How to Overcome Anxiety by Letting It Be

If you know me, you'd know that anxiety pretty much rules my life.  If you've read my past posts, you'd see how badly. 

I was born with sensory processing disorder.  SPD means that your senses take input from outside sources (sights, touch, smells, sounds, etc.) and sends messages to your brain and your brain interprets what those things are.  Those of us with SPD have brains that misinterprets these messages, leaving our bodies to react to the wrong information.

Let me give you an example: The fridge is running.  It has been running for a long time.  You get used to the sound.  It suddenly switches off, leaving a difference in the sounds that surround you.  And instead of just regularly adjusting to the change in sound (like a normal person), those of us with SPD may start to panic, thinking something wrong with our hearing.  Changes in sights and sounds can jar us to the point of anxiety, and sometimes even full-blown panic attacks.

So, what happens when you're 40, and you've never learned how to properly maintain this anxiety?  Then you can end up getting to the point, as I did, that every single thing can make you panic.  You can end up living inside of a panic attack, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even while asleep.

The last time I got this bad, my depression also spiraled out of control.  In order to control my depression, I needed to be able to control the anxiety, which felt impossible.  Otherwise they fed upon each other, creating a never-ending spiral of insanity.

This time, during this present phase of anxiety, I've been getting symptoms that usually occur during my most severe anxiety spikes, which are disassociation and depersonalization.

Wikipedia describes depersonalization as "periods of detachment from self or surrounding which may be experienced as "unreal" (lacking in control of or "outside" self) while retaining awareness that this is only a feeling and not a reality".  This could be experienced as the world around the sufferer being foggy, unreal, or distorted.  Some also feel as though they are, at times, not in charge of their own actions or bodies (this has happened to me often).  As a child, I would feel like my limbs were too big for my body when I closed my eyes.  As an adult, I have watched my own hand dump items down my toilet without me being able to stop myself (which makes you feel insane because those are your own hands that you can't control).  Luckily that only happened to me once, but the fear afterwards left me shaken for days.  More often I get these instances of feeling like I am separate from my own body, looking out through my eyes (like a hyperawareness of being there).  I also get a "stuffy head" meaning I feel like a fog has taken over my brain or that my head is stuffed with something that's making my thinking slow and clumsy.  And other times, I feel like I somewhat have cloudy sight, like there's real fog mucking up my vision (only when I am seriously panicking though).

So while these things stem from my anxiety, they also cause it to get 100x worse (a self-feeding situation of negativity and despair).

When you constantly let your nervous system by overtaxed by anxious thoughts and feelings, it becomes the norm, so trying to get it to stop feels practically impossible, no matter what method you try.

That is, unless you know how to "sit with it".  

This technique has allowed me to actually feel mostly anxiety-free since learning it.  The times I do feel anxiety, I just "sit with it" and allow it to pass, and it never reaches the panic phase.  The first day was hard, the second was easier, the third even easier and today?  I don't think I've had any anxiety at all!  That's the first time I've been able to say that for a very long time!

I learned this technique many years ago when I read Oriah Mountain Dreamer's "The Invitation".  She suggested it for pain, but it works just as well for anxiety.  When I first read her technique, I was scared to try it, as I am pretty much a baby about pain.  But when I tried it, it not only completely allowed the pain to leave my body, but also didn't leave any residual pain later.  Just "sitting with it" allowed the pain to swell to its inevitable crescendo, and then calm back down to normal.  Avoiding pain, trying to run from it, actually makes it so much worse.  The same goes for anxiety.

Your feelings want to be felt.  Just like a child that wants to be heard by having a tantrum.  Ignoring the child will create havoc and cause that child to act out in various ways.  But giving it the space it needs in order to be heard allows it to fizzle out before it gets horrible (for anxiety) or prolonged (for pain).

On top of my anxiety, I also have chronic pain, which in the book "Paradoxical Relaxation" says could be related.  By constantly taxing your nervous system, you are causing your muscles to always be stiff and constrained, which in turn can cause widespread pain that can be mistaken for a number of things.  I will say, since practicing this technique, my pain has been considerably less (whether it's from "sitting with my pain" or from "sitting with my anxiety", I can't tell, but it doesn't matter, because it's working! LOL).

For the first time in almost a YEAR or more, I've been able to control my anxiety for the most part.  This technique is an accumulative technique (meaning the more you practice it, the better it works), so, at first, you'll still get anxiety, but now you'll be able to stop it in its tracks as well as prevent it from becoming a panic attack.  After practicing it for awhile, you'll retrain your overtaxed nervous system to stop reacting to every little thing you feel (or experience).  Your body will learn the normal state of being is calm, instead of reactionary.  Because anxiety is just reactionary feelings to a perceived threat.  When you teach your body there's no threat, it will stop defaulting to thinking there is.

