By Olivia Vallecillo MA, LCMHCA, NCC

A gnawing feeling that something is wrong, but you cannot honestly say what it is. A feeling that you have been under “stress” for most of your adult life. A feeling that you cannot cope with your life and your thoughts trap you. This is how I would describe my experience with anxiety. 

I thought of anxiety as something I needed to eliminate for most of my life. I felt that it was a “bad” emotion and that it meant there was something wrong with me. I needed to calm down and go more with the flow. Although I have learned to do these things, I have also learned to let the anxiety have a voice. I never really listened to what my anxiety was telling me. 

One day, I sat quietly meditating while experiencing a bout of anxiety over what seemed to be the stress of parenting a tween. Instead of eliminating the anxiety, I let it be there, and I tried to listen to what it was communicating. To my surprise, despite the parenting stress, there was much more under the surface. My anxiety was an intelligent and clear voice. Its message was much more transparent and straightforward than my mind’s message. 

The voice of my anxiety expressed some of the things in my life for which I longed. Underneath all the tension I was feeling that day was a need to feel like I belonged in the world. It was a deep need. I realized the balance of time I was spending alone versus my time with others was off. I needed to be more social. My anxiety wanted me to stop and listen, and it really had very little to do with my tween’s attitude.

I realized how intelligent and knowing our emotions are that day, especially anxiety. It was a clarion call to care for some of my unmet needs. Since that day, I have been a better listener. Sometimes, I have to stop my thoughts because they want to quickly solve a problem, whether a relationship struggle, parenting struggle, loneliness, work stress, or what to make for dinner. My thoughts are trying very hard, but I often need the clarity of my emotions to make my needs clear. Sometimes, it is not a problem that can be solved logically, and it is more of an instinct to be followed.

What does following an instinct look like? It might mean that you start to sense you need to talk to a friend. This may not feel particularly logical when you are stressed about making dinner. Still, suppose you tune into your emotions. In that case, you realize that the stress Is not about making dinner at all but about aching loneliness. You need a moment of connection with someone to relieve some of that loneliness longing. 

If we only listen to our intellect and mind, we lose some simplicity in understanding our longings. We fix our problems and put a temporary band-aid on our stress. However, our long-term relationship with ourselves becomes more profound and authentic if we still get to listen to our hearts. Anxiety is a common emotion that signals that we have an unmet need.

I often share that emotions are neither good nor bad; they signal what we need. It takes slowing down and listening to your feelings to understand your deeper needs and longings and find more long-term solutions to emotional issues. As a clinician, I believe in the power of body-based, emotionally focused experiences in therapy as the most powerful tool for lasting change. As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So too is an emotional instinct. 

Much of my inspiration for this blog post comes from Sheryl Paul. For further reading pick up her book The Wisdom of Anxiety.

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