Is your worst-case scenario being forced to sit quietly with your own thoughts and sensations? Are you one of the many that declares that they are “OK” so long as they are up and about and occupied? Learning to sit quietly with oneself is a challenge for many people, with or without anxiety. For those recovering from an anxiety disorder, this presents a serious challenge, but a challenge that must be met on route to full recovery.
The inability (or unwillingness) to sit quietly with thoughts and sensations without distraction is a common thread that runs through most every variant of the anxiety disorders that I am always addressing. For many of you, the biggest challenge you face is being idle. Without being busy and distracted, being left alone with your anxiety becomes the worst case scenario. For almost all of you, this situation is at least one of the challenges faced along the road to recovery.
1. Sitting quietly with one’s own thoughts is a challenge for virtually every human being. This is normal. In the case of an anxiety disorder, this challenge can become life-altering and can seem insurmountable.
2. We must learn to sit quietly with our anxiety because we are worthy of FULL recovery. Full recovery means solving ALL of the disorder. Not just the easy parts. We must learn the art and skill of sitting with ourselves because being constantly busy and/or distracted is not practical in life.
3. Learning to sit with the anxiety symptoms and sensations is the same as learning to deal with them during exposures and active challenges. The same holds true in learning to sit with anxious and fear-driven thoughts. The fact that we are sitting quietly means we feel symptoms and hear thoughts more intensely, but that does not mean that the symptoms or thoughts are any more powerful. They’re not powerful at all! The approach to learning how to sit without activity and/or distraction is exactly the same as it is in learning to leave the house, stay home alone, or drive on the highway (for example). Sitting quietly isn’t a special situation that requires a special approach.
4. The mechanics of learning to sit quietly with anxiety and the things that come with it will sound familiar. We take a systematic, incremental, consistent approach to practicing the new thing – sitting without distraction while we work on becoming non-reactive to our anxiety symptoms and anxious thoughts. It’s perfectly fine to start with tiny 30 second practice sessions. Repeat them often, then build up from there. This may seem terrifying to you, but you can learn to sit quietly with yourself over time and with work. You may not believe that, but it is true.
It is well worth the time to solve this problem just like it is with all of your anxiety related problems. First you learn that being quiet and still is NOT a catastrophe, then you learn how to use quiet/still time positively and productively.
This is a hard thing to overcome and a hard thing to learn to do. As always, you can do hard things.
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