How I turned my anxiety into an ally for getting sh*t done (and actually relaxing)

Our endless fears, worries, and resentments make life harder. But what if — like the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche once put it — we could turn our unsettled mind into an ally?

That’s what I’ve been doing recently, at least with one of my big worries. I’ve been taking Sundays completely off — no plans, no work, no obligations. I let the day unfold at its own pace, doing whatever feels right in the moment.

If I feel like turning around during an aimless walk, I turn around. If I want to lay on the couch and read all day, I do it.

A year ago, this wasn’t possible. A part of me couldn’t let go of the to-do list. I’d try to relax but also sneak in some writing or cleaning or running errands. I’d reason with myself that I’d worked all week, so I should relax. By the end of the day, I’d feel restless — worn-out but tense and fidgety.

What changed? My relationship to this striving, hustling, checking-off-the-to-do-list part of myself — which I’ve named “Striver.”

“Repetitive patterns in our lives are messengers,” says psychotherapist and meditation teacher Ralph De La Rosa. “There’s truly nothing wrong with any of us — we’re just lacking in clarity and compassion.”

There’s nothing wrong with me. In fact, my relentless hustle is what got me up this morning to write this blog post.

But ignoring Striver — which is what I used to do on Sundays — doesn’t do any good. Neither does numbing out. When I used to get drunk or high on Sundays, I’d still feel that anxious restlessness come nighttime.

What changed is I started bringing clarity and compassion — as De La Rosa says — to my experience.

Clarity is noticing when Striver appears in my mind. Oh, there you are, Striver, I note in my mind, when striving thoughts arise.

Compassion is accepting and even welcoming Striver. Take the day off, little buddy. If you rest today, you’ll be stronger tomorrow.

Usually, Striver will keep butting in throughout the day — because that’s just what he does. But each time, I acknowledge his presence and tell him to relax. When Striver rests, I can rest — like truly rest.

We’ve all got striving parts and lazy parts and righteous parts and lonely parts and scared parts and all kinds of parts. The trick is changing how we relate to them. From ignoring or outright hating them to welcoming their anxious, wild, powerful energy.

Think about how powerful you’d be if fear, anger, and anxiety weren’t holding you back. Rather, what if they were on your side?

As the socialist feminist poet Adrienne Rich wrote in her poem “Integrity”:

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not as polarities.

I’m a writer, meditation teacher, and host of the Meditation for the 99% podcast. If you’d like to work with me on your meditation practice or being more mindful in your life, reach out.

Download my free ebook on starting and sticking with a meditation practice here