Managing Anxiety: My Personal Story of Coping With Stress

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

My father, C. Kay Allen, was a popular speaker

People are experiencing higher levels of anxiety, in our society today, than ever before. So I want to offer you a powerful process for managing anxiety by sharing a personal story from early in my career.

A Daunting Request

I had just graduated from the University of Minnesota with my Ph.D. in counseling psychology and established a counseling practice in Colorado. My father, who had recently been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, was scheduled to undergo a bypass surgery. A complicating factor was that he had also contracted to offer three days of communications training with the senior management team of a company in the state of Washington and would not be well enough to fulfill this contract. He called me to his office told me he wanted me to go in his place.

His request brought up a ton of anxiety and my immediate reaction was to ask him to send someone else. He had associates far more experienced than me. But he wanted me to do it. Apparently, he believed in me more than I believed in myself and so I hesitantly agreed.

Not surprisingly, I developed a cold and cough a few weeks before I was to travel. Although I did my best to ignore my symptoms, I decided, a day or two before I was to travel, that I’d better get into a doctor. He diagnosed me with bacterial bronchitis and gave me an injection of penicillin and sent me home with 10 days of pills. It was then that I admitted to myself just how much anxiety I was feeling about the trip. For the first time, I decided to face and deal with my feelings.

Managing My Anxiety by Facing My Feelings

I laid down on a bed and willed my body to relax. I took in a few deep breaths and then turned my attention to the inflow and outflow of my breathing for a number of cycles, for about ten minutes or so. I then turned my attention to the physical sensations of my body, starting with my head, then face, then neck, shoulders, arms, chest, abdomen, legs and feet. Of course, because I was suffering with bronchitis, I noticed the ache in my head as well as congestion in my nose and sinuses. I was also acutely aware of the tickling in my throat and almost constant need to cough.

I stayed with these bodily sensations for a number of minutes and then turned my attention to my feelings. As I gave myself permission to feel my emotions without filtering, I was overwhelmed with an intense sensation of butterflies. I lay still and allowed these feelings to flow through me, without resisting—anxiety and downright fear coursing through my chest and body. I breathed into these feelings and allowed them to come up rather than suppressing or resisting them. I must have stayed with this experience for seven to ten minutes when I noticed that they were losing their intensity.

Allowing My Thoughts

And then I turned my attention to my thoughts. I didn’t direct them but observed any and all of the thoughts that floated through my head.

“I’m scared.”

“I’ve never done this before.”

“Three days of teaching is a long time, especially because we do a lot of role-playing.”

“It would be so easy for me to fall on my face.”

“I can’t do this.”

“I’m sorry I agreed.”

“Not as sorry as they’ll be for hiring me.”

“I’m going to make a fool of myself and embarrass my father.”

“They’ll probably send me home early.”

I didn’t filter. I didn’t counter them. I simply allowed myself to witness the thoughts that passed through my head, like watching clouds float through the sky. This went on for about ten minutes. Then something shifted. My thoughts, as though of their own volition, changed.

 “Wait a minute. I can do this.”

“I know this material, certainly better than almost anyone.”

“I’m a good teacher.”

“I love being in front of a group.”

“I don’t have to be perfect. I can be real and admit when I’m stuck.”

“This is exciting.”

“Who better than me to take this on.”

“I’ve got this.”

Not only did my thoughts shift but my feelings swung towards eagerness and confidence. Although I still felt some of the symptoms from the bronchitis, I felt physically better, empowered. I got off the bed and immediately began packing, gathering my clothes and also loading my briefcase with all the materials and props I was going to need. I was managing my anxiety. It felt good to be taking action.

An Upsurge in Confidence

This was a powerful experience for me. I flew from Denver to Spokane, Washington that night, continuing to look forward to the training. Certainly, I felt the usual butterflies as we began but I was confident. I believed in myself. I started by role-playing out of the gate. It worked and for the remainder of the three days, I had the group with me and the class was a huge success.

I don’t mean to imply, with this story, that the outcome is always going to be as positive as this one. However, I do mean to say that I learned a powerful process for managing my experience as a result of this experience. In fact, I use this a lot as I notice I’m carrying chronic stress or even facing a specific challenge. The method helps me both calm and empower myself.

You’ll notice that this process is similar to what I taught you in my last blog post on facing your negative feelings. It is a process you can use for a particular, situation-specific trigger (an acute stressor) or something you can use when your stress is more generalized and there are a number of causes or contributors (chronic stress).

It is based on allowing and noticing your breath, then physical sensations, then feelings, and then thoughts. Allow and notice. Allow and notice. Your body, spirit and soul know how to heal from anxiety, stress, and trauma as you learn to trust the process of allowing and noticing. It’s a powerful method for managing anxiety and making peace with your feelings.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

6 responses to “Managing Anxiety: My Personal Story of Coping With Stress”

  1. Jim Arbuckle says:

    Jean and I just read this together. We celebrated 47 years of marriage today and this article was our first step in making it 48 years. Thanks for sharing that experience. We now have a new method to try when we are under pressure.

  2. Deb Bershad says:

    Hi Roger, Thanks for sharing your approach. I believe a key to your approach is to notice or pay attention to the the feelings and thoughts. I often just want them to go away without realizing that I can help them go away by “paying attention” or “facing them”. Thanks for the powerful reminder.

  3. Russ Kyncl says:

    A great reminder, and a great way the “think about our thinking.”

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