn’t the right person for her. In the absence of major drama, she overlooked the obvious: her anxiety communicated that she was in the wrong relationship. They were incompatible. Her emotional state within the relationship was the drastic and unequivocal evidence that she needed to take action. She didn’t understand it and got stuck in a cycle of overthinking and fear of making a mistake. Her body understood though.
Side note: the night terrors or other what might be frightening symptoms that you only started having when you kept dismissing yourself in a relationship or when you pushed to go ahead with something are the big-ass clues that something’s up! I get wanting to diagnose or find big-time evidence. The symptoms are the evidence!
Anxiety wants our reassurance and, where needed, our action. We’ve got to confirm the true state of things to be grounded in reality. Or we’ve got to reassure ourselves that we have our back.
So we’ve got to take actions that reflect reassurance that we’re okay or take actions to remedy the situation. We have to take care of us so that anxiety does a better job of alerting us.
One of the handiest things I’ve learned through listening to myself and teaching others to do it is that intuition is only concerned with what is. Unlike ego, fear and criticism, it’s not trying to make you know what will happen in one hundred or even a thousand years. It also isn’t concerned with the past or power trips like winning and being right.
Intuition is about now.
When we have a habit of not listening to ourselves or we’ve failed to listen and act in a particular area, anxiety is the body’s way of saying that we’re either misappropriating our energies or that we’ve missed a number of ‘new messages’.
The best thing that anxiety ever did was force me to acknowledge the accumulation of missed messages and postponed actions. A panic attack, as horrendous as it was, ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me, serving a massive wake-up call.
One of the life lessons we experience many times throughout our lifetimes is getting what we wanted (or what others want for us) and having to act on the realisation that it’s not right for us.
It’s why I hear from so many people who finally land the ‘perfect job’ or achieve their dreams, only to be besieged by surprising emotions that convey that this isn’t the path for them. They feel like they should be happy, that they should be able to squeeze into this life, that they should be able to make it work.
Life is always speaking to us.
It doesn’t mean that we should take anxiety purely at face value, but we need to befriend ourselves enough that we can see it as an ally that’s doing its best to alert us to something about our inner state and an aspect of our life.
Hating on ourselves for experiencing anxiety will only tighten its grip, not least because we will respond in less than supportive ways. By first accepting that this is how we feel, we have an opportunity to assess why. The clue will be in whatever we keep denying, rationalising, minimising, excusing or assuming. We can address underlying causes so that we’re less triggered and can talk and act ourselves out of the wave of emotions. Or we can open ourselves up to understanding the current nature of our life. Yes, it might require us to get uncomfortable, to make changes that fly in the face of the ‘shoulds’ or the grand master plan. Relief and inner peace, though, are on the other side.
Our intuition won’t always tell us what we want to hear, but it always has our back.
When we cultivate a more mindful relationship with us, we gather the intelligence needed to understand our emotions. By basing ourselves in the present, anxiety doesn’t have to be blamed on something being ‘wrong’ with us. We can acknowledge insecurities, recognise where past experiences are showing up — and consciously respond in the now. The more we do this, the fewer instances of being held hostage by it or confused by its presence. We’re not going to be best friends with anxiety, but we treat it as a friendly nudge, sometimes a push, to take care of us.
Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to “please” or protect yourself from others? My new book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (HarperCollins/Harper Horizon), is out now.
Want more help with understanding your relationship with anxiety or learning to listen to yourself? Check out The Anxiety Sessions and The Intuition Sessions.
*Name changed for privacy.