Has this ever happened to you?
It’s a perfectly good day but you are worried about something. That little worry sets off a chain reaction so it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a huge, all encompassing giant monster of anxiety!
Here’s an example: “What am I going to make for dinner? Ugh, there’s not enough time to make anything good. I guess I’ll make mac and cheese again. I should be eating better. My kids should be eating better. I’m a horrible mother! What is wrong with me!?” Before you know it you have convinced yourself that your entire family is going to die an early death from too much mac and cheese and it’s all your fault!
A call from the boss can lead to anxiety about being fired on the spot. A low bank account becomes dread about eating cat food when we’re old and decrepit. A leaky faucet leads to the house crumbling to a pile of rubble. A mole on our hand is cancer.
This automatic crescendo of anxiety is no joke. It is at the core of what keeps us from taking healthy action against that debilitating, horrible feeling. From 0-100, from a wee bit concerned to overwhelmed in a flash, anxiety can mushroom that fast. Before you know it your feeling as helpless as a turtle flipped on its back.
So what can we do?
Victor Frankl famously said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
1. Create the space so that you can think again rather than react. How? By breathing deeply and evenly. Pay attention to where your body is, where is the tension? Just focus on that: stand up, stretch, take a break, wiggle, dance, touch your toes.
2. Use the space. Isolate the thought that drives the anxiety and label it. When anxiety had me by the throat recently I took the time to look at it closely. When I did that I discovered something really weird. The thing I was so anxious about was actually good news! All of a sudden I went from emotionally driving at 100 mph to a more reasonable 50. Not totally calm but much better!
3. Respond. Laugh at it and yourself because whatever caused the anxiety was a gross exaggeration of the truth, a complete distortion or just a silly lie. Embrace the good feeling and choose to go there rather than that awful painful place.
Please realize that anxiety doesn’t give up that easily. It will try to talk you back into its web. Stay strong and like Mulan who discovers that the gigantic monster is really just a teeny, tiny mini-dragon, see through the illusion, accept the truth and brush it off.