New columnist and Australian pioneer of the practice of mindfulness, Charlotte Thaarup, discusses why people become anxious and whether or not it’s a bad thing.
There are many media and research reports about the rise in anxiety amongst Australians.
The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows one in eight Australians had an anxiety-related condition which is up more than 10% over just a couple of years. The figures are much higher when it comes to our teenagers. Almost all of us feel some level of anxiety at some time.
Is anxiety always lingering just beneath the surface? And what can we do to manage it and to not dial it up?
Anxiety is our body mind system sensing that we are not safe. We can see it as ongoing alertness to dangers. A small dose is part of life. It is when it becomes an ongoing way of functioning that it takes its toll on our bodies, relationships, and our mental health.
I was watching a David Attenborough documentary and it struck me how animals are always on the lookout for danger.
Why should humans be any different? Perhaps our natural disposition is to live with an undercurrent of anxiety rather than being calm and at ease? If we are lucky enough to have had a good primary carer who soothed us when needed and have not had major trauma, then we have a good foundation to manage our anxiety.
But that is not all of us. Perhaps that is as good as it gets, and, therefore, a key step to managing anxiety is to accept this.
Not our fault, but our responsibility to manage.
Our sensing of threats is based on what we have stored from past experiences mixed with our survival drives and natural disposition. Right now, COVID-19, the pace of the world, as well as our lifestyle of addiction to the weapon of mass distraction is making us more vulnerable to experiencing anxiety.
Our bodies cannot lie. They go into anxiety mode because they sense uncertainty or danger, rather than to annoy us or to betray us.
Suppressing or denying how we feel generates anxiety as there is a lack of congruence within our systems. Avoid avoiding!
Yet denying, ignoring, or masking anxiety is common. Rather than soothing the anxiety at the source our bodies, we adopt various coping strategies.
We try to control our world, we judge others to affirm ourselves in being ‘right’, we work hard to get power, money, and status so we will be safe. We distract ourselves, live in disconnect, we avoid responsibility that would mean more exposure to rejections, failure, and anxiety.
We need to greet anxiety. What you resist persists; what you greet with kindness transforms. Mindfulness can assist in recognising and dealing with anxiety.
Some commonly espoused strategies, such as having and maintaining routine, getting enough sleep and exercise, eating well, and having support structures are also very helpful. Very importantly, dial down your time of your phone, and social media.
I recommend being electronic-free in the first and last hours of the day.
Where mindfulness practice can really help is reminding us that all we have to do is manage the moment, one moment at a time.
Recognise anxiety. Welcome it. Thank your body for looking out for you. And notice what happens.
* Charlotte Thaarup is also contributing to the University of Newcastle’s new Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) with modules on Mindful Leadership.