Dealing with Anxiety: Learning and Forgiveness
Our Keep Real Club writer, Jake Moran, shares his insight into dealing with anxiety through a long-established mindfulness technique.
Sometimes it’s hard to forgive people for something they’ve said or done. Sometimes it can be even harder to forgive yourself for things you wish you hadn’t done. The past can be distressing to think about when you’re struggling with anxiety. Perhaps something you said, intentionally or not, something you did which you regret, something which happened between a friend, family member or past lover. That’s why it is so important to learn from your past and to ultimately forgive yourself- it is the only route to inner peace. In this piece, I’m going to show you how this is possible using a simple but long-established mindfulness technique.
The technique is formed from four parts under the acronym RAIN. The first step is Recognition – recognising exactly what it is you are thinking about and identifying how it is affecting you. Concentrate on where in your mind and body the anxiety from these thoughts is originating. Does it put pressure on parts of your head as if they are weighted? Are you feeling tension in your chest, or an ache in your stomach? Become aware of the physical repercussions of the anxiety generated by your thoughts, and simply notice how it feels.
Next, Acceptance is the most important part of responding to any mental health struggle, but especially with dealing with anxiety associated with the past. Now that you are aware of how you’re feeling, let it lie. Tell yourself that it is perfectly okay to feel this way, even if you don’t want to feel it. There should be no judgement when becoming mindful of how you are feeling- it is a key part of accepting yourself, so don’t blame yourself for feeling a certain way, don’t critique yourself and don’t fight yourself. Accept the way you feel and show yourself kindness, not judgement, in response.
This third step is the most relevant in dealing with this specific cause of anxiety. As I have already said, when dealing with the past it is easy to mull over things you have done which you wish you hadn’t, and then blame yourself excessively for them. This is a natural part of anxiety and can even occur over events in which you haven’t even done anything wrong! So, Investigation is required to find out exactly what is making you feel this way.
Have you ever beaten yourself up thinking about that time when you didn’t know what to say to someone in a fleeting moment, so you just came out with something that made no sense at all? We’ve all done that- it’s a facet of being English. But what if I told you that, while you’re lying there stressing about how ridiculous you think you looked to that person, they probably can’t even remember it happening. Use this as a starting point for the most frequent, every-day anxieties which arise from social situations which you might be thinking about. Just tell yourself that even though you’re thinking about it, the other person/people involved probably haven’t given it a second thought. And even though you’re thinking about it now, in ten years’ time you will be stood in the supermarket doing your weekly shop having not thought about it since. These two golden mantras will be the keys to tranquillity in these situations.
However, for more significant life events in which you have felt you have done wrong or made mistakes, a deeper level of investigation is required. The purpose of this is not to punish or degrade yourself for the way you have lived your life - quite the opposite. The most important part of moving on from mistakes is to learn from your past. Only then can you learn to heal and accept yourself.
It starts with identifying exactly what it is you believe you did wrong- the thing that is giving you grief today. Was it something you said? A way you treated someone which upset them, even if you didn’t see it at the time? There are many things it could be, and if this investigation takes a while to figure out exactly what is making you feel anxious, then that is perfectly fine. Don’t rush, take your time. Once you have identified what it is and acknowledged that you have learned from your past with the genuine intention of self-improvement, that is a massive achievement. It takes courage to see where we have gone wrong, and that is why investigation is such a central component in forgiving yourself.
The final step is Non-Identification. Step back – you’ve done well. This is the part where you accept that you’ve tried to put this right and that you have bettered yourself by learning from the past. You can forgive yourself. Let yourself breathe and return to your surroundings. Well done.
Of course, this process won’t make anxiety go away all together, but it teaches you not to judge yourself for things that you can learn from. Life is all about learning: it’s how we evolve and survive, and I don’t just mean as a species. You as an individual will become better and wiser by learning from your past, and even if that comes with anxiety attached, it is a positive thing. Follow this process to learn from mistakes, accept and forgive yourself. If you want to deal with whatever in the past is making you anxious, then you deserve to allow yourself forgiveness.