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Ally or Adversary? Shifting Your Relationship With Anxiety

If there is one thing we see among those who are anxious, it is that anxious people hate the feeling of being anxious. This dislike of anxiety propels us toward doing whatever we can to avoid, ignore, dismiss, and deny the existence of anxiety. Unfortunately, this stance toward anxiety can serve to exacerbate and magnify anxiety all the more. There is a different way, a more effective way to deal with anxiety. Let’s talk about it.

There are many theories, therapies, and interventions that can help you manage anxiety better. One of the therapies we use to help our clients manage anxiety is Internal Family Systems therapy. Internal Family Systems therapy can be so useful in improving our understanding of why we operate the way we do and how to shift into healthier modes of functioning.

Be friendly with the anxious part of you.

Within the Internal Family Systems therapy framework, we begin to approach our emotional experiences as parts of self. Many clients report that viewing emotions as a part of self helps to make emotions more tangible, which helps us feel like we can do something about it. Emotions tend to be abstract and amorphous, so approaching an emotion as a part of self helps concretize the emotional experience for us.

Many people with anxiety over-identify with being anxious. And although this makes sense given how it feels like a power greater than you, perhaps a more helpful way to view anxiety is as a part of you. Not the sum total of who you are, just a part. And yes, this part might be big, in fact it is outsized. Yet, this part became big at some point in your life to protect you.

Take a moment to imagine this anxious part of you.

Try to see this part of you as “out there” versus “in here.” Be curious. Imagine you are a scientist observing something fascinating.

  • What do you see?

  • What shape or color is it?

  • What is the energy exuding from the part of you who is anxious?

  • Is this a younger version of you who feels worried and fearful?

Study this anxious part for a little bit. See if you can find an opening of compassion…Perhaps this part grew because at the time it was adaptive, it kept you safe. Maybe little you didn't feel safe because changes in your environment felt too sudden, too unexpected. So, being an astute student of life, you learned to keep your eyes forever on the horizon, assessing and analyzing for impending change so that you could prepare and not be so rocked. Maybe your parents, although trying their best, didn't know how to manage their emotions very well, and you learned to be hyper-vigilant to "reading the room" and shifting your behavior in an attempt to keep things calmer...and safer.

Anxiety doesn't have to be your adversary.

However, when it takes over, it can feel really big, in charge, and all-consuming. As you get older, maybe you've begun to realize that, although hypervigilance kept you somewhat safe or gave the illusion of safety, being on all the time drains your life battery fast. Too fast. And you're struggling to keep up. Because you are tired. Exhausted really from a lifetime of assessing all the ways life could go wrong, trying to make known the unknown, trying to make the unexpected expected, creating multiple plans to sidestep or prepare accordingly.

Maybe you've realized this anxiety - this outsized worry and fear - just isn't serving you as well anymore. It did work so hard for you to keep you safe and out of harms way, yes. And you're grateful for that, you can see and understand its protective nature now.

Here is an idea, from Internal Family Systems theory, that can be very useful to know and integrate:

The parts of ourselves we don’t like, tend to get bigger and louder until they feel seen and heard and tended to.

It's probably not a stretch to assume you've tried exceptionally hard to get rid of anxiety. Perhaps it's time to try another way. And, that statement probably stirred up anxiety! So, let's try this: Say hello to the anxious part of you.

“Hi Anxiety. I see you. I know you are here. I know you believe it is your job to keep me safe. Thank you for all your work over the years.”

Notice what happens.

Keep noticing when your anxious part emerges, and greet it as a part of you. When anxiety knocks on your door - or bangs very loudly - open the door, smile wide, and say, "Hello. I've been waiting for you."

The first step.

This is just the first step of beginning to see anxiety as a dear member of your internal family system - not an enemy, not the "black sheep," not an adversary.

If this approach resonates with you, finding a therapist who uses Internal Family Systems therapy might be a good fit for learning how to better manage anxiety. Having an expert who can calmly and steadily guide you through the treacherous waters of anxiety to a place of peace within, is worth it. You're worth it.

If your anxiety is outsized and you need it to be more manageable and rightsized, working with a therapist who understands can be life-changing. To schedule an appointment or gather more information, please call or text 317-747-0574 or visit our contact page


Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace professional psychological care, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


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