By Brian Robinson.
There is nothing more natural than to resist the things we dislike or fear. That’s the way we’re wired. And most of the time it works. Resistance is our friend: it’s not our enemy. But what if the things we are trying to resist are irresistible? And what if the characteristics of resistance actually nourishes the very thing we are trying to purge?
The urge to resist always rises to the surface when we experience anxiety or panic. Indeed, anxiety sufferers often see their relationship with their condition as a duel or battle. It is something we have to fight off, fight against. Some people even suggest we should ‘call our panic out’; say ‘bring it on’; ‘do your worst’. And again, this seemingly counter-intuitive approach also reflects our confrontational attitude towards our anxiety.
Our natural tendency to resist is even encouraged by how we define anxiety. We describe it is a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Whereas in reality, anxiety is more about escape. You will not find many people who say they feel courageous and want to fight when anxious.
We should also look critically at the idea of flight from panic. Fight or flight only makes sense when there is real danger. If we try and fight our anxiety: we end up at war with ourselves. And if we try and flee from our anxiety: we end up fleeing from ourselves.
So, if fighting or running or resisting makes no sense, then we have to ask what makes for the best relationship with our anxiety?
The critical thing to understand about anxiety and panic, is that they are disorders caused by tension. They feed on tension and stress. And conversely, when the body becomes relaxed and tension-free, we have an environment in which anxiety cannot exist.
The problem with resisting and fighting, is that they are tension-producing strategies. They only make matters worse. Anxiety is an irresistible condition in the sense that we cannot directly eradicate it. We can only indirectly create the conditions which will encourage it to settle.
Fight or flight is a system which exists within ourselves. It is unintentionally acting in our interests, trying to keep us safe. It is not the enemy within. It is only active in the first place because tension levels have risen.
Anxiety is in fact our friend, albeit a misguided one. I’m not suggesting we should put the welcome mat out and encourage anxiety in. But if anxiety is already in the building, and if it is indeed our friend as being suggested, then our relationship with it should reflect both these truths.
Acceptance is the first step towards changing the way we see anxiety. It is what it is, and we shouldn’t try and control it. Be conscious of when you physically begin to resist. You will feel your muscles tensing and your arms may be gripping your sides. Get up and move around. Shake out your arms and legs and then try and settle back into an open posture.
Allow anxiety in emotionally, even though it will smother all other positive emotions. That is just the nature of panic. You don’t whistle a happy tune when in the lion’s den. Generally speaking, allowing it in will make the experience less intense and help it pass quicker.
Understanding anxiety, what it is and why it exists, will help with psychological acceptance. It is not the bully we often describe it as. It is a persuasive friend that we need to communicate with; need to reach out to; need to reach within.