Have you ever had the experience of someone casually telling you to “lighten up” when in the midst of distress? If you struggle with anxiety, this might seem like the most inane advice at a time when your insides feel like they’re about to splatter all over the floor. For as much as these words might lack the sensitivity you would hope for, I hate to break the news, but there’s also some truth in them.
Who doesn’t want to lighten up, right? I’m guessing that if you believed you could, you would have done it a long time ago.
This isn’t to say that you should expect yourself to simply drop “the act” because as we know, it’s not an act at all. The physiological sensations happening inside your body are real for sure. And you also have the ability to manage how it all plays out.
You can start by identifying some of the unhelpful thoughts that show up in the first place. As you begin to pay attention to the stories you’ve created, you can intentionally bring some curiosity to them. You can be the observer. Isn’t that interesting? you say to yourself as you notice the unhelpful thoughts arise. What stories are you bringing me today, dear brain?
Remember that our minds are really great at filling in the blanks. If we don’t understand something, then we can make hasty automatic assessments that seem to make sense, then happily go on our way. Maybe you can see where there is some danger in doing that.
Is what I’m telling myself making me feel good? How does my body feel when I buy into these thoughts? If I believe this thought, will it take me down a rabbit hole that might be really hard to get out of?
The next step is that you’ll have to buy into the possibility that you do indeed have the power to create change. The key word here is possibility. If there is possibility that things aren’t exactly as they seem, then you slowly begin to take the nails out of the door that a part of you has so nicely boarded up. It’s all about creating new neural pathways that work in our favor. And you can only begin to do this when you allow for the possibility for new pathways to exist in the first place.
So, take that wall of “truths” that you’ve done such a great job of cementing into place and begin to challenge each one. Even if you don’t believe the opposite of that truth, you can begin to create some space, another possible explanation to demonstrate that it’s really not a truth at all. And that’s huge. Trust me, this is in and of itself, a positive thought and you can rest assured that this will lead you in the right direction.
I’m not asking you to challenge the laws of physics here, I’m asking you to question the thoughts that make you feel bad because there’s another part of you that would much rather feel good. What would happen if you checked in with the part of yourself that generates anxious thoughts – what is the purpose of it doing this? You might find some irony in the response.
The point is to break the vicious cycle. And you’re gonna have to do this with intention.
It’s not about white-knuckling it through the fear. It’s about empowering yourself to see that your fears are are most likely unfounded.
Copyright 2018 © Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.
Rachel Braun, ATR-BC Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA
Specializing in working with women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.