In my last blog post I discussed how we learn to avoid our feelings, and how that ends up disconnecting us from ourselves. I mentioned how avoiding our emotions, our body's alert system, is a breeding ground- the source, actually- for heightened anxiety.
It's true. Hear me out.
We can look at an anxiety as a distress signal. Often it is felt throughout our body- tension, increased heart rate, shakiness, just to name a few examples.
I like to think of it as a tea kettle. When the heat is turned up, the water starts to boil. One bubble rolls to the surface, then a few more. Soon there is a rolling boil, increased pressure, and the loud, high pitched whistle. When you're making tea, this means the water is ready.
...BUT, when you're avoiding your feelings, it means your body is screaming at you.
NOT relaxing, like a hot cup of tea. Everything opposite of relaxing.
You feel the tension, the shakiness, the racing heart and racing thoughts. And if the "heat" is turned up enough, the pressure builds and squeals, until it begins to boil over. At that point, you may even experience a full-blown panic attack. My clients have described these moments as feeling like they are having a heart attack, having trouble breathing, and fearing that they are close to death.
It is unbelievably scary, and undoubtedly real.
So, if anxiety is the building of pressure followed by the whistle that signals something is wrong, what are the bubbles?
They are the many emotions that we experience throughout our days, compounded by weeks, that are left unattended. They are the emotions that are "stuffed down" or "bottled up" - defended against by the unhealthy coping mechanisms, or defenses, that we have used to stay as far away from feeling as possible.
As it turns out, they don't go away. They build. And soon your body is screaming at you to do something, anything, to relieve all of this pressure. There are a million ways this can look, but most often, we relieve the pressure by resorting back to the very defense mechanisms that landed us here in the first place.
Oh, and what about the heat?
Well, that's life. It's the daily experience of living that has us bumping into things that matter enough to us that we feel something.
When the heat is low, the boiling point takes a long time. Low pressure, less anxiety.
When the heat is high, the boiling point comes quickly. High pressure, high anxiety.
Does any of this resonate with you?
Anxiety, along with shame and guilt, are inhibitory emotions. They signal an alert to let us know that there is something deeper that we need to take a look at: our core emotions.
Our core emotions are largely physical sensations that we have labeled to make meaning of our experience. Our core emotions are: sadness, fear, anger, joy, excitement, sexual excitement and disgust. They are hard-wired into our mid-brain, and are therefore not subject to conscious control.
That's right, despite what you might have been told or have come to believe, trying to "control your emotions" just isn't going to happen. We aren't wired that way!
What we can do, though, is acknowledge them. Make space for each one, and get curious about why it's there in the first place. What is it trying to say?
The more room we make to listen to the emotional "bubbles" that rise in our own tea pot, the less they build up, the less internal pressure we feel. The less anxiety we have.
If we're sticking with the tea kettle example, listening to our emotional "bubbles" would be like opening the tea kettle every once in a while and adding a dose of cool water. When the "heat" of life is low, we won't have to do this as often. When the "heat" of life is higher, we'll probably be making regular visits to the tea kettle.
SuuUUuuper counterproductive if you're actually making tea.
Then again, tending to our emotions is pretty counterproductive to the way we've all been taught to "manage" them, isn't it? I guess it still fits.
If you're tired of feeling anxious, I can help. Let's start working towards the life of authenticity you want. We'll do it together. Call for your free consultation today.
**Another version of this article was published on Elephant Journal, and can be found at https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/05/dealing-with-anxiety-what-tea-kettles-can-teach-us/
Take a few moments to center your attention on what is most recently causing you anxiety. You might find it helpful to journal through this experience, or maybe it is more helpful for you to just be present with your body. Start by seeing if you can locate a physical sensation as you consider what is making you anxious right now.
As you bring your attention to the physical sensation, ask yourself what this sensation is signaling. What core emotion is present here? Remember, the core emotions are: sadness, fear, anger, joy, excitement, sexual excitement and disgust.
Rather than judging the emotion that presents itself, take on a posture of curiosity. What is this emotion trying to say? If you feel tears begin to surface, welcome them. If new sensations and emotions rise, welcome them. Notice that as you lean into your experience with curiosity, the tension in your body begins to subside. Perhaps you are able to breathe more deeply.
Try practicing this once per week, if you're able. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. Try your best not to filter your responses- even if they seem to not make sense right now.
As always, I would love to hear how this information has impacted you, what you learned about yourself, and what you'd like to know more about. Don't hesitate to email me. I read every response.