Anyone who suffers from anxiety knows it sucks. What are your triggers? One of mine is when I resist letting go of situations that are completely out of my control. Another is resisting feeling an emotion, subconsciously or otherwise, because it’s going to hurt.
‘Emotere’, the Latin derivative for the word emotion, literally means ‘energy in motion’. Discovering this was the missing piece to understanding that it’s resistance to accepting emotions or ‘energy in motion’ which causes me anxiety. It seems, trying to think of every possible solution or berating myself into being ‘happy’ creates an energy blockage.
The first law of thermodynamics states, “No energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. It is transferred to other forms of energy”. Therefore, one may think one can indefinitely resist or suppress the energy which moves when experiencing an emotion but it has to go somewhere and eventually, it will. If ungoverned, energy blockages often come out in subconscious behavior or patterns e.g. self-sabotage, anger, creative block, etc or when bottled up for ages, ill-health may occur.
Defining balance in this context
According to Taoism, the energy which is in play is called Qi (or Chi) and there are two fundamental types of it: Yin and Yang. Feminine and masculine, respectively. Succinctly put, the positive side of feminine energy is fluid, open and creative, the negative (shadow) side is chaos. Masculine energy’s positive side is solid, structure and drive. It’s negative is trapped and restricted. To be clear, these energies are not related to gender. Every person is made from/uses a mixture of both. Too much of either creates a feeling of being overwhelmed and health, flow, passion, etc is found when they’re in balance, e.g. there’s enough creativity to generate ideas coupled with enough drive to not spend all day with one’s head in the clouds.
Energy in the body flows when it’s accepted. It becomes blocked when it isn’t.
If what we’ve determined as a positive emotion is experienced, say happiness, we immediately accept the energy. It hangs around for a bit, then it moves on in its own good time. We don’t stay ridiculously happy forever. With negative emotion, say sadness, we often don’t immediately accept it which causes it to stick around. We keep charging up the energy by revisiting the negative emotion and questioning why we are having it or pushing ourselves to try to feel something else instead. As difficult as it might be to just accept, the result of not accepting it is often worse. Pressure builds, we feel overwhelmed, out of control and anxious, which often means we ‘react rather than choose to act’.
Observing one’s thoughts Vs primal reactions
Accepting emotions is much easier said than done. Constantly being the ‘observer’ and choosing to act is hard because we have a lifetime of subconscious coping mechanisms to contend with. On top of that, let’s not forget that we are human and have primal reactions, ones we don’t have a choice about; fight, flight or freeze. When each happens, the body’s reaction is the same; we release adrenaline. This prepares us to protect ourselves by supercharging (energising) our bodies ready for action. This surge of energy is uncomfortable and it’s the discomfort which magnifies our mind’s perception of the threat. This creates an ‘energy-thoughts-thoughts-energy’ vicious circle and anxiety is the result.
Though a journey of trial and error, I pieced together a toolkit for when I register the start of being out of balance. It helps govern the movement of energy and break the vicious circle ‘blockage’.
The energy toolkit:
1. Let situations unfold, don’t fight it. Practise Wu-Wei. Take a breath, slow down, observe the energy moving in the body and the thoughts we (very quickly) connect to it as simply that — energy moving and thoughts. Then try to accept the uncomfortable feeling.
2. Feeling all your feelings. To accept it, try to understand it. Ask “Where in my body and how am I feeling out of balance?” Are there too many options, a sense of chaos (too much feminine/not enough masculine)? Or do you feel backed into a corner, a sense of feeling trapped (too much masculine/not enough feminine)?
3. Whichever is the answer, as a quick ‘sticking plaster’, try and release or ground some energy by:
- Sharing what feeling has come up and, if aware of it, what the trigger was.
- Doing something physical to move the body and in turn, move the energy. E.g. press-ups, kickbox, run, yoga, dance, jump up and down, even simply shaking.
- Laughing or crying. Both are energy being released, we’ve just connected one to happiness and one to sadness.
- Grounding energy. A few examples are: walk around barefoot (preferably on soil), meditate and/or even eat food from the earth; potatoes, root veg, etc.
4. The above helps regain balance after a strong reaction but prevention is better than cure. To aid that, one can question which energy space they are in at any given point. Meditation is a huge, huge part of being able to do that. Here are a couple of prevention examples:
- Taking the embodied energy of one type into a space which is the other type initiates balance. As an example, if you live in a city and you’re feeling stressed because of the trappings of say, work (too much masculine) try to get out into the countryside. Cities are inherently masculine as they have a lot of straight lines and solid objects. In the countryside there are much fewer straight lines or solid objects, meaning it’s more open and free, which is inherently feminine.
- If your job is process-driven (masculine energy), try to do stuff that’s creative (feminine) as well, preferably with no rules i.e. cooking is creative but if it’s following a recipe it’s not as effective. Same goes for art, if you’re doing Still life it’s following a pattern/rules as opposed to Abstract, which is freer. Grab a pencil and draw in whichever direction the body feels to go. The same applies to dance!
5. An easy question to remember is, “Am I acting from a place of love or fear?” I believe wherever we are or whatever we are doing, those are the base emotions we are acting from. Take sadness as an example. Letting yourself feel it is coming from a place of love, not letting yourself feel it is because you’re fearful it’s going to hurt. Next time you react, try asking yourself what’s underneath your reaction…
“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates
Holding a mirror up to myself started my journey. I chose to because my anxiety bouts got quite severe. Through reading, seeing a professional (Sue from Third-space coaching) going to support groups and talking about what was happening, I better understand my brain/body connection. When I discovered anxiety is often triggered by something in the past, overreactions became signals for growth.
The foundations of balance
To govern the energy which moves during an overreaction, I found it is key to lean into anxiety and not run away from it. Ironing out creases from the past allows trapped energy to be released and the emotions to finally be felt. It’s a very strange experience to cry about something that happened 20 years ago but that is 100% where reaching out for support comes in. Once acknowledged, awareness and understanding of what’s happening in the body provides a solid foundation to achieving balance, makes the experience of anxiety much less scary and choosing to ‘act rather than react’ becomes easier.
Ps. Books which were key to writing this: ‘Tao Te Ching’ Lao-Tzu, ‘The Wisdom of Insecurity’ by Alan Watts, ‘Hold Me Tight’ by Sue Johnson and ‘Alice in Quantumland’ by Robert Gilmore.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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Photo credit: Adam Slawson