Us anxious folks are always worried. We think anxiety will just sneak up on us from behind. We suddenly start to feel scared, out of touch with reality, or consumed by excessive worrying for no reason.
When that happens, we instinctively tighten up. This could be an act of mentally trying to hold on to something for the sake of preventing overwhelming thoughts from taking over or physically clenching up with the hope of preventing a panic attack.
For example, in the past, when I was feeling anxious and utterly depersonalized, I’d try to remember my name, my address, my phone number, etc. My biggest fear was that I’d lose track of who I was. It was as if my identity was about to disappear and, hence, the need for this ritual of remembering all of my details. This is a clear example of holding onto something mentally.
At other times, I felt as if I was going to collapse on the ground, so I’d hold on to something physical. I’d clench up tightly and grab something nearby for support.
At times like these, we are unable to relax. To break free from this habit of gripping and holding on to something, we need to retrain ourselves to be able to let go.
Letting go, in this context, means giving up control and letting the anxiety take over. Don’t worry, this won’t be permanent. As I have shown before, the anxiety cycle has a beginning, a peak, and in the end, it will always recede.
With this letting go technique, you can achieve two things:
- Reduce the amount of your suffering.
- Give your body and mind the ability to accept and allow anxiety, thereby, training them not to be scared or avoidant of these feelings in the future.
Finding Your Anchor Object
Before proceeding, you need to find an anchor object. This can be anything; a book, a photo of your loved one, a rock you found on a beach, or just a spot on your bedroom wall. You can even use your mobile phone (just don’t keep checking Facebook when you are doing this meditation).
The aim of this object is to anchor you to this reality; to ensure that you are firmly present wherever you are while you let yourself go.
How to Let Go
Find a place to lie or sit down and make yourself really comfortable. Right now, you may be facing intense anxiety or you’re feeling like something bad and dreadful is about to happen.
Do not worry, no such thing will happen. It’s your scared mind talking.
Notice the parts of your body that are feeling constricted, or feeling hot or cold or any weird sensations. The aim of this is to take your mental attention away from scary thoughts and into your own body. This is a grounding technique.
Notice if you are tightening up physically or holding on to something mentally. Most of the time when we are in the throes of an anxiety or panic attack, we unconsciously tighten up our bodies and try hard to hold on to something mentally. This only aggravates the situation, since you are telling yourself something bad is about to happen.
Take your anchor object and hold it close to you. No need to clench it hard. I personally recommend lying on a bed and holding it near your chest.
Now let go! Instead of fighting these feelings, just surrender to them. Let them take you over. Let the scary thoughts come and go. You don’t have to believe them, but let them roam unrestricted in your mind.
Notice that you are feeling scared. It’s ok. Let fear be there. Know that nothing harmful can happen to you.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself letting go and falling deeply into empty space. There’s no ground to empty space so you are just falling! And falling deep.
You are not holding on to anything other than your anchor object. If you are tightening up your body, then make a conscious effort to gently loosen those areas.
Notice all of the feelings that you are experiencing. They will be scary and unpleasant, but just notice how they feel. See if you can stay in the present and experience them as raw feelings and body sensations, without getting caught up in the mental storm of thoughts.
If you become too scared during this process, just hold on to your anchor object. This object will keep you safe and in the present. Open your eyes and look at it. Then, when the dread or fear has decreased, go back to closing your eyes and imagine letting go and falling deep.
You can even ask a friend or a partner to hold your hand while you let go. Ask this person to just stay present with you while you are letting go. They need not say or do anything else.
If you practice this technique often, your body and mind will learn to relax despite the intensity of these feelings. Your inner strength to go towards these feelings will increase.
Congratulations, you have learned how to break the anxiety-stress cycle. This is the most crucial step in your recovery!