I have a friend and her name is Anxious Annie. She is a very good friend, and I can’t imagine life without her. She is always helping me to stay out of trouble, and reminds me of all the things I have to get done. She helps me meet deadlines, she helps me stay on task, and she always makes sure I am making wise decisions. Lately though, she comes around all the time. She talks too much, complains too much, and overreacts over everything! I try to get things done, but she just demands too much of my energy and time and never leaves me alone. Ignoring her doesn’t work, and yelling at her to “go away!” doesn’t work. If I try to drown her out, the next day she pouts and is even more demanding! I don’t want to lose her as a friend, but she is seriously in need of some boundaries.
The doctor must have seen hundreds of patients like me—convinced I was dying, but yet perfectly healthy—riddled with panic attacks, obsessive fears and multiple physical issues. He knew after a thorough checkup how to gently tell me that this was all anxiety! I had almost wished I had some other medical problem, because then
I could blame that, but I had to accept the fact that this supermom, how-do-you-do-
it-all blogger, and life of the party, was indeed suffering from a mental breakdown.
I hated the feeling of being anxious and I did everything in my power to make it stop. I tried meditating, calming music, breathing techniques, ignoring it, distracting myself, some worked in the moment, but nothing put anxiety in its place like befriending it did.
“Give your anxiety a name, like Debbie, treat it like a friend, don’t fight it, and just welcome it.” My doctor said.
I stared at him anxiously. I can’t say that in my life I have ever had a friend who brought on feelings of uneasiness, excessive fear, obsessive worry, repetitive thoughts, problems sleeping, cold or sweaty hands, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, an inability to be still and calm, dry mouth, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, nausea, fear of going crazy, muscle tension, and total fear! Who wants that kind of friend around?
This doctor was right. I was not dying from the fifteen diseases I had self-diagnosed online and befriending my anxiety changed my life. What happens when we resist and fight anxiety is we begin an internal struggle we will never win. We feel anxiety coming on and we think we are flawed, and we panic. We begin to lose confidence, wondering if we have any control over our thoughts at all. This fear of fear is a viscous cycle that tragically can keep people trapped in anxiety for a lifetime.
I was the perfect example of someone who fueled my anxiety with my thoughts about the anxiety. Whenever an anxiety attack would come on strong I would tense up and say to myself Oh, no! It’s back! and my thoughts would cycle into a pattern of what if it stays forever? Or what’s happening to me? Or how am I going to function today, when I am shaking uncontrollably?
In my mind, I was trying to come to terms with what I was thinking and feeling, I was always trying to grasp some control and solve the problem, but what I was left with was an even greater sense of doom. When I began implementing the idea of befriending Anxious Annie, I was still very aware of the physical sensations, the thoughts and the fears, that did not lessen at first, but I learned to allow them to come, and stay, and heighten, and surge and then disappear. However new or strange the symptoms, or however intense the thoughts, I did my best to allow it to come without resistance. By accepting and welcoming the anxiety, I lessened the tension brought on by fighting against it. And the more I welcomed it, the less powerful it became.
When anxiety shows up at the door of your mind, you should respond with a polite welcome. It may seem silly, but give it a name. Soon the feeling of anxiety that comes is familiar and friendly. Use humor! It’s not perceived in your subconscious as a threat or an attack, so the intense subconscious reaction to your anxiety is decreased. Learn to enjoy its presence, and welcome it with open arms when it comes. “Hi Nervous Norman, I missed you and I am so glad you could show up today to help remind me of all the ways this day could end horribly. You’re a good friend.”
Adapted from the book Fearless in 21 Days: A Survivor’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Sarah E. Ball. Copyright (c) Sarah E. Ball by Faithwords. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.