Want to know the secret to beating anxiety?
Can I get a, “Well, duh. Of course I do!”? As anyone who has ever dealt with anxiety knows, trying to learn how to control your anxiety can feel like trying to push a boulder up a mountain with a 50-pound pack on your back.
But the “secret” to beating anxiety is really more of a combination of secrets. To really heal anxiety, you have to identify and address not only its root cause, but any other factors that contribute to your cycles of worry and panic. Things like childhood trauma. Bad relationships. A stressful job. All those messy, painful realities of life we’d like to avoid.
And, of course, there are a lot of amazing things you can add to your life to improve your anxiety. Mindfulness. Exercise. An anti-inflammatory diet that reverses any of your nutritional deficiencies. Greater awareness about your negative thought patterns…and ways to change them.
But before you can do ANY of those helpful but uuuuber scary things, you have to take one essential first step: Learn to accept and love yourself as-is, anxiety and all.
And the way to create acceptance and love is through self-compassion…which, in my mind, is the true secret to overcoming anxiety, no matter what’s causing it.
Self-compassion and healing anxiety
Self-compassion is to healing like sassy red lipstick is to a great Friday night: they both act as the foundation of all amazing things to come. In the case of self-compassion, this “amazing thing” is healing. Which, not gonna lie, really does feel freakin’ amazing…but is also super scary. After all, healing requires change and work and perseverance.
That’s where self-compassion comes in.
Self-compassion gives you something supportive to fall back on as you take these big, life-changing steps and inevitably struggle to stay on track now and then. It gives you a safe place to land when you fall. To regroup and tell yourself, “Hey, you’re only human. It’s OK, you can do this!”
Let’s say, you’re having a panic attack. Without self-compassion, you won’t be able to manage it because rational thoughts are rarely accessible to you in that moment. And even if they are, chances are that so many negative thoughts are running rampant in your mind that the rational ones can’t cut through the noise.
But if you’ve got a compassionate inner voice to turn to, your panic will feel like it’s being hugged by a warm and loving grandmother, and it will slowly begin to soften.
Now even though you’re used to beating yourself up, I’m 100% confident that you’ve got it in you to offer yourself compassion. Why? Because you practice compassion for others all the time. What do you say when a friend is worrying about something? Or starts beating themselves up over a simple—or not so simple—mistake?
You remind them they’re human, and that humans make mistakes. You put this mistake in perspective of all the good they’ve been doing, and the progress they’ve made. You tell them: “Girl, forget it! You are amazing and badass and soooo gifted. And I love you, no matter what.”
You have to learn to talk to yourself the same way. To take it easy on yourself. To love and accept and be a better friend to yourself and create an environment where it’s safe for you to fail, so you can try again.
How Self-Compassion Helps with Anxiety
And self-compassion isn’t only about accepting your imperfections and mistakes. It’s about accepting your anxiety as well. Instead of beating yourself up for letting anxiety take hold of you, you need to remember that, in healthy doses, it’s there for your benefit. Anxiety’s role is to help you recognize a threat or something you need that’s missing.
It’s a protective mechanism that not only prevents us from getting into life-threatening situations, but also clues us in on other potentially harmful issues, like being in a bad relationship or being too overwhelmed or stressed out at work.
It’s a natural part of being a human.
Sure, it may be more prevalent in your life than you’d like it to be. It might be over-sensitive and over-reactive. But its intentions are good.
So when your anxiety starts setting off those alarms, be kind to it. Offering compassion to your anxiety is like turning to it and saying, “Hey friend, you’re here again, there’s room for you at the table. How can I help you? What do you need?”
Repositioning your anxiety like this makes it much less scary and easier to manage.
It helps you realize that even if you never fully rid yourself of anxiety, you’re still worthy of love. And love and acceptance are the ultimate healing tools.
Only when you have developed this habit of self-compassion, are you ready to move forward and make serious changes. You’re creating a safe environment where you are kind to yourself and your anxiety. And it’s in this environment where you can truly grow and heal.
How Self-Compassion Makes Healing a Heck of a Lot Easier
I once had a client named Tim who really beat himself up over his inability to talk to women. And I don’t mean “inability to talk” as in “Oh, he’s a little shy but in a cute adorable way.” I mean, every time he saw a girl he found attractive, he had a mini-anxiety attack, froze, and then immediately removed himself from the situation. Which made it pretty dang hard for him to find a prospective partner, not to mention just learn a beautiful woman’s name!
Tim not only hated the way it made him feel about himself, but he dreaded the fear it brought up: that he would be alone forever.
So he came to me with a plan: he wanted advice on how to talk to women. Pushing aside the fact that I’m no professional wingwoman, I decided to go a different route. Instead, we started with practicing self-compassion. From then on, every time he couldn’t get the courage to talk to a woman, he’d just say to himself, “That’s OK. This has been a difficult issue for you for a long time—so it’s natural that you’re feeling anxious about it in this moment. Don’t worry, you’ll get ‘em when you’re ready.”
Within a week, he began to notice that when he talked to himself in this way, it completely took the pressure off. He was accepting himself and his anxiety as normal. And guess what happened next? No longer feeling the need to defend itself, his anxiety began to soften. He soon felt less anxious and more confident, and eventually got up the nerve to ask a woman out. They’re still dating to this day.
What I Hope You Take Away About Anxiety and Self-Compassion
It’s true that there’s no one “secret” or “holy grail” to overcoming anxiety, especially without medication. Anxiety is an extremely complex issue that is often rooted in a variety of different causes. However, everyone trying to learn how to control your anxiety does need one universal skill: self-compassion.
Self-compassion reminds us that we don’t need to be perfect to be loved. That anxiety isn’t a completely “horrible” thing. That we don’t have to get over anxiety today to have hope for an anxiety-free future.
So the next time you start feeling anxious, remind yourself that your feelings are normal, and that you’re a resilient badass who is worthy of kindness even when you’re not perfect. Accept yourself—anxiety and all—and settle into to the safety net of self-love.
What is one way you can start showing yourself more self-compassion? Tell me in the comments!