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Samantha felt overwhelmed by her school assignments, her relationships, and her job. She often felt like she was walking a tightrope while holding a pole that contained all of her “should” and “must” type of thoughts. “It’s not a matter of if, but when I’ll fall and crash!” she’d repeat.
She would imagine placing her thoughts and feelings in a bottle and shutting the lid tightly. “I place them there so I can cope,” she would declare.
She recognized her panic attack cycle: stress, anxiety, tension build up, and suppress until it shatters. Then starting all over again. She hated her panic attacks, but said she always felt better after experiencing one.
- Do Samantha’s struggles sound familiar?
- Do you wish you could extinguish anxiety from your life?
- Do you believe you can “control” what happens in your body?
- Is suppressing, stopping, ignoring, or fighting your emotions and sensations giving you temporary relief but not the long-lasting results you want?
The Wrestle Within
Like Samantha, you may believe that you can control those harrowing internal feelings and sensations. Most people who have not engaged in mental health treatment believe they can. Avoidance may be their “go to” coping skill, or they might do their best to resist the feelings and sensations when they appear.
During a panic attack, can you in that moment halt the blood surging out from your stomach, which is causing your abdominal distress? Can you immediately decrease the accelerated heart beats? When you’re sweating profusely, are you able to tell your glands to just stop?
The more you feel the trembling in your body, the more you may resist it. The shortness of breath, chest pain, and sense of choking cause you to feel trapped. As the fainting sensation and numbness take place, the urge to escape these sensations is irresistible.
When you feel detached from the present moment and fear losing control, your only option seems to listen to your mind when it says, “Fight! “Control!” “You can stop this!” Your anguish leads you to try harder — and why not? It makes logical sense, but as you have discovered, it does not work effectively.
Researchers have taught that Pain + Resistance = Suffering. Pain is universal, and we all experience it in various forms. But when we resist it, we drag it along in our lives, and the pain becomes suffering. When it comes to anxiety, it is the resistance to it, and the urge to replace it that makes the pain more lasting.
“What you resist, persists.” -Carl Young
When anxiety is present, your mind may say, “This is bad timing.” Your mind has set up rules and expectations. The moment you wish for something other than what is happening, that’s the moment your suffering begins.
The good news is there are better alternatives than fighting your emotions and sensations. Just like surfers ride 10-foot waves, you can learn to surf the natural swells within your body instead of fighting them.
Learning to Surf the Waves
Imagine seeing a giant wave forming in the ocean. The resistance between the wind and the water surface has created this wave. As the friction continues, the wave begins to swell. The energy is intense and is making the wave higher than usual.
See it reach its crest. Observe its force and notice that like any wave, it begins to break. The wave will crash on the shore like all waves do. That’s their nature and you can’t stop them.
The sensations in your body may feel like 30-foot waves. They are frightening and you may have the urge to build a solid rock or cement wall to prevent the waves. In the ocean, the force of the wind makes the waves crash fiercely against the barrier. A wall that’s constantly getting hit by waves will erode and become weak.
How do you feel when you resist the swells within you?
The elements that make the panic wave may be chemicals in your brain, thoughts, sensations, emotions, and urges. These are natural occurrences of the human body. As you become aware of the building up of tension, take deep breaths. During your out breaths imagine blowing that air into the area of your body where you feel that pressure. You do this to make room for it, and not to make it go away.
Continue to breathe in and out into the tightness you feel to allow the wave to crest. Then go with it as it reaches the beach. Ripples will form, the wave will subside, and another one will begin.
Try not to analyze the causes for the waves. Thank your mind for its protective efforts. Breathe in and as you breathe out, imagine surfing each wave. Let it descend. Remember, you can choose to allow the waves, or place barriers that will leave you exhausted.
Let the waves come and go. That’s what waves do. You don’t have to continue the wrestle within.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn