Anxiety: Signalling us to remember who we are

Inspired by Crosbie and Helen Watler. Thank you for helping me tune in. For reminding me who I am when I forget…

Many of us are conditioned to avoid anxiety with a variety of creative distracting and sedating strategies. However, on this path toward greater congruence, anxiety can be an ally, signalling us when stray from our values and calling. ‘Signal anxiety’ is a barometer and it requires enough bothersome intensity to get our attention. The term was initially defined as an instinctual tension that occurs when we fear of losing love and acceptance (Freud, 1926; Freud, 1937). It happens the moment we stop feeling that we are unconditionally positively regarded by self or others. Soon enough, because we forgot our inherent worth, we lose sight of who we are and our inherent worth (the signal). As a result, we turn our attention to feverishly decorate ourselves with external assets (the noise), fixating on external approval to gain security. The noise is the conditioning (fixating on DOING and GETTING), which can easily drown out the signal. The noise often presents in the ‘should’ statements we prescribe to ourselves and others.

As a reframe on our typical fear of anxiety, viewing it as a signal that promotes congruence can prevent it from feeling like a stressful threat. From this more objective and heartful space, we have a greater ability to receive message. The message may be difficult to hear, much like it is difficult to listen to an instrument that’s out of tune, but it’s purpose is benevolent, illuminating an area of incongruence for us to tend to. Tending to the incongruence enables us to tune back in, to remember who we are.  As we ground back into our values and calling, our fixation on DOING dissolves and we can get back to BEING.


The signal is the frequency that flows from our inner world, providing the inner resources, wisdom, and courage to navigate the outer. We lose access to these inner resources when we aren’t tuned in. If we get out of tune with our signal (remembering who we are), we become ungrounded and out of fear, we turn our focus to attain external security.  When this happens, anxiety is the messenger, signalling that we have forgotten who we are. Signal anxiety disappears when we remember who we are, our inherent worth, beneath cultural conditioning and unrelated to past behavior.

Learning to Breathe into the Noise

When surrounded by noise, we are unlikely to distinguish the signal.  To gain the space (non-attachment) necessary to step back so we can tune into our signal, we must first recognize when we are consumed by it.  Once we see our attachment, we see it as an other, enabling us to dis-identify and eventually let go. As we let go, a space develops between the felt (self or other imposed) conditions prescribed by the world and the noise (pressure to earn our worth by doing). When we dis-identify, we are more likely to see it as a neutral other, rather than a threat.   From this quieter, less threatening space, we tune back into our signal, navigating the outer world from this more meaningful, connected, empowered, and resourced inner space.

Breathing into the Noise:

  • Bring up a situation in your current life where you are feeling insecure.  Continue thinking into this situation until you notice an anxious feeling in your body.  When the anxiety presents, get curious as you note where it is, what it feels like, and how it presents itself.
  • Imagine this felt sense has a double walled balloon around it.  With each deep inhale and exhale fill the space between the two outer walls.  As you are breathing with this visual, lean in to receive the message that is waiting to be heard.  If you find yourself lost in noisy thoughts, go back to breathing into the space between the two outer walls, cultivating more space (non-attachment). From this more spacious place, revisit the message.
  • Once the message is delivered, continue breathing into the space until it is so big that you can visualize the balloon slowly floating away.  Now that we are aware of the noise, seeing it for what it is, we are more able to distinguish it from the signal.

Learning to Tune into the Signal

When we get out of tune with our inherent worth, our values, and our calling, we are likely to look for our security in the outer world. When we can’t love and accept ourselves (lacking self-compassion), we look to others, settling for conditional acceptance and worth. Tuning back in to our signal is about remembering the inherent worth of who we are, beneath our conditioned selves. How do you remember who you are? What resource reminds you that you are inherently worthy and loved?  

Tuning into unconditional positive regard (signal):

  • Bring someone or something to mind, perhaps a person (present or past), your wiser self, or an animal, or a spiritual source. It is not important who or what it is, what is important is how they resonate with your inner signal. The more it ushers you into a felt sense of unconditional positive regard, the more likely it will allow you to sink back into tune with the signal.
  • Taking it a step further, engage in a conversation, a prayer of sorts. Gain a felt sense of BEING with the source (feeling unconditional positive regard), and begin a conversation. Tell it what is on your heart, what is worrying you. Stay connected to the felt sense of love and compassion, allowing you to stay connected to your heart. When finished saying what needs to be said (releasing shame), take some time to listen and observe, bask in the moment and celebrate yourself for walking through this exercise. With practice, you will come to know the voice that flows from signal.  This wise, grounded voice will remind you who you are. Practice just being with this source, engaging in prayer and really listening to the wisdom that emerges.

From this more grounded place, we can step back from the noise, so we can navigate it from a more non-attached and empowered place. Some days comforting affirmations will come to mind. Some days, you will rest in the quietness. Other days, the conditioning (noise) will be too loud to distinguish the signal, making the experience more difficult. Every experience provides an opportunity to expand awareness, cultivate non-attachment when we need it most, and to continue practicing self-compassion (especially, in the difficult moments) as we journey forward.