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Soothing Anxiety

Anxiety is a completely natural human emotion. It’s our nervous system’s response to uncertainty, mild threat, or stress. It’s aim is heighten our senses and support us to discern how to create more safety. Anxiety can be related to physical, emotional or psychological safety. When the threats are more internal (emotional and psychological) and recurrent, we can develop a habit of chronic anxiety — perpetually expecting the worse or worrying. When anxiety becomes chronic, it interferes with our capacity for joy in life, as well as our ability to respond effectively to interpersonal relationships or broader, societal issues.

Contemplative practice offers a range of tools to help us understand anxiety, transform our relationship with it, and ultimately resolve the root inner causes of this friction. Here are a few suggestions to begin to explore this terrain: 

  • Notice how often you experience anxiety. Rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, paying attention to how it changes throughout the day. Reflect on its impermanence. What is the effect of noticing how it changes?
  • Anxiety is often fed by thinking. We try to solve it through more thought, only to find that it keeps spinning. Instead, try consciously shifting your attention to anything in your immediate surroundings that is calming, soothing, or neutral: the landscape, music, a smell or texture. See if you can rest your attention with one of the physical senses of a simple activity like drinking tea, walking, or exercises. What is the effect of putting your attention somewhere else?
  • When it’s not too intense, try exploring how the anxiety manifests in your body. Where do you feel it? How’s it feel there. Try lengthening your outbreath to soothe the anxiety. Imagine it draining out through your limbs, hands, and feet. 

For more on anxiety, check out Oren’s blog post and guided meditation, “Handling Anxiety”.