holding space for anxiety

On Saturday I arrived at the airport an hour before my flight was supposed to take off.
Once upon a time this would have caused a heady mix of profuse sweating and intense panic.
I’d have convinced myself that I was going to miss my flight.
I’d be tense, full of regret and completely gripped by anxiety.

Since those days something has changed. 
Did the thought that I’d miss my flight run through my mind on Saturday? Yes it did.
Did I feel the wave of anxiety begin to rise? Yes I did.
Did it grip me? No it didn’t.
I wasn’t a hot, sweaty mess.
I didn’t erratically grab my bags out of the taxi and charge towards check in.

(this is pretty huge for me).
So what did I do to avoid anxiety taking over?
I did nothing. 
I didn’t resist.
I didn’t fight.
I didn’t hide.
I didn’t react, at all.
I allowed the sensation of it to flood through me.

I felt it.

In every cell. 

I pulled up a seat for it at my internal table. I sat with it and let it swell in my belly and in my chest.
Every uncomfortable ounce of it.

I allowed it to run it's course. 
Practising sitting with the discomfort of anxiety has shifted something for me.
Rather than flapping at the first signs of it beginning to rise, I let it be. 

Getting to know anxiety for what it is has been profound.  

Anxiety isn’t inherently bad.

In fact we owe it a lot. Without it we wouldn't have made it this far. 

It's a survival mechanism, there to encourage us to react in the face of danger. You know like when we're in the vicinity of a hungry woolly mammoth.
It's supposed to be uncomfortable, otherwise we'd take no notice of it. 

The thing is that for most of us our environment has changed since the days of being prey to a range of predators. 

Now we live in towns and cities and have different stresses upon us, like bills to pay, forms to fill, work expectations to meet, child-care arrangements to be make, fines to avoid, social guilt to navigate...

The same fight or flight response that got triggered by the looming predator is being triggered by modern day concerns. 

That's why we can rationalise in our head that a particular situation that is causing us anxiety isn't likely to happen or that it if did it wouldn't be the end of world but the felt experience of it is telling us something different. 
This understanding has been powerful for me. 

It has enabled me to see that in situations that aren't a matter of life or death I don't need to respond to the anxiety that I'm feeling. 

I'm unlearning a habit of reacting and honing a new one - one that holds space for the sensation of anxiety to rise and then fall. 

Rather than being filled with fear when the familiar sensations start to flood in, I let the cycle complete.

From feeling in danger to being safe. 
When you start to feel anxious, try experiencing it as a sensation, an uncomfortable one sure, but one that can be felt without reaction.
Allow it to be there, acknowledged what has triggered it, then with the same ease that you’ve greeted it with, let it leave without disturbance.
Rather than an enemy, I try and see anxiety as a friend that had gotten to be a little overprotective - one who I haven't had the best boundaries with.

I let it fuss over me but I don’t it too much attention, I don’t encourage it.
In doing this I feel like it has taken the hint, that I don’t need it half as much as it thinks I do.
It doesn’t visit as much and when it does it knows i’m not going to fuel it’s fire by making a big deal about it’s arrival.

I have become a less liveable terrain for anxiety to flourish. 
Will something shift the first time you try it? Maybe, maybe not.
If you’ve spent however many years fighting, running and / or blocking anxiety then it’s going to take some practise to cement this new approach, to learn a new more helpful habit. 
The key is to keep practising. 
To keep tunnelling a new route.

There is light at the end of it.