Having chronic anxiety is like a bad habit.  You do something enough times, and your body will default to that habit.  They say it takes 30 days or so to break a habit, so hopefully within 30 days (yet, probably less), your anxiety will be almost completely manageable.

DISCLAIMER: Before we move on to the technique, I am NOT saying for you to stop any medication you're on for anxiety.  That is something you need to talk to your doctor about.  My advice is in no way to take the place of doctor's orders.  It's to be used in conjunction with whatever you're already doing.  

Now, with that out of the way, let's get to it!

I am going to share with you the mantra that I repeat to myself many, many times a day, whenever my anxiety crops up:

"Sit with it."

This is my reminder to stop, calm myself, usually close my eyes, and pay attention to what's going on in my body, and ONLY that.  Putting ALL your attention on what feels wrong in your body may feel counterproductive, but I assure you, it's not.

Remember the picture I painted of a tantruming child?  Use that if you have to.  See your anxiety as your inner child having a temper tantrum.  How do you calm a child?  You pay attention to them.  Now, no, if a real child was having a real tantrum, paying constant attention to them would cause the tantrums to get worse, right?  But our anxiety is different.  Our inner child isn't really a child at all, but the parts of ourselves that have been ignored for too long (usually since childhood) and are now acting out.  And giving our inner child the attention that it has craved for so long will actually help it integrate into our adult forms rather than make it worse.  Not all anxiety comes form our inner children, but a lot of it does.

Think about it: if you have medical anxiety (which I do), were you medically neglected as a child?  I was.  If you are scared of the dark, did something happen as a child in the dark that traumatized you?  If you fear certain places (like I fear restaurants), did something happen as a child in those places?  If you have driving anxiety, did something happen negatively while driving?  Not all things need to happen to you as a child in order for your inner child to be affected.  We are all adults with our inner children, inner teens, and other aspects of our lives living inside of us at all times.  If you've ever felt rebellious, you have felt the cry of your inner teen wanting to come out and be heard.

