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Practice – a silent smile allays anxiety

A man with debilitating anxiety said:

‘The other day I arrived home from a particularly stressful day at work. I was full of anxiety, with anxious thoughts swirling around in my head. As usual I gave my ten-month-old son, George, a bath and sat in the bath with him, as I often did. He was all excited and wanted to play. I was still tense and anxious. I said “Hello!” and he smiled at me. A child’s smile is always touching.

‘I said “Hello!” again and he smiled again. After repeating this a few times he was laughing at me. It was great fun.

‘Once out of the bath and having put George to bed, I remembered that I had been anxious, worried and tense, but it had all gone. I was surprised and not a little incredulous at how I could have forgotten about it all. I felt relaxed, no longer anxious, even though I hadn’t thought my problems through. I hadn’t resolved them. They had just vanished. I felt cheated because I hadn’t worked it out in my head. I had just forgotten about it.

‘I had tried to get rid of the anxiety, the feelings and thoughts, countless times before, but nothing worked. I had had four courses of CBT and it helped a bit but then the anxiety all came back. I’m starting to change my perspective. I realise my worries are serious to me but in the bath they had disappeared without my having analysed them.

‘In the bath with George, I put myself wholeheartedly into what at that moment was being done, didn’t I? It’s just as you put it. I wasn’t aware of it at the time: it only occurred to me later when reflecting on it. Now I realise what “wholehearted” means.’

This report was seven years ago. Having found how to do it, he has practised putting himself wholeheartedly into what at this moment is being done in many different situations and is no longer plagued by those worrying thoughts. Why? Because he has been dealing with the emotion that gives rise to them. He has borne and endured the feelings of anxiety in the body and they have changed: they are only slight and they no longer frighten him.

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