Train to hold steady with emotional weights
A patient asked about self-healing exercises so he can speed up the cure for his anxiety, panic attacks. This is my reply:
I like the meditation advice given by Pema Chodron. Listen to gentle humor on Youtube. Her commentary is based on Tibetian Buddhism, but I think it does not depend on totally becoming a Buddhist. Just use common sense.
Anxiety is a form of suffering. Light weights of anxiety may feel very heavy to you if you suffer from panic attacks or depression. Basically, you need to be able to sit with your anxiety long enough so that you have confidence that you can lift that weight. Think of sitting and observing yourself being anxious as something like weight training.
At first, concentrate on a very small example of your normal anxiety. Start small and increase your strength gradually. Challenge yourself with weights/anxiety that you know that you can lift. Your main problem is stamina. Allow yourself to get anxious, but instead of running away (dropping the weight), sit or stand there holding that weight steady. Be still so you can carefully observe all your internal emotional behavior. See how much inner strength you can mobilize. Observation skills and compassion are the major tools for building inner strength. Set a timer. Two minutes of steady focus is a good beginning.
Gradually increase your weights and holding times, but be reasonable. Reward yourself for good work. Don't tire yourself when you are already taxed. Listen to Pema's very down-to-earth humorous advice. She will tell you why you increasingly are able to lift those little weights. Then move on to bigger ones. Observe carefully as if your training were a scientific experiment. Life can be a roller coaster, so develop your peripherial vision. Stay aware of the big picture when you evaluate yourself.
Numbing out gives that stress permission to take over when you are not aware. Don't let yourself be sidetracked by all your normal ways of avoiding the stress. Don't solve the problem or ignore the emotion that arises with the problem. Problem-solving is just another way to let your mind run away from holding that weight. Instead, increase your emotional muscles. Increase your powers of observation and compassion. Lift the weights and stay there.
You will find that spiritual thought will increase your emotional muscle strength. Pema will give you ideas that have nothing to do with superstition or ritual. They are common sense. Stuff like you are gonna die someday, so get with reality. Or suffering is shared by all humans, so practice compassion first toward yourself. When you master self compassion, branch out to your family. Then, to friends. And finally to strangers.
If you can have some compassion toward even yourself who is so anxious, next you can realize how totally human you are. How much your suffering is embedded in who you are. The reasons for some of that suffering is based on what is wonderful about you. For that reason, anxiety is not your worst trait. Your weak emotional muscles are more the problem. At the same time, think how important it is to be kind to yourself. Compassion toward yourself is remembering kindness such as eating and resting. Compassion is taking time for your family despite your worries about work. These are all forms of self-compassion. Start there and branch out to compassion toward the suffering of others.
In short, train your self-aware emotional muscles. Exercise your powers of observation. Learn to be compassionate first toward yourself and then toward others. I have written about anxiety above,
but any negative or unbalanced emotion that is obsessive is an appropriate weight.