Anxiety is such a baby!
But not a smiley peaceful baby who looks up at you with angelic delight. Some of the time anxiety is like a fussy baby, nervous and uncomfortable around new people or places. Other times, however, anxiety launches into full tantrum terror, screaming for comfort!
It is not just those with anxiety disorders or OCD who have an anxiety baby—most of us do. Anxiety is a normal human emotion that almost all of us experience to some degree, some of the time.
When does your anxiety baby cry?
- When your airplane bounces along a turbulent patch in the sky
- When you are up on stage—all eyes on you
- When you see the little black spider scrambling across your kitchen table
- When you awkwardly introduce yourself to the attractive person at the party
- When your boss calls you into the office after you’ve made a mistake at work
The key question is not how do you get rid of your anxiety baby, but rather, how are you treating your anxiety baby when he or she cries?
Often people respond to their anxiety baby with aversion. They hate their anxiety baby! They desperately try everything they can to be forever rid of their little “monster” such as avoiding challenging situations or hiding behind Netflix distractions, substance intoxications, or compulsive safety behaviors.
When your anxiety baby is screaming, you may find yourself tensing your muscles tightly—while desperately pleading with it to just stop crying! The baby doesn’t understand your pleadings (it has the logic skills of an infant) and often cries even harder.
The tighter you squeeze against the baby the louder the screaming. And, as you squeeze tightly, the baby squirms, fights, and bites, making your experience of the anxiety even more painful.
If you try to run from your baby, he or she swiftly crawls after you—crying more desperately.
The more you resist the baby the greater you suffer!
Making Peace with your Anxiety Baby
I am recommending that you try a new approach to coping (and thriving) with your anxiety baby:
- Stop trying to escape from your baby. Your anxiety baby is a companion for life so I would encourage you not to run away or hide, but instead focus on more peaceful co-existence.
- When your anxiety baby cries, hold the baby softly. Notice where in your body you are tensing your muscles. Now soften these muscles and open up to the experience—hold your baby gently. That does not mean that you want or enjoy the baby’s tantrum, but you are willing to softly allow the tantrum to run its course. You are not trying to force relaxation (that is just another attempt to get rid of the baby which will backfire), but you are increasing a gentle willingness. No one enjoys the whining, fussiness, or tantrum, but you can learn to accept that this is the noise babies make at times and surrender the fight.
- Hold your baby with compassion—rather than loathing. Your anxiety baby gets frightened at times and the cries are not intended to make you suffer, but rather alert you to what it thinks (in its irrational baby-mind) is dangerous. Your anxiety is reacting based on baby-instinct to keep you alive. Hold your baby softly when it cries, with compassion, knowing that your baby is not your enemy, but only wants you to be safe.
In short, when your anxiety baby is crying, remind yourself to let the baby cry and hold the baby softly and with compassion. Don’t try to force the baby to see logic and reason—just let the tantrum run its course.
Minimizing your Anxiety Baby’s Tantrums
Although you can’t get rid of your anxiety baby, you can create the conditions to minimize his or her screaming by:
- Managing your overall stress levels—less overall stress means happier baby
- Exercising makes for a calmer baby
- Practicing mindfulness exercises, which make co-existing with your baby’s tantrums less challenging
- Going easy on the caffeine and other triggering substances
- Taking appropriate medications when needed
- Facing your fears, repeatedly, so that the baby (who can be a slow learner) can see for him or herself that what seemed like a dangerous situation is actually reasonably safe
If you are like most people who experience anxiety, you probably would just like your anxiety baby to pack up and go away forever—leaving you in peace. You very well may be drawn to articles and advice that promise a “Quick cure for anxiety in just six easy steps!” Yet, six steps later here you are and there your anxiety baby remains.
Choose to make the best of your lifelong relationship with your anxiety baby. You can help him or her learn to scream less often and in fewer situations. You can learn to co-exist with tantrums when they occur and help soothe your baby more effectively so they end more quickly.
More importantly, your anxiety baby does not have to hold you back in life. If you are genuinely willing to softly bring your anxiety baby with you on the plane, up on stage during the speech, on your date, or when facing other fears, then you become truly free.
Eric Goodman, Ph.D.