I wrote before about anxiety as the gatekeeper, and specifically addressed how it can be safeguarding other emotions that you’ve learned from your family are dangerous or taboo. But anxiety can also be the guardian of the threshold as you venture forth into life and new territory for yourself. A new job, a new social situation, an exam — all of these things can start the gut churning, sending fearful thoughts through your mind. Other sources of anxiety can be finances and money, where your basic sense of security feels threatened.

A certain amount of nervous system activation is necessary to get things done. It can motivate you to study for an exam or prepare for a job interview. It’s when it gets out of your window of tolerance that it becomes a problem. It’s letting you know that you need to pay attention to what’s happening inside. I find it helpful to imagine the part of you that’s anxious as a small child who needs reassurance and soothing.

If you pay attention to what you are telling yourself, you will probably find you are making up stories about worst case scenarios, maybe even catastrophes. Chances are, you’re also berating yourself. Now we don’t have to get into an argument here about which came first, the stories or the anxiety, because the process is a vicious cycle which fuels itself. And the problem isn’t the stories, per se, but the fact that, like a small child being told scary tales, you’re believing them. You’re scaring yourself! And being unkind to yourself to boot.

So what would you do for a child in this case? You’d take her/him into your arms and reassure her/him that these stories are made up, not real, that she/he’s okay, and there’s nothing to be frightened about. Simple, right? Maybe. It depends on how convinced you are that they are true. We’re getting to core beliefs here about self and the world. These beliefs are the lens through which we perceive and construct experience. They decide the plot lines in our internal stories and in our lives, too. It’s like we get lost in a maze of our own making (with a lot of help from others early in life!) and can’t find our way out.

The way out is to go deeper into the maze, to the very center, to your core. Your core is deep in the mid-line of your body, and it’s connected to the mid-line of your brain, so ultimately it will help quiet the mind and bring some peace. Paying attention to the sensations in your body, often in the areas of the heart or the gut, is like taking that small child into your arms. You may even want to put a hand on your heart and/or belly, to reinforce that you are there to that child. Then just gently breathe into the areas that are calling your attention. Stay there with yourself as long as you need. Think of it as a meditation.

As you get quieter, the stories will start to slow down and you’ll get some distance from them. Then you can start asking yourself if they are true. Usually these stories are based on the past and projected onto the future. They’re not about what’s happening right now. By staying with your sensations you can keep yourself grounded in the present. And at your core, you know what’s true right now. There’s a lot of wisdom there that you can come back to anytime.