Coping with Anxiety

When I walked in the room I never expected this kind of greeting. The anger was palpable. The anger wasn't personal but it was directed towards me. They hated me. They hated me for my race, my education, my privilege. I represented everything that was responsible for what went wrong in their life, and I was the one to blame. This was the environment I was stepping into. You could say I had a captive audience. They had "agreed" to come to the group, but it wasn't exactly their choice. Some were curious, most were belligerent. It was my job to help these individuals uncover what was hurting them and create the space within the group for them to release their pain. If you've ever stepped into this kind of environment, you can feel it to your core. I was nervous and visibly shaken. There was no playing it cool or being professional. I was scared and everyone could see it. Where do you start?

I took a deep breathe and started to introduce myself but I couldn't. So I started by asking, "Let's everyone to take a deep breathe and sit for a moment." Several breathes went by before I could steady my nerves to speak again. "As you continue to breathe at a comfortable pace, I ask that you check in with your body. Notice where you hold tension and allow it to release." A few more minutes passed and I asked the group, "Bring to mind what you are grateful for. It may be a person in your life, an experience you had, or it could be a sense of gratitude for the body you inhabit." As the minutes passed, I could feel the tension in the room dissipate. More importantly, I could feel my anxiety come down a few notches to the point where I could look these people in the eye and speak to them. I could see past my own fear and insecurity and see the people in front of me. Something about sitting with people in pain. You understand the universality of our humanity. You realize how much common ground exists. The difference is only in our outward appearance. We all have fear, pain, disappointment. We were all hurt by what our parents said or did. We feel less than someone else. We hope no one can see our imperfections. We feel broken. We want to hide or check out. It is our greatest fear someone may see who we really are and yet it is our deepest desire to be seen. This is what we as humans struggle with. Sure, we have found ways to cope and present ourselves as put together. But the struggle is always just below the surface.

Stepping into a tense environment is something we can all relate to. It may be family holidays, our work place, or even getting into our own bed. The struggle is real and you will encounter it for the rest of your life. There is no getting around the fear, only getting through it. Not that I have it all figured out, but I have found a couple of things that have helped me.

First, it is taking a deep breathe and checking in with my body. When I can identify where the tension lives in my body, I have a choice I didn't initially recognize. I can let go of tension or hold on to it. I can relax my shoulders and notice when they start to creep up to my ears again. Identifying the anxious place in my body is like an anchor. Next I start to appreciate. The state of appreciation allows your heart to open. It keeps you soft. It allows you to let down your guard. It doesn't matter what you appreciate. It can be anything. I start with whatever comes to mind and then continue with whatever comes to mind next. I look at what is in front of me and appreciate who or what is there. In the case of the group, I appreciated the people who were willingness to show up. I appreciated their pain. I appreciated the anger that was there to hide their pain. I appreciated their humanity. From the state of appreciation, I could see beyond myself. What was happening wasn't personal. I could see it wasn't just about me and my feelings. From the space outside of myself, I have nothing to defend or explain. From this larger perspective, I can observe rather than react. From this space, infinite possibilities exist. Finally, I set my intention. What do I want or what do I want to happen? When you are setting your intention it is very important to I imagine the best possible outcome for all. This can not be a win/lose situation. It must be a win for all.

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