Having SPD on top of childhood trauma is recipe for a complete anxious mess as an adult.  But learning to "sit with it", can help you return to state of normalcy and give you the tools to calm your anxiety any time it pops up.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Learn to recognize your triggers.   Many of us will say "There is no rhyme or reason for my anxiety!  My panic just happens!".  And while that may feel completely true, panic is always caused by an anxious trigger.  You've probably just become so used to how it feels to be anxious 24/7, you're not recognizing it.  But when you use this technique, you'll be able to quickly see the actual causes.  When you feel yourself start to panic (you know what your symptoms are, so I won't list them here), I want you to stop.  Stop whatever you're doing, whether that's typing, talking, walking, (not driving!! haha! but if you have to, pull over), etc.  Close your eyes (if you feel comfortable doing so, you don't have to).  And just feel what you're feeling.  Then I want to you think of what caused this feeling.  Mine is usually some sort of bodily sensation (like dizziness) or an external issue (like hearing something loud or suddenly shut off) or sight (a suddenly darkening room or a light flashing, etc.)  This is how you'll find what's triggering the anxiety that is causing the panic.  Then, all of a sudden, your panic will make a lot more sense 😉
  2. Immediately say the mantra "sit with it" to remind yourself to literally sit with it.  Just allow it to happen.  Don't judge it, or try to stop it, or even try to force yourself to relax.  Just sit with it.  Allow it.  Let it be what it is.  Put all your concentration on what you feel.  Yes, your mind will want to wander, but just keep bringing it back to the present feeling.
  3. If you find yourself still unable to calm down, then move your body into a new place or remove yourself from the situation for a bit.  Put away your computer, put down your book, and move yourself somewhere comfortable.  If you can, do #4.  If you can't just stay in this space for a moment to be present with your anxiety and just "sit with it". 
  4. If you can, find a quiet place to relax for a given amount of time (from 5 or 10 or 15 or 30 minutes, whatever you can do).  Download the Calm app or set a timer.  Close your eyes and just "sit with it" for whatever time your timer is set to.  Concentrate completely on your anxious feelings, and let them ebb and flow the way they want to.  You will find that soon the anxiety will wane more than swell.  You should try to do this daily, as a planned meditation (or try the instructions in this awesome blog post).  Try not to fall asleep (but if you do, it may work as a great thing to use before bed!).  The great thing about the Calm app is that the timer comes with amazing sounds or music to use during your timed "meditation".  I love this app for so many reasons, but this one is a new reason and it rocks!
  5. If you're having issues with SPD, like I do, try #4 with a weighted blanket (no need to buy one, make your own with these great instructions!  I made this and love it!).  It works soooo well that you may wonder how you've ever lived without one!
  6. The more you "sit with it", the less your body wants to panic.  The more you can catch it before it swells into that elevated feeling of uneasiness (or worse).  The idea of "sit with it" isn't just to observe your anxiety, although in the beginning that's what you'll be doing.  But rather it's to break the chain of command in your panic attacks.  It's like taking an ant infestation and stopping it at one ant before it brings its nasty little friends with it.  Your job is to let go of the outcome of your anxiety.  You don't bring your attention to whether or not it will get worse or better (at first you will be thinking these things, just let those thoughts go), instead you will let go of your attachment to the process (something Buddhism teaches).  
  7. When you become adept at this and notice your panic starting to wane on a regular basis, consider adding in complementary techniques that work in tandem with "just sit with it".  Practices such as yoga, mediation, and visualization.  I'll share my favorite links below (and feel free to share your favorite too!).  
  8. You may think this is a lot of work.  You may feel the need to go back to your old ways of dealing with things (Netflix binge anyone?).  That is okay.  Come back to "sit with it" when you can.  The more you do it, the more your anxiety will lessen.  Let go of your attachment to whatever you choose to do to help your anxiety get better.  Just sit with those things, too.  
  9. Remember: resisting pain (or anything negative) only makes it worse.  So sitting with it, allowing it happen, allowing to feel what you feel?  Those things are new to your stressed nervous system.  It's used to your resistance.  So be gentle with it.  Give it time to heal.  Just sit with it and allow it to be what it is.  If you feel yourself resisting, let your body resist.  Don't try to control the situation, just observe it. 
  10. This advice works for pain (if I stub my bare toe, I just sit with the pain until it dissolves, meaning I literally throw all my concentration on that toe and become the pain itself), life changes, or anything that feels uncomfortable.  Just allowing things to be what they are (within reason--don't allow others to do bad things to you, that's called "building boundaries") and letting them play out without your interference will teach your nervous system a new way of being and will teach you a new way of reacting to all aspects of life.  You will become different and find that life can be more peaceful, easy, and loving than you could have ever imagined.  

This technique is a type of mindfulness.  Being completely present in a non-judgmental state to witness moments as they happen is how mindfulness works.  I actually find using pain or anxiety to be in the present moment easier than regular mindfulness because it not only gives you something concrete to put your mind on (because being uncomfortable or in pain is pretty mind consuming as it is), it also easy to track when the pain or anxiety fades.  I find it hard to stay mindful at times when there's no time limit or nothing to put my focus on (although you're supposed to find something to put your focus on, but having ADHD makes that hard most of the time).

Letting go of your attachment to the outcome of your panic attack is a game changer.  We all spend our lives (those of us with anxiety) trying to fight it and ignore it when we feel it cropping up.  We are told to use coping mechanisms like breathing (which does help) and grounding ourselves.  But we're never taught to just let it be.  When we give it all our attention, it calms down, as does a child who's acting out for attention.

Maybe give your anxiety a child's name to remind you of the fact it's trying to demand your time.  I think I'll call mine Kimmy, as that's the name of my perpetual child cousin who acts like the human form of a panic attack 😜  It will make me laugh when I think of it, as well as accurately describe how I feel.  If you come up with a name for yours, let know what it is and why you chose that name.  I think it would be funny to hear the story!

But that's about it.

Remember this acronym during your next anxious feelings to stop it before it becomes a full-blown panic attack (and if it does, still follow the same procedure and just let it be):


  • Stop (stop what you're doing and close your eyes if you can)
  • Think (think about what you're feeling, where it's coming from, and what your symptoms are)
  • Own (own your anxiety, it's yours to do whatever you want with, so don't try to run away from it, it's here and it wants to be heard)
  • Pain (scan your body for pain that can usually accompany your anxiety)
  • Sit With It (don't react, don't try to control it, just be with it, observe it, notice exactly how it ebbs and flows and how it feels)
  • Melt (let the anxiety, and/or the pain, melt away the more you pay non-reactive attention to it)

If you try this, let me know how this technique works for you!  I'd love to hear from others if this works as well for them as it has for me 💗

Do you have a secret weapon for your panic attacks??  Let me know below!  I always want to hear about new techniques 🙂

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