Whatever our background, one particular emotional experience is common to us all: anxiety. Whether it is expressed by physical manifestations (dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing…), whether it is accompanied by negative emotions (fear, sadness, anger…), whether it occurs occasionally or seems to persist over time, whether it acts consciously or unconsciously, there is perhaps no human being in the world who can boast of never having felt it.
A short genealogy of anxiety: when we are stressed, our body secretes a hormone called cortisol. In a dangerous situation, it is this same cortisol that takes control of the body to enable it to react. On a daily basis, it also serves to control the body’s energy maintenance. We can therefore agree on the importance of its action and the need to accept to live with it. In other words, the problem we are trying to solve is not “how to get rid of anxiety”, but rather “how to deal with anxiety”. Indeed, we are not always in a dangerous situation (saving ourselves from a fire), or even in a situation of accomplishing a particularly stimulating task (taking exams for example) when we feel stress, yet the feeling of a lump in the stomach is there, sometimes preventing us from acting or thinking.
Accepting stress as a necessary experience for our survival is therefore a prerequisite. But in order to tame anxiety, we must learn to recognize the symptoms. Often, extreme behavior can be a sign of an underlying anxiety (being very active or very inactive, being excessively in control, eating too much or too little according to one’s needs, being systematically defeatist, etc.). It is by exchanging with trusted people around you to get an external representation of yourself that you can sometimes be made aware of your anxiety.
Finally, when it manifests itself in situations that are objectively without danger or urgency, one could consider that anxiety is the result of a discrepancy between the impulse to act and the absence of action, as the result of a subtraction between the physiological need to act and the physical incapacity to act. Indeed, since anxiety serves to be reactive, to produce, what can be more unpleasant than to be physiologically capable, in need of action, but not to submit, physically, to this same impulse? What if action was liberating?
Fortunately, acting is within everyone’s reach. Acting does not necessarily require an over-dimensional effort, but can refer to the realization of the next step in your daily routine (going to bed, getting up, eating, washing, making your bed…).
Acting does not require that you have reached a particular age (“When I am older…”), a particular life situation (“When I live alone…”), a particular accomplishment (“When I finish my studies…”), acting is enough on its own.
Finally, acting is not a matter of anticipation, acting is conjugated in the present.
In other words, there is no right moment to start acting, contrary to what we can imagine when, overwhelmed by anxiety, we let ourselves be led into inertia, flight or anger.
Let’s be clear, calming our anxiety is not a matter of willpower. On the other hand, welcoming and accompanying the tension towards action that arises in our whole being under the effect of stress, is accessible to each of us. It is possible to initiate the movement by a small action, then to amplify it by another more significant one, which, taking advantage of the energy produced, will lead to a third one and so on. For example, in the case of exam anxiety, it is possible to decide to read a single chapter of one’s course one morning, and then, the next day, to learn a third of that course. Gradually, the efforts add up and become habits.
There are as many manifestations of anxiety as there are people, so no solution is perfect. Everything will depend on the attention given to the problem and on the implementation of adapted and necessarily imperfect solutions, since they are attainable and realistic. Balance is more easily achieved by learning simplicity and practicing humility than by seeking the spectacular.
Accepting your anxiety and becoming aware of it:
Accepting your anxiety is not always easy. You can get help by talking to someone you trust (family member, friend, teacher, sports coach, psychologist, doctor) to :
Learn to recognize the signs of your anxiety
Accept the idea that it is not your fault and that you should not be ashamed of it
Know that there are solutions and learn to implement them.
Act on your anxiety:
Make a realistic plan of actions to take and stick to it
In case of exam anxiety
DAY 1: build your schedule
DAY 2: reorganize your lecture notes
DAY 3: learn the definitions in Chapter 1
DAY 4: learn the diagrams in Chapter 1 etc.
In case of anxiety with no identified reason:
Establish a healthy routine and stick to it (sleep, eating, physical activity, leisure, work, socializing).
Transform your emotions into action through sports, art or meditation
Take action within an association, a humanitarian program, or experience a first summer job (having to accomplish a mission for which one does not decide the modalities and which is dedicated to others and not to oneself can be very liberating)
Sometimes make an appointment with an osteopath or a physiotherapist, who can help relieve the physiological expression of stress.
Small actions make habits, habits are reassuring: they give an impression of mastery, stability and direction.