A new practice for anxiety

Hummingbirds by K Rudolph
Hummers by K. Rudolph

I’ve been talking to people about how they manage their anxiety, and my sister-in-law Janelle told me about an anxiety practice she created out of some of the tools in The Language of Emotions. Cool!

Janelle is an in-home health practitioner who works with elderly and disabled clients, and she often feels worried about them (as you can imagine!). Janelle created a way to question her anxieties as she grounds herself. It’s a perfect solution, because anxieties (and all the members of the Fear Family) want you to ask questions, figure things out, and take action.

I asked Janelle to write out the situation and her practice so you’d get a feel for it.

Janelle’s Conscious Questioning

I am Health Care Practitioner who visits clients in their homes. Many of my clients are low income and elderly or disabled in some way. I am referred in by a case manager because a client has symptoms like pain, anxiety, depression, or they are in need of some social contact or reassurance. I go in and gently massage painful areas, listen to their stories, or record their Oral Histories. Many of these people have not been touched in years.

Just today I had a new visit with an elder who had immigrated to the U.S. during a violent upheaval in her home country. If you were to peek in on the visit, it wouldn’t look too strenuous: I soaked her feet and hands with warm water and lemon bath oil and gently massaged her. Since she didn’t speak English, her son gave me her physical and emotional history, which included having to watch her husband starve to death. Many of my clients’ stories are deeply harrowing.

Sometimes I feel some discomfort after a visit, when I am in the car on my way to my next client. What I feel, while in the visit, is that I am soaking up some of my client’s story and that I may carry some of their story home with me. I often need to take care of myself and empty out after the visit.

I can sometimes leave a visit with a sense of anxiety, pressure in my body, sadness and/or a feeling of being stuck. I listen to The Language of Emotions in my car, and after hearing about Conscious Complaining, I created another version of the practice called Conscious Questioning.

In this practice, I ground, even if I’m in the car and going 60 mph, and consciously ask myself questions. As soon as I feel discomfort in my body, pressure in my chest, anxiety, or sadness, I will ask myself out-loud:

What is it that I am feeling?

Why am I feeling it?

Is there something I need to feel?

Is there someone I need to report to?

Is this feeling about me or about the client?

What brought this feeling forward?

Then I answer myself out loud, listening to the wisdom from within. I feel it, name the emotion, come into relationship with it, and take needed action. I do this consciously and out loud [Karla’s note: Which is the genius part, since most of us cycle silently and semi-consciously with anxiety and only end up making ourselves feel miserable]. I ground myself and ask the questions, get some answers, and send all the discomfort down through my grounding practice.

I have had people honk their horns and point their fingers at me thinking that I was talking on a hands-free call in my car. I smile at them. For all they know I could be singing along with my favorite Pandora tune. I can re-energize in this way between my clients, stay present, and feel happy.

AND I come home way less tired from my day. It really works! Thank you, feelings and emotions!

Nicely done, Janelle! Thank you for bringing us wisdom from the areas of anxiety and concern, and for sharing this simple and effective practice we can all do (though I’m thinking that we should move our heads rhythmically if we do it in the car, so people won’t think we’re on our cell phones)!

A possible further help for situations like this could also be Burning Contracts, if you find yourself getting into an uncomfortable relationship with a client or co-worker. The excellent thing about doing your emotional work is that you can actually make changes in your behavior, in your outlook, in your tension levels, and in the tenor of your relationships. 

Emotions rock! (if you know how to work with them)

24 Responses

  1. Katrina
    | Reply

    I have been thinking a lot about this for the last week or two — but what I am struggling with and have been dealing with for the last few months is not anxiety, but fear. Flat-out, full-blown fear.

    My promise to myself for this year is that I am going to do my dead-level best to move into a dream that I have been carrying within myself since I was eleven years old. Of all the unrealized dreams I have ever had, this one is the oldest, the deepest, the most cherished — and the scariest. For most of my life, I told myself it was a silly, foolish, impossible dream.

    My dream was — and is — to act in stories that I write. I spent years dancing around this dream. I did technical theatre (mostly lighting, sometimes sound or props or set dressing). I stage managed plays. I directed plays. I acted in other people’s plays. I wrote plays — and sat by and watched as other people acted in and directed one of my plays. It was such a miserable experience that I promised myself I’d never do that again.

