What Do You Do With Anxiety?

My kids recently got a new book called What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada. It’s quickly become a household favorite. If you have kids in your life, I can’t recommend this one enough. If you don’t have kids in your life, I can’t recommend this one enough.


A quick summary for you: a small boy is going about his day when a problem appears. He has no idea where it came from, what it wants with him, or what to do with it. He tries everything to get rid of it. He hides from it. He worries about it. He worries a lot. And he starts to notice that the problem is getting bigger. The more he tries to ignore it or suppress it, the more persistent the problem becomes.


The little boy can’t take it any longer. He finally gets fed up with his problem. He prepares himself to take on his problem…and he clobbers it. He really wails on it. And it’s when he’s up close to his problem that he sees what’s inside. There’s a beautiful, shiny, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in there.


He is, of course, surprised. And the moral of the story is that this little guy now knows to look inside any problems that he comes across to find the opportunity waiting for him.


If you sub out “problem” for “anxiety” (no really, go back and re-read that synopsis but exchange the words, I’ll wait for ya), I think we have the same story. But for anxiety-prone grown-ups.


You may not know exactly where the feeling of anxiety came from or why it’s visiting you or what to do with it. But the more you try to get rid of it, the more you hide from it, the more you worry about it…the bigger the anxiety becomes.


{This bit about the anxiety getting bigger and waging its own kind of war is the bit where a lot of us get stuck. For a long, long while. It’s ok. Sometimes we don’t know where to go from here, because we aren’t sure how we got *here* in the first place.}


So, what do you do with anxiety?


In the book, the boy tackles his problem like a linebacker in order to get at the kernel that is the opportunity. How do you take this into your real life?


Acceptance. The practice of acceptance is the opportunity that anxiety brings to you. I’m convinced there’s much more that anxiety can do for us, but the practice of acceptance is a pretty good opportunity to start with.


When the feeling of anxiety is in your body, there is no use trying to get rid of it, hiding from it, or worrying about it. It’s there. Anything short of acceptance would be arguing with that simple reality. Tell yourself about it. Write the thoughts and feelings down. Talk out loud, or feed yourself acceptance using the voice in your mind.


I like having a few instruments handy that will help ground me in acceptance when I need it. Deva Premal and Miten chanting these mantras are a soothing way to saturate your sense of sound. Placing a few drops of essential oils (I lean towards Valor II and Lavender during these times) in your palms and breathing in their scent can be calming and helpful. Moving your body through a few yoga postures can help funnel nervous energy in a healthy way. Or sitting down to meditate and consciously breathing for 5-10 minutes is usually enough to break the cycle of anxiety and bring me back to myself (try Insight Timer or Headspace apps for some meditation assistance).


Building a box of these kinds of tools to have at the ready when you need them is so valuable. It’s hard to be creative and resourceful when you’re feeling anxious. Take out the guesswork and arm yourself with things that work for you. Keep a list nearby or put a note in your phone. Find what works for you and look for new things that you can add to your toolkit.


Acceptance is a practice. It’s not something that comes overnight or always feels comfortable. But it’s an incredible opportunity to give yourself when you’re wrestling with the question: what do you do with anxiety?