A Compassionate Approach to Dealing with Anxiety

Dec 15, 2021

Mike Korman

I’m a certified coach therapist supporting and guiding those desiring more compassion and connection to themselves and in their relationships. I weave together nonviolent communication and mindfulness.

In this article I’m going to lay out a step by step approach of how to respond to feelings of anxiety or anxiety attacks. 

Step 1: Notice and name my feelings

Anxiety is a feeling. Other words for it might be fearful, nervous, worried, terrified or tense. 

I believe that every feeling we have is a messenger. Like a postman who’s come to deliver us a message. 

The message is always the same. 

“Hey dear me, there is something inside me, a precious need of mine, that would like me to take care of it, come look at what that need might be….”

So the first step is to notice that I am feeling anxious and to name it. “Yes, I am feeling anxiety, I am feeling terror, I am feeling tension.”

Step 2: Inquiring into my needs

What I’m feeling and what I’m needing are directly connected. 

We feel tired because we need rest. We feel hungry because we need food and nourishment. 

So why might we be feeling anxious? 

In my experience, I feel anxiety when I’m needing safety or trust. Anxiety is a sign that I’m not feeling safe or that I can trust (someone, something). 

Think of a recent situation where you felt anxiety. Finish the following sentence for yourself. 

I felt anxious because I was needing _____

Use the following list to help you identify what you were needing:

Security, safety, consistency, certainty, stability, order, trust, peace, protection, acceptance, belonging, affection, to be seen, authenticity, freedom, understanding. 

You can find a more comprehensive needs list here.

So step 2 is to identify what you are needing in those moments when you feel anxious. 

When I can identify my needs I immediately feel relief. The anxiety has much less intensity to it. This is because I am being seen and understood and when we’re seen and understood we feel calmer. We feel less distressed. 

What is being seen? My needs. 

To say “I am feeling anxious” is to only see part of the life that is alive in me now. 

There are two other parts – my needs – “I am feeling anxious because I am needing _____, _____ and ____”

And the other part of what is alive in me now is my desire or dream for what would help me meet those needs – “I am feeling anxious because I am needing safety and order and therefore what I’d really love is if ______”.

When I am in touch with my feelings, my needs and my dreams then I am seeing the much fuller picture of me in any given moment.

When I see this I feel good. I feel glad, I feel calm because I am much more fully seen and much more fully understood. And we all want to be more seen and more understood. 

So we’ve spoken about naming our feelings and trying to identify the needs that led to them. 

Now I want to say some more about what I mean by connecting to our needs. 

Step 3: Connect to my needs (hop on the needs-train)

Step 3 I call “hopping on the needs-train”. 

Here we go deeper into embodying and really getting to know the needs that we identified in step 2. 

So just say I most resonate with the need for protection when I feel anxiety. I feel anxiety because I’m really needing protection. 

I now take the need for protection, close my eyes and ask myself “how is protection alive in me?” or “what is protection to me?”

And then I let my imagination and my body take over and I let myself go on an adventure. I let myself discover the beauty of these needs in me. 

Protection is a four syllable 10 letter word in English but in my body and in my experience it is a whole world. 

Go there. 

Let images arise in your mind and describe them in great detail. As if you’re dreaming. 

“I see a shield in front of me and surrounding me from all sides. I am in a clear and warm and quiet bubble. No matter what comes from outside this bubble towards me, it can’t get into the bubble. I have full trust in this bubble/shield. I notice my shoulders relaxing. I notice my breath deepening…..”

So step 3 has three sub-steps. 

a) Choose a need that I most resonated with from step 2,

b) Close my eyes and hop on the needs-train as I let whatever images want to come to mind to arise, and 

c) Describe these images out loud or to a friend in as much detail as I can. Enjoy it.

When I deepen my connection with my needs like this, such as the need for protection, my body fills with the energy of that need and I feel more calm and more centred, less stressed or tense. 

The final step, step 4, is all about asking for your dreams. Step 2 and 3 were to identify and deepen your needs which already can provide tremendous relief from feelings of anxiety. This is because our needs are the driving forces in our lives but oftentimes we got lost at the level of feelings and thoughts and become disconnected from our engine or heart. 

Step 4: Asking for what would wonderfully support us

Step 4 is about asking for a specific action that another, or we, can do that would be wonderfully supportive of this need of ours. 

It’s really about letting ourselves dream here. Letting images come to mind. “What would really help me feel protected now?” 

Be like a child…

“Ohhh, I’d love for you to hug me really tight right now and for us to roll around on the couch together”

“I’d really love to sit next to you over a cup of tea and share openly with you about what I’m going through.”

So I connect with my need for protection and then I let whatever images arise to arise, like dreams, and then I share them with another person. 

It’s important to do this with a question at the end – “would you be willing to?” 

“I’d so love for you to hug and squeeze me right now, would you be up for that too?”

And the other person might say “no” – “actually I’m so tired right now.” And our invitation is to stay open to hearing a “no”. The “no” might lead to other ideas that do suit the other person or to us speaking with another friend that might be willing to squeeze and hug us. 

And of course sometimes the other person will say “yes”. 

This step, asking for our dreams, is not dependent on getting a “yes” for it to be powerful. 

The power is in the dreaming and the willingness to ask for our dreams. Because by doing so I’m in touch with my creativity (when I let my wishes come up in my mind without censoring them) and I’m in touch with my needs (by formulating a request of the other person I’m connecting more deeply to my needs). 

I’m also in touch with my need for self-expression and presence. By asking I’m saying – “I matter and I care about myself and I have a voice, a presence in this world.” 

This is a ginormous act of self care. 

So asking for my dreams, for my needs, is a ginormous act of self-compassion. 

And that’s the process. 

Here it is in short:

Anytime I feel anxiety I can do the following:

  1. Pause for a moment and note what I’m feeling – “I’m feeling anxious, terror, nervous”
  2. Identify what I might be needing – “I’m feeling anxious because I’m really needing safety”
  3. Hop on the needs-train – Go deeper into that need – “Safety for me is like…..”
  4. Ask for my dreams “I’d love to go for a walk together and for you to hold my hand, can we?”

This is not only a process of finding relief from anxiety, it’s a process of going from anxiety to self-connection, from self-connection to self-compassion and from self-compassion to self-expression

I’d love to hear what resonated with you. In fact, I’d love to receive a comment from everyone that read this and resonated in some way!

Mike Korman
I’m a certified coach therapist supporting and guiding those desiring more compassion and connection to themselves and in their relationships. I weave together nonviolent communication and mindfulness.

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