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“I’ve ‘got’ anxiety” is a commonly-used phrase I come across in my work, or people will talk of “my anxiety” or even “my anxiety’s back”, as though an interloping disease or virus that has settled in or returned.

When considered in these terms, anxiety seems to develop a life and form of its own; an external force that the host it has chosen has no control over. It’s easy to understand, therefore, why it can feel so scary, if our body indeed has been overtaken and is reacting independently and outside of our immediate need to feel safe and calm.

Whilst I recognise that people can be diagnosed with some indelible traits and long-term conditions for which anxiety can be a primary focus or by-product, I do think the trend of individualising anxiety often isn’t helpful to those suffering the effects, because it feels separate and external rather than being our internal feelings that we can come to have control over if we can learn to adjust our perspective.

Anxiety is a feeling – our own emotion playing out because of one reason or another, that we may or may not know the reason for in the moment. It is not a thing that has come to visit; it is our own conscious or unconscious concerns and worries. If we say “I feel anxious…” then anxiety becomes an owned emotion, but the word ‘anxiety’ seems to have developed its own persona when we use it in the form of an ‘it’.

We wouldn’t say “I’ve ‘got’ unease” or “my worry’s back”.

The whole externalising concept of anxiety leads me neatly on to a reflection a client once made in session (recounted with permission), about fear and living within a fear bubble; which again ties in with the angle of perception.

My client’s reflection was inspired, as they came to realise that for them, fear seemed to be everywhere, and by keeping them in a small ‘bubble’ they thought they were keeping themself safe. However, as their reflection continued to flow, they came to recognise that the fear was inside their bubble – it was in fact within them – thereby challenging their perception of what was actually so scary outside of it.

Interestingly, a change in perception, particularly when self-discovered, can in itself be empowering and anxiety relieving. I just love it when I see that power shift in the amazing people I work with.

Blog photo image credit: Lars Nissen

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