Embracing Your Anxiety With Tenderness: A Recipe for When You Feel Overwhelmed

Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/sheet-of-empty-paper-with-clip-put-near-halved-garlic-cloves-4033165/

Have you ever woke up overwhelmed by everything on your plate, barely able to breathe?

I was seized with anxiety this morning, my torso area tight like a taut rubber band. I cupped my heart with my warm hand while still in bed and left it there, remembering what I had read in that Thich Nhat Hanh book earlier and had even written about in a previous blog entry.

“I embrace you, anxiety, with tenderness,” I said. In a sincere, genuine way.

“I embrace you, fear, with tenderness,” I said. And as I held my heart, my fear, my anxiety like this, the tightness sensation in my chest dissapated. It was like reciting an incantation, a spell.

And what do you know? It worked!

Oftentimes, I read something and it sounds good in theory, but when I try to remember, I forget. This time, I remembered and put it into practice.

And I’m glad I did. Because this is a tool for bliss, for mental health, that I can return to over and over.

The next time I’m seized with anything and feel like I’m about to drown in it, I’ll remember these magical words: “Embrace your X (fear, anger, jealousy, shame, grief) with tenderness.”

This is self-love. This is reparenting your inner hurt child. This is remembering.

Back from the gym. As I was carrying the Ramblers and bag of potatoes for X back from my car to the apartment elevator, I found myself rushing. Thoughts filled with rising anxiety began to flood my brain, one after another. You only have less than half an hour until your next phone appointment. Then you’ve got your clients. And your neighbor coming over for dinner. You’ll need time to prep and clean and cook. And you also have a god kid who you love who has a birthday today. He’s turning 12. Don’t forget to text, call, and/or send an Amazon gift card.

As I quickened my pace, another more nourishing thought came out of the blue and said: Slow down your pace. Just focus on the present moment. The now. Not on all the things you have to do. Slow down your pace. And trust. That that things will naturally unfold the way they’re supposed to. You’ll do what’s needed. You’ll focus your attention on one thing that’s in front of you, piece by piece, part by part. Trust that you will do that.

A recipe for overwhelm to follow today and beyond, the next time you need to feel hope and relief:

  1. Slow down your pace. Instead of rushing, running, can you purposely walk instead?
  2. Notice your breathing. Is it shallow? Is it fast?
  3. Notice what’s happening now. (Ex. You are carrying a heavy box of sparkling water under one arm and a bag of potatoes under the other one and you’ve slowed down your pace and are no longer running, but walking.)
  4. Tell yourself: “Trust.” Trust that everything will work out. Everything is working out.
  5. If still seized with anxiety, panic, fear, worry: Place your warm hand on your heart and say: “I embrace you, anxiety, with tenderness.” Say it like you mean it. Say it a few more times and genuinely feel compassion, empathy and love for yourself, for this emotional state that is simply a visitor passing by like a temporary storm. You don’t need to identify with it. You don’t need to beat yourself up, shame or blame yourself for feeling this transient emotional state.
  6. Notice the Now around you. (Ex. You’re in a parking garage filled with cars. Yellow car. Red car. Your feet are moving slowly as you walk, as each shoe, left, then right, lands on the hard concrete floor. The groceries under your arms feel heavy, yet your arms are marvelously strong. You are a miracle!)
  7. Feel your heart rate come down, your breaths return back to normal rather than shallow breathing, your chest, your torso, your gut expanding ever so slightly. No longer constricted, contracted. Expansion returns once more.
  8. Stop and celebrate and savor everything you want to do on your to-do list today.
  9. Focus on just one thing at a time. Put all your attention into it. You just have this ONE thing. This ONE action before you. Approach it with curiosity, like a scientist or anthropologist.
  10. Enjoy!

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