Whether we have a diagnosable anxiety disorder or are anxious about an upcoming event (a reaction that we deem silly and stupid), we tend to get angry with ourselves. Maybe even furious.
We wonder what’s wrong with us. We wonder why we can’t get it together. We tell ourselves that we’re weak and ridiculous, and we need to stop acting like a child.
In short, we blame and bash ourselves.
Which is exactly what Ashley Thorn’s clients do. They think their anxiety is completely and totally their fault. They get frustrated that they can’t “just relax.” They get frustrated that they can’t turn off their anxiety, that they can’t control it, that often it feels like it’s controlling them.
Anger is actually a surface emotion, according to Thorn, LMFT, a psychotherapist and founder of 4 Points Family Therapy in Sandy, Utah. Beneath your anger, you might find “shame, guilt, fear, sadness—any number of things depending on what you’ve been taught to believe about mental health-related issues.”
And that’s hard. It’s hard enough to struggle with anxiety—adding the other feelings of shame, sadness and fear can put us over the edge, battering our sense of self and sinking our self-worth. Which is why kindness is so key. Thorn shared several ways we can practice self-compassion when we’re feeling anxious (and angry with ourselves).
Feel what you’re feeling. Acknowledge and accept your anxiety, instead of fighting it, and calling yourself an idiot. Give yourself permission to feel whatever arises.
“Sometimes it helps to give your anxiety a name or label it in some way so that it feels external to who you are,” Thorn said. She shared this example: “There’s the grey cloud again. It’s making me feel scared [and] frustrated.”
Turn to relaxation techniques. Thorn suggested trying everything from practicing deep breathing to taking a walk to placing your hands in warm water. (She includes additional techniques in this post on her blog.) When thinking about what relaxation techniques to use, try to proceed from a place of compassion and curiosity.
Sometimes, we approach relaxation techniques from a punitive place, as in This breathing technique better work! This anxiety is sooo annoying! I hate it!!! We tend to be harsh, and expect instant results. Shouldn’t this stop by now?!?!
This is absolutely understandable, but it’s not helpful. Try to practice relaxation techniques regularly. Pick whatever speaks to you. For instance, Thorn encourages her clients to set reminders to pause for 2 minutes, five times each day, and engage in a relaxation exercise they like.
Talk yourself through it. This comes after practicing a calming technique. According to Thorn, “Positive self-talk takes rational thinking, which you can’t really do when you’re highly anxious.”
Again, when talking to yourself, focus on separating yourself from your anxiety, and being encouraging and supportive. You might say, she said: “Wow! Anxiety just showed up in a big way, and became a challenge. Luckily, I’m a strong, capable person and have a plan for facing that challenge”; or “Anxiety is a feeling that I sometimes feel, but it is not who I am.”
Another strategy is to pinpoint where anxiety is showing up in your body—and to say it to yourself or out loud, along with doing something that will soothe your discomfort, Thorn said. She gave this example: “I seem to be carrying some anxiety in my neck and shoulders. It would feel so nice to massage and stretch those muscles. I’m going to give myself 5 minutes right now to do that.”
Plus, instead of being angry with yourself that you needed a strategy in the first place, congratulate yourself for using a supportive tool, Thorn said. Congratulate yourself for stepping in and caring for your well-being.
As Thorn emphasized, “If you wouldn’t yell at yourself for having a headache, and maybe taking an Ibuprofen to help with that headache, then you don’t need to yell at yourself for having and managing strong emotions like anxiety.”
“The overarching theme here is when you’re feeling anxious, to take care of yourself instead of beating yourself down more,” Thorn said.
So what is the kindest thing you can do for yourself when you’re anxious? What is the kindest thing you can say to yourself when you’re anxious?
This is not easy. But the more you do it, the easier and more natural it’ll become.
It also can help to remind yourself that you’re not alone. Not only does everyone struggle with anxiety—as it’s part of the human condition—but millions of people struggle with a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Yes. Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million people just in the U.S. each year.
And if those individuals deserve kindness, don’t you think you do, too?