We often think about where we want to be – the next career move, next apartment, next loving romantic partner or the next time we fit into a size 10 dress. Once we get there, then things will be fine, ‘I will be less anxious, less stressed and much more relaxed!’
Once we achieve what we feel we are so desperately lacking, then like magic all this anxiety will fall away. However, sadly, this approach can create an abiding anxiety that seems to haunt us in our daily lives.
We try to cope with this daily anxiety as best we can. We may numb it out with shopping, alcohol, staying busy socially and over-working. When we do this, we are often numbing a range of deeper emotions as well. Sadness, grief, longing for love, security and even joy can go get buried in our tense stomach or aching shoulders.
In the face of all of this, we might even collapse under the emotional and physical pressure and then we have permission to turn the world off for a day or a week. Often our colleagues, families and partners do the same.
If this approach worked and we did reach the magical relaxed place when we achieve our goals, then it might be an OK strategy. However, there is one obvious flaw to the theory that we consistently ignore. Anytime we reach a goal, sure, we may have momentary euphoria, but the anxiety quickly creeps back in. Why?
Being able to relax, let go and enjoy your achievements is not a reward, it is a skill you need to practice. When you train your nervous system to anxiously wait until you achieve something before you can let go, then even if you reach there you won’t know how to drop all the tension. If you never learn how to relax, then contentment won’t magically appear.
The only real way to experience the relaxation, confidence and security we crave is to learn how to do it in the midst of our current daily experiences. So how can you cultivate the skills to relax your body and your mind, to be OK wherever you are?
A good starting point is learning meditation, yoga and simply spending time in nature. But we also need short-cuts for when the frenzy of the office politics gets too much, or our family dynamics trigger us once more or we acutely feel loneliness when socialising with friends.
There are a few simple things you can do, including learning how to breathe more deeply and feel where the anxiety is in your body. If you do this very gently, then your emotional body will start to reveal itself. And this is a good thing. Remember anxiety is often covering over some much deeper emotions. So, as you continue to notice how and when your body tenses, in what circumstances, then you have a lot more information about the feelings underneath the anxiety.
Your body has immense wisdom; it can really help unlock the thoughts and feelings that we have buried away. The key to emotions is that if you actually feel them, they will flow through your body and let go. We often think that if we feel that very big feeling of grief, sadness, or even excitement we will become overwhelmed or paralysed. However, your emotions are not meant to get ‘stuck’ they are meant to be acknowledged, felt and then flow through you.
So trust yourself, open to your own immense heart, and over time you will quite naturally start to relax. That way whether you reach your goals now or much later, you will already know how to be content with what you have.