When you think of anxiety you don’t usually think of freedom. But I’m going to share a secret: the biggest freedom you can have is feeling anxiety.

It sounds crazy, right? But it’s true. You are vulnerable; you have limits to control over things that matter to you. Vulnerability manifests as sympathetic nervous system activation: unrest. Unrest feels like anxiety, and feeling the discomfort of unrest soothes it, and that leads to freedom

Some people believe the biggest freedom would be to never ever feel anxiety. But only dead people never feel sympathetic nervous system arousal. Life itself is vulnerable!

You need to really feel anxiety

Unrest lets you know you’re on the cusp of a vulnerable experience that can grow you. But you need to really, physically feel what your body feels like. You need to block all the future “what if’s” and all the past “woulda shoulda coulda’s”, and experience your muscle tension and arousal, in your body, in the moment.

This is so very hard to do. The tightness and agitation of unrest feel like danger and you want to disconnect from what you feel in that moment.

Here’s where freedom comes in.

When your body signals with unrest you have a choice: approach or avoid. If you pay attention to your tight shoulders, fidgety fingers, held breath, clenched butt, and tapping feet as your body asks for attention, you soothe unrest. Your body settles and you are free. If you avoid yourself when unrest signals, if you distract and numb and busy yourself, your body continues to be braced and your mind is agitated. That is definitely not freedom.

Freedom is being able to be present with what is; not fighting or fixing or trying to change it, or shutting it down or shaming or running away from it. Freedom is saying hello to what is actually happening in your skin.

Feel your body to soothe it, and find the freedom to be yourself.

Freedom is being able to feel the truth of what you feel

The only thing that blocks your freedom is your habitual reflex to avoid the discomfort of unrest when you’re vulnerable. Feel unrest to soothe it, and step forward into all that is uncertain, new, desired and not yet yours.

Take a breath right now and really feel unrest with warm interest. It’s only a feeling, and your body needs to feel you with it. Your attention is the medicine, letting your body know you are safe.

And then, as your body settles, you are free.

Recent Blog Posts:

Embracing Unrest

I’m excited to announce my first book has a launch date! Out October 18th, 2022, Embracing Unrest: Harness Vulnerability to Tame Anxiety and Spark Growth answers the question: why is it so hard to “be here”?

View my “Embracing Unrest” column on Psychology Today!