- Learning about how anxiety plays out in our life can lead us to real transformation.
- We need not fear anxiety but see it as a teacher to help us get grounded.
- Living in a grounded way allows us to embody our Anchored Self, which is who really are.
- Instead of being victims of our anxieties, we learn detach from them and then choose more appropriate perspectives regarding our life-situations.
Curious? Please read on…
By far the most common and pressing issue we see in the counseling center is related to anxiety and stress. I am going to be writing a series on anxiety that I hope helps uncover what it is, explores what types of anxieties exist, and what to do about them. My hope is that these articles can give you some context to understand your anxiety better and learn how to use it (believe it or not!) to become more grounded in the present moment. In fact, as you will see, anxiety can lead to more robust self-awareness and self-knowledge which can unlock depth in us. Dealing with anxiety in a life-giving way can be a path towards embracing that Ancient Greek dictum, “Know Thyself.”
Do Not Be Afraid (1)
When we are experiencing the throes of anxiety in the moment, we feel full of fear and angst. It is as if it has a grip on us and won’t let go. All our thinking and feeling is colored with the filter of anxiety and this leads us to painful emotions such as feeling that we, as people, are deeply flawed, inadequate, inferior, and alone. We often feel stuck in the moment and overwhelmed by our what is unfolding in our lives.
Yet, I say this as someone who intimately knows what anxiety feels like and who has worked with many, many people over the years with high degrees of anxiety. Do not be afraid! To feel anxiety is an immediate invitation to fall into our Anchored Self and set our feet upon the ground again. Yes, anxiety, stress, and depression, while painful states of mind, body, and soul, can be seen as deeply personal and intimate teachers in our lives that reveal to us important lessons. Through dealing with anxiety, we can learn how to adopt a more internal locus of control where we intentionally embody a more spacious, freer, and connected sense of self. In short, anxiety can lead us to self-transformation if we listen to what it is teaching us well.
I will now introduce a central teaching on how to deal with our anxiety. I will conclude this article, as I will with all my articles, by giving a helpful tool that you can add to your mental health toolkit. Not everything I write in my articles will be totally applicable to everyone. However, I do recommend considering what it mentioned here and trying it out for yourself.
The Anchored Self and the Floating Self
Simply put, each of us has two different “selves:” our Anchored Self and our Floating Self. The Anchored Self is who you really are that transcends any title, image, success, or failure. It is your centered self and one that you have always known that is there but perhaps haven’t learned to readily access, yet. It is radically (radius=roots) anchored in God and it is that self which is already in union with God (2).
The Floating Self is that self which is concerned with being liked, fitting in, succeeding, titles, security, and having a certain image. It is not bad or evil but rather, it is simply not who you REALLY are. In fact, whenever we take offense or feel anxious at anything, we are in that moment, living from our Floating Self. Because the Floating Self is not grounded, it is a victim of the winds of emotions of the day and can be swept in the pendulum swings of happiness and despair, security and utter fragility.
We do not need to get rid of the Floating Self, and in fact, any notion of “killing” or “eradicating” it actually serves to strengthen it since as Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Instead, we learn through struggling with our mental health concerns (especially anxiety) to more and more embody our Anchored Self and then use our Floating Self to do good in the world; to live in the world while not being of the world.
Anchored Self Living and Dealing with Anxiety
Through thoroughly researched psychological tools, we can learn to “fall into” our Anchored Self by listening to what our anxiety is wanting to teach us. Mindfulness techniques and cognitive behavioral therapies offer great ways to assist us in the “falling” into the Anchored Self and thus detach ourselves from the emotional intensity of frenzied Floating Self energetics.
As I present more psycho-education and techniques to help with managing our mental health concerns in the future, we will keep in mind our model of the Anchored Self and Floating Self. These are just metaphors in the attempt to name and make accessible the notion that there is a “self” that must “die” so that we can “rise” into greater seeing and being (metanoia). Indeed, learning about the Anchored Self and Floating Self model is a way to make the Pascal Mystery very real and immediate in our daily lives. It can be summed up thusly: All death leads to greater life and the trick in this life is to learn how to die before we physically die. Therefore, grounded in the spirit of transformative love, let us learn how to allow our anxiety to teach us to move deeper into ourselves, and then we will find our pearl of great price, the “place” where God and our soul mutually indwell.
Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Now, slow down and deepen your breathing, and when you breathe, try your best to make your hand on your abdomen move up and down more than your hand on your chest. Just focus on your breathing and how it feels to draw in the air and exhale it. You can even say to yourself “inhale” with each inhalation, and “exhale” with each exhalation. Try this for ten minutes and see what it feels like. Do your best, while you’re doing this, just to let anxious thoughts come and go, and simply focus on your breathing. Rate your anxiety on a scale from 0 to 10 (where 0 means no anxiety and 10 means extreme anxiety) before and after this exercise, and see if you notice any difference (3).
Anxiety before: _______________
Anxiety after: _________________
(1) The most common or repeated phrase in the Old Testament and the New Testament is “Have no fear,” or “Don’t be afraid.” http://www.catholic-resources.org/Bible/HaveNoFear.htm
(2) Rm 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(3) Chapman, A.L., Gratz, K.L., & Tull, M.T. (2011). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook for anxiety: Breaking free from worry, panic, PTSD, and other anxiety symptoms. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.