    But I realized, late last year, that if I do not pursue my dream now — if I do not take active steps to make it happen — no one is going to hand it to me on a silver platter. I can’t continue to sit back and wish for it.

    Moving towards my dream, though, has brought fears rushing in like fire-breathing dragons towering over me, haunting every step I take.

    I have been trying to move forward, one tiny step at a time, despite the fears — but I’ve been dealing lately with difficulties in my “day job” and my home life that leave me drained, so I don’t have much in internal resources to devote to my health (mental, emotional, physical) or my dreams. Or to dealing with my fears.

    On Thursday, I met with my acting coach for two hours. Most of the time was spent with him listening compassionately as I admitted my frustrations, my doubts, my fears, the disappointments and betrayals from my past, the negative messages echoing inside my head.

    He did not offer me platitudes — but he also did not accuse me of being silly or foolish for being scared. Nor did he accuse me of being egotistical or unrealistic for wanting to pursue this dream.

    Instead, he gave me a “safe space” in which it was okay for me to be afraid. It was okay for me to name my fears — and my dreams. It was okay for me to admit how much I want this dream, that there’s nothing else in the world that I want more, that there is no substitute for doing what I want to do, that no matter how scared I am or how foolish the dream might seem, I can’t not do it.

    By the time I got home from our session together, I felt clearer, calmer, and more settled than I had in weeks. Now, two days later, I still feel that way.

    For me, being able to name my fears — and my dreams — in the “safe space” provided by a trusted friend who allows me to be afraid — and allows me to dream — is invaluable.

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hi Mori, thanks for your message! I’m glad my work is useful to you, Yay!

      And hey ya Katrina! Did I tell you that I acted in one play and went, “OH hellz no. If I gotta be on stage, I’ll be writing the material, thanks.” No one can interpret your words in the way you can. I salute you for going forward! Yay!!!

      Where are you doing your acting work? Are you in LA?

  2. Mori
    | Reply

    Hi Karla,

    I wanted to leave you a quick note and I wasn’t sure where to post it so I’m posting it here. I just read your book the Language of Emotions and I had previously listened to Emotional Genius. I really wanted to thank you for the wealth of information- more like truth- that you provided me. I’ve always wanted to know what you’ve explained so well in your book. I am really very grateful to you!



  3. Katrina
    | Reply

    Karla, I’m about 2,500 miles from L.A.; I live in central North Carolina. Lots of community theatre here, but support for the kind of creative work I want to do is tough to find. If I could afford to drive an hour or two, my choices would be greater, but my monthly income won’t stretch that far right now (though I am in the market for a better-paying job).

    So I’m starting one small step at a time, gathering around me the few people I’ve met so far who believe in my dream (thankfully, my acting coach is chief among them), and brainstorming ideas, great and small. Start small, knock on doors, try things … and see what happens.

  4. Mori
    | Reply


    I was particularly intrigued by the quaternity model that you explained in your book and found it a very useful. I was wondering if you knew of any other books you could recommend that delves more into the topic of the four elements that compose us?

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hi Mori. The quaternity is a Jungian concept, but he’s awfully hard to slog through. The work I outline in the book is original to me, but it expands on the Jungian concepts. I added the concept of the fifth element, which is the fully integrated self wherein none of the elements are at war (for instance, many spiritual traditions wage war on the emotions or the intellect, and many intellectual traditions war on the spiritual or emotional aspects of humanity). I look at any repudiation of entire elements as a sign of real trouble in the tradition. I’m writing a post now about the current rage for spirituality over intellect, or vice versa, and I say oy.

  5. Simon
    | Reply

    This is a great tool, no doubt. I think we are ALL stressed out at some level, whether it is paralyzing fear or just everyday-stress.

    I think not only do we need to acquire skills to deal with anxiety and fear but also create a new society where there’s less triggers for stress & anxiety. For instance, driving can be a very stressful activity. We have cars that make tons of noise and if one is stuck in traffic then one is subject to so much noise and stress.

