133. Do I Have To Literally Sit With My Anxiety?
Sometimes. It really depends...
Yesterday I used this very common question as an example of a recovery question that you could work on answering on your own, allowing yourself to maybe get it “wrong” in the process. No disaster will happen if you do that.
Today, I thought I might offer a short discussion on the principle behind the idea of “sitting with” anxiety, fear, or any emotion. Learn the principles. Then apply them. It’s way better than asking for specific instructions every time.
What does “sitting with” anxiety even mean? Is it literally stopping and plopping yourself in a chair or on the floor when anxious so you can fully experience anxiety?
Sometimes it does look like that. But not automatically.
Do yourself a favor and totally forget ever hearing the words “sit with” when it comes to anxiety. Instead, use the word “allow”. Your job is not to sit with your anxiety but to allow it without resistance. When it rears its head, you want to work on responding to it and relating to it in a new way. In many ways, NOT responding or reacting. Just dropping the fight and the resistance, and allowing it to come in whatever form it comes (yes, even panic).
Sometimes you can allow anxiety and fear without resistance by sitting quietly and doing nothing. I strongly encourage doing this sometimes when the context allows. It’s an EXCELLENT (though challenging) way to practice building this new recovery-focused reaction to and relationship with anxiety. But while this is an excellent practice when you can do it, you can’t always drop everything and sit down when anxious. Life doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes you will have to allow anxiety without resistance while you do other things. Walking. Talking. Eating. Showering. Petting your dog. Dancing. Driving (yes, driving). You can do all of these things while allowing anxiety to surface and play itself out. These are also incredibly valuable recovery experiences that teach you all kinds of important lessons, first and foremost being that you are capable even when not feeling your best. Do NOT avoid this lesson. You kinda can’t fully recover without learning it. It’s that important.
So when do you literally sit, and when do you keep going? It depends. What situation are you in? Who are you with? Are you under some kind of time constraint? Are you even physically able to stop and sit in the current context? If not, keep doing what you’re doing. What action will most closely align with your values in a given moment and/or fit into a given social context? There is no proper answer here. Sometimes you can sit. Sometimes you can keep going. You may sit on Tuesday and choose to keep going on Wednesday in what look like identical situations. Mix it up. Do it all. Have all the experiences. Practice multiple ways. This is the best way to build a durable, portable, and lasting recovery.
So do you need to sit with your anxiety?
You only need to allow it without resistance. Sometimes you’ll do that on your rear end. Sometimes you won’t. How’s that for a perfectly ambiguous set of instructions?