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Resilience in the Age of Anxiety

True resilience is found where we least expect.

Image by Jens Johnsson

Chances are you know precisely what anxiety feels like. How can you not? We live in the Age of Anxiety. It has reached epidemic levels, at least in Western Europe and the US. We consume increasing amounts of pharmaceuticals, attend yoga classes and mindfulness retreats, eat plant-based diets and explore herbal remedies…anything to find some release from the paralysing dis-ease. And yet who do you know who can say they have overcome anxiety? Have you? Chances are slim. As a society, that is desperately sad.

So, how do we defeat anxiety and recover our old self? The answer: We don’t. We don’t defeat it because it’s not here to be fought. We don’t recover our old self because our anxiety is here to help us create a new self. Our anxiety is showing us the errors of our ways, if we can only see it for the sign post it is and work with it, not against it. Your anxiety is showing you what you need to change in your life in order to live without it. To better understand what your anxiety is trying to tell you, we require three things:

First, your health must become your highest priority in life. Higher than making money or your work, higher even than your relationships or acquisition of material goods. Secondly, it requires a great deal of discipline in your practice. Personal Resilience Training is very demanding physically and emotionally. At times, my clients find it all too easy to drop their practice in favour of old, familiar habits. We must try to remember that very little will change without focused, regular action. That leads me to the third requirement and a word that nearly everyone, men especially, has a great deal of trouble with: Sensitivity.

But let’s start back at the beginning with priorities. Many of my clients believe healing from their anxiety already is their highest priority but when some of my prescribed activities test that belief it is often proved misplaced. Instead, when even lightly challenged, their focus shifts effortlessly to an absolutely vital project at work, or particular demands from a relationship, done almost with relish because it provides relief from the hard work that is Personal Resilience Training. When I next see them their anxiety has increased because their work ethic/environment or relationships are often the reason for their anxiety in the first place.

Once we have prioritised our healing and development, to continue, we must learn to maintain our focus and remain disciplined and dedicated to our practice. Discipline is a word very few people like and fewer still employ. And yet it is with a little more discipline that many of our troubles would disappear. Of course it’s hard being disciplined but the rewards are literally whatever you can imagine. A relaxed, focused and disciplined mind combined with appropriate and regular action can achieve anything, including recovery from anxiety.

If few people value discipline, even less value sensitivity. You may even believe being sensitive got you into this mess in the first place? The truth is quite the opposite. It is your self-denial, harmful inner-narrative and your mind-numbing distractions that got you into this mess. It is refined sensitivity that will get you out.

Let me be clear, it is through developing sensitivity to the workings of your mind, to the superficial and deep-lying tension stored in your body and to your emotional reactions to certain environments and stimuli that you become more resilient. You will not overcome anxiety with a “stay strong” attitude or brute force endurance, hoping, waiting for it all to somehow pass. Resilience is about recovery not endurance and you will not become resilient by accident. You will become resilient through developing sensitivity and by understanding and accepting the power of vulnerability. It is vulnerability and sensitivity that provide the bedrock upon which we can build our new, more resilient character.

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