The other day, I was at an appointment when I overheard an employee talking with the receptionist.  The employee’s boyfriend bought her an anxiety cube. Obviously, I was intrigued when I heard her say, “anxiety,” and I questioned if she suffered with it a lot.  She answered with a reluctant, “yes.” I continued our conversation by telling her that I was a counselor, and I help teach people ways to ease and cope with their anxiety.  I offered her and the receptionist some information that might help them both.  

Anxiety Acts as a Signal

I started by telling the two ladies, “Anxiety is really a signal inside us, telling us that we have one or more underlying core emotions, like sadness, anger, fear or even excitement, pushing up for expression. Emotions get blocked by anxiety, especially when we previously learned from our cultures, families, or peer groups, that the emotions that live inside of us are not welcome. For example, if when we showed fear to our parents, we were told not to be so weak, we would think twice before expressing our fear again. In that scenario, our brain would learn not to show fear while also feeling humiliated. From then on, any time a situation made us feel afraid, we’d feel anxiety instead.” 

Generally, our anxiety blocks fear and other fundamental emotions.  Anxiety can become apparent in many physical means, including tension in your muscles, holding your breath, stomach and headaches, and many other ways.  Many times, we experience these types of physical symptoms instead of allowing ourselves to feel our emotions. Being educated on the way anxiety affects you is really crucial to monitoring your mental health.  When you’re educated on the types of symptoms anxiety can bring about in you, you identify ways to ease it by looking for the emotions that caused you to feel anxious in the first place. The more you practice this, each time you feel anxious you’ll remember more and more to look for the underlying core emotions you’re feeling.  They were captivated. “Wow. That really resonates,” the receptionist said. Hoping they’d find my work helpful, I handed them each one of my cards and told them to look at my website that contains articles and YouTube videos that talk all about emotions.   

Using Anxiety as a Signal on Our Own and with a Therapist

I, too, have worked a lot on understanding my own emotions to cope with my anxiety.  For example, the thought of going to a funeral used to make me extremely anxious. Once I tuned into my emotions, I learned that I was feeling anxious because I was blocking out the sadness and grief that are brought upon by death.  Growing up, my family didn’t do sadness, making it very hard for me in my adult life.  

Rather than allowing us to feel sad, my mother would do all she could to cheer us up.  Because of that, as I child, I thought it wasn’t ok to feel sad, and instead I felt like I was always supposed to be happy.  After that, when something elicited my sadness, I’d feel anxiety come on strong. When I took time to learn about my emotions, I knew that I felt sad in response to loss.  I wanted to become reacquainted with my sadness. I retaught myself that it was ok to want to cry or feel heavy in my heart. And once I did, my anxiety lessened and sometimes was inexistent. 

I had a client, that when I first met her, she experienced anxiety every time she was angry.   I taught her different techniques to work on lowering her anxiety and reconnect to her anger, to use it wisely.  She worked on listening to her anger and what it was trying to tell her. Shortly after, she knew how to utilize her anger to stress her needs and to set limits with her family so they would stop taking advantage of her.  

Utilizing the Change Triangle to Alleviate Anxiety 

The Change Triangle is a useful tool to focus on emotions rather than deadening or dodging them. The Change Triangle allows us to recognize the core emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, joy, excitement, and sexual excitement) underneath our anxiety. We can listen to our core emotions to help lessen our anxiety.  Being aware of what our core emotions are trying to tell us assists us in succeeding as best we can under our individual obstacles we face in life. Core emotions can be seen as a compass for living.

Sadly, our schools and communities don’t teach people on how anxiety, depression, and other symptoms, are related to avoiding our core emotions. We must strive to educate ourselves and our loved ones. Knowledge is power. And when it comes to anxiety and emotions this is especially true.