I’ve always had somewhat of a nervous disposition. I’d oscillate between being cautiously confident at the best of times to anxious ridden at the worst. From a career perspective I’ve been fairly successful and have done well wherever I worked. But I’ve also been a bit of a dilemma sometimes, especially to my bosses. I’d be brilliant one moment and shrink the next. I was never on sure footing and always felt inadequate on the inside, like I didn’t measure up or deserve to be there. I’m smart, intelligent, graduated near top of my class from one of the top engineering schools in the country, yet couldn’t shake this feeling. This underlying anxiety and general nervous demeanor followed me everywhere.
I’ve battled anxiety for what feels like the most part of my adult life. Social situations like attending a party, or worse hosting one were other triggers. Presentations at work. Going around the room and waiting my turn to give a small status update. Speaking in a group of people, no matter how small or how big. Basically anything that brought attention to me could be a potential trigger and could send me into a mini or full blown panic attack. Heart pounding, hands sweating, shaking even, nervous smile, wanting to be any place but there.
I didn’t get it. What was wrong with me, I’d constantly ask myself. There didn’t appear to be a logical reason for why I reacted this way. Sometimes it felt like life and death when clearly I wasn’t ever in any real danger. I absolutely hated myself when anxiety struck. I used to berate myself for being weak and not being confident enough. I felt ashamed. I also felt alone. It seemed like I was the only one experiencing this. Sure I’d see people get nervous when they had to give a big presentation or a big speech. But I never saw others sweating the small stuff like I was. Everyone seemed so relaxed and confident. As they should be! But for some reason I wasn’t and felt like a loser for feeling this way.
But there is a silver lining to this story. This pain and suffering forced me to look inside rather than outside for solutions. It helped me turn to meditation as a coping technique, which then eventually morphed into a way of life. Turning inwards taught me many lessons about my plight, one of the most important ones being around acceptance and facing the pain.
No one likes feeling anxious, depressed or other negative emotions. They’re not pleasant and our usual reaction is to turn and run in the other direction. I tried to suppress the anxiety. To fight it. To reason it away. To hide from it and just plain run away. Of course none of this worked. The harder I tried, the more anxious I got. I was miserable and suffering tremendously.
The breakthrough for me came when I stopped resisting and running away. Especially at the moment anxiety struck. Acceptance didn’t happen all at once. I had to keep trying again and again and again as usually when I got anxious I’d get so caught up in it, I’d revert to my usual suppression and run away mode. Luckily, or unluckily I had many opportunities to try and face it. Each time I’d get anxious, I’d just observe and note that I was feeling anxious. This eventually progressed to fully accepting the feeling and just letting it "flow" through my body.
What do I mean by flow? I believe each thought and emotion is energy. In fact we are just little balls of energy. Each emotion has a certain energy signature. Growing up, due to our societal conditioning we have been taught that certain emotions are 'good' and others are 'bad’. So as we grow up we learn to suppress the bad emotions as they’re uncomfortable and we worry about being judged if we display them outwardly. We could be perceived as weak or incompetent. So we do all we can to bottle these up, put up a ‘brave’ facade and not express them. This causes these emotions and energies to get clogged up, just like a pipe would if it had a blockages. In my case this is why I believe the anxiety got worse with age. The pipe was getting more and more backed up and was almost ready to burst. So to unclog this pipe, these blockages need to be removed and the way to do this is to let these emotions flow. This is done by accepting them.
When I decided to accept, instead of fretting and stressing over why I was feeling this way, I’d just sit with the anxiety. Feeling the anxiety and sitting in pain isn’t easy at all. Its an extremely uncomfortable feeling. But it became easier to observe it each time it came up. I’d still feel awkward as it would continue coming up in social or work settings. But I wouldn’t judge it or judge myself. There would be just complete acceptance of the emotion and the situation.
This isn’t easy for a couple of reasons. One, it just feels really uncomfortable as discussed above. The other reason is that when you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it’s very easy to just get caught up in the emotions and drama. The key to letting these emotions flow is feeling them without getting caught up and involved in what’s causing them or judging oneself for feeling this way.
It’s just a complete surrender. Not surrender in terms of giving up. But surrender in terms of complete acceptance. It’s a letting go of expectations of what should be happening in the situation. Yes, you don’t want to be anxious but the reality is that you are, so surrender to the feeling instead of fighting what is.
This release could take a very long time. So also surrender any notion of timelines. You’re not magically going to be anxiety free the first time you accept the anxiety. Just be present with your emotions, thank them (yes thank them!) and feel. In my case, it has taken years. I’m not saying it’ll be the same for you, but I’m also asking you to suspend expectations of any timetable. Acceptance means acceptance. Accept that you feel a certain way. It’s probably calling your attention to look inwards, and there’s probably also a lot of repressed emotions and past trauma that needs to be healed and released. This is a healing process and there are no shortcuts. The way out to the the light is through the darkness. So face the darkness. Accept it. Befriend it. Thank it. If you do so, it will no longer be as scary. It starts here.