    Anyways, what I am saying is that a lot of stress we all feel is due to social constructs like bills, traffic, loud cars, noise pollution, environmental toxins, food toxins, etc. (which are all byproducts of monetary system).

    So while it is absolutely essential that we gain skills in how to ground fear and anxiety, it is also essential to help eliminate socially created stresses. I think that will be more effective in the long run. I guess I am thinking globally but we all have to these days. Our planet is becoming smaller and smaller every day.

    Thanks Karla for your work!



    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hi Simon! I agree that people spend a lot of time on personal issues when really, the problem is in the social fabric.

      I’m just not sure know how we help people wake up from that. My hope with the book is to help people get emotionally strong enough to start asking questions when politicians, the media, or other authority figures attempt to manipulate them emotionally. I don’t think you can understand emotional manipulation and social control if you don’t know what your emotions are or what they’re for.

      As I look around at media and politics, I see such a massive preponderance of emotional manipulation, I mean from the moment we wake up until just before we fall off to sleep. It’s almost impossible to get away from it. But when you know your emotions, you can get a little bit more hip to the manipulation. That’s my hope, anyhow.

  6. Simon
    | Reply

    Yes. I agree!

    I think it’s enough that we all keep trying to “fix” ourselves and put pressure on institutions to make this world a little less stressful. We definitely need a critical mass of awakened beings.

    I’m not sure how people can be awakened from mass social manipulation. I know too well of the horrors of media and political manipulation. I’m in the business of making films. It’s a circus at this point. LOL. 😉

    I do think people are slowly waking up. Sometimes I think institution will do as much as they can get away with, as if they are trying to see how much they can manipulate without disturbing the peace. But I think the peace is being disturbed now.

    Emotional skills and awareness are nice tools to have but sometimes we just gotta shout ‘Hey … mainstream media is totally lying!’ LOL 😉 We can’t always play safe.

    I don’t think there’s just one set way to wake people up. The ways are many!

    You do it with your skills and knowledge about emotions. I do it with my art. I see few musicians doing it with their music. I mean, we all have to do with whatever means we can and are experts in. Some people march in the streets, some write books, some blog, some vlog, some sing, some dance, etc.

    I still have hope that we can turn this thing around. I don’t want to underestimate the human spirit.

  7. Sue
    | Reply

    Hello 2011. This is 2014 writing in to say thanks for this post. I love reading about how others handle their anxiety. I have ongoing health issues that make anxiety a real feedback loop situation for me and so I feel like sometimes my body takes over and throws me into anxiety over absolutely nothing at all. This can be frustrating when I’m not able to “pin it down” to anything in particular. Is it pending menopause? My crappy adrenals? Is it Maybelline? Is it being triggered by my partner to something that happened in 1978 and when will I finally get past that stuff? Even if I can’t pinpoint it down to specifics at times I can at least be thankful for the skills I have developed in dealing with anxiety. And being compassionate to yourself is a major one.

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hello Sue! Thank you for the time traveling message. I’m sorry that your Maybelline/hormonal/1978 situations are intersecting in a way that increases your anxiety. I deal with this in regard to depression, such that I sort of have to check in with people: “Is this a depressing situation, or is this me?” Compassion, yes! And sometimes, especially with emotions like anxiety and depression, getting some physical/medical support to help the body get back to balance is very awesome. I used to have anxiety spells that were actually traceable to an as-yet-undiagnosed thyroid condition, and they were like being taken over by something that wasn’t very focused or aware of issues in my actual life. I knew something was up, because anxiety tends to be pretty intelligent, though annoying when I’d love to procrastinate. The anxieties I was having were really very physical rather than informative, and it was helpful to be able to make that distinction and go and get some support.

      This may not be true for you, and I’m not suggesting that you have a thyroid disorder, but when I saw you write about hormones twice, I thought it might be worth mentioning. Endocrine issues are often implicated in feedback loops of anxiety and depression (and anger!), so it’s worth thinking about; we empathic folks have to stick together. 😉

  8. Sue
    | Reply

    Yes I agree – addressing the physical components are so important, especially when in feedback loops. I have a complicated physical history of CFS and pyroluria and adrenal fatigue and would be unsurprised to find thyroid issues playing a part as well 🙂

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