Have you ever felt anxious or crappy and thought “Great. Here I am again“?
I’m currently offering my services as a guinea pig for the incomparable Molly Gordon, and the other day I said something like, “I may always have periods of anxiety, but at least I’m learning to navigate them better.”
She said, “The way you say ‘navigate’ makes them seem more real. Like a place.”
She was right. When I’m feeling anxious, I immediately recognize my anxiety’s unique texture, appearance and characteristics. It feels so familiar, like a place I return to habitually.
I said, “It’s like a coffeeshop I go to every morning. The Coffeeshop of Anxiety. And then I think, Oh crap, here I am again, because it feels the same as other anxious periods I’ve had. But really I’ve never been here before, because there isn’t even a ‘here’ to be.”
Anxiety isn’t a fixed destination.
It’s like going on a road-trip and stopping at a McDonald’s every time you have to eat or pee. While you’re inside, you forget that you’re on a trip and not visiting the same McDonald’s over and over. Except there is no McDonald’s, just a very convincing mirage on the side of the highway.
The thing is, even if I’m know I’m in the Coffeeshop of Anxiety, and even if I know it’s not real, I can’t just leave. Trying to break down the door or arguing with the baristas just makes the illusion more persistent.
I’m trying to deal with this by consciously deciding that being stuck there isn’t a problem. (I literally say to myself, “I’m feeling anxious, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be a problem.”) I’m not saying I don’t hate it or I’m not frustrated by it…I just eventually stop fighting it. And at some point, I notice I’m not anxious anymore.
Of course, I’m using this metaphor for something that doesn’t actually exist. When I’m anxious, I’m not anxious “again.” I’m just anxious. It’s an emotion that’s part of being alive and human.
When I start thinking of it like a place I end up in, it’s easy to get caught up in ways I should have seen it coming, ways I could have avoided it, and ways I should try to prevent it in the future. It’s like beating myself up for making a wrong turn when I was going to end up there regardless.
That’s a lot of mental energy that could be used towards the parts of life I care about. In the past, I’ve actually chosen to spend this mental energy because it feels like work. But I’m slowly letting go of my worry habit, building evidence that the universe doesn’t need my anxiety to function properly.
I can’t choose my thoughts or feelings, but I can choose how much attention I give them. I can choose to struggle with them, or let them be and focus on what matters.
I am here, I am safe. The rest is just details. As the poet Rumi says:
There is a small green island
where one white cow lives alone, a meadow of an island.
The cow grazes till nightfall, full and fat,
but during the night she panics
and grows thin as a single hair.
What shall I eat tomorrow? There is nothing left.
By dawn the grass has grown up again, waist-high.
The cow starts eating and by dark
the meadow is clipped short.
She is full of strength and energy, but she panics
in the dark as before and grows abnormally thin overnight.
The cow does this over and over,
and this is all she does.
She never thinks, This meadow has never failed
to grow back. Why should I be afraid every night
that it won’t. The cow is the bodily soul.
The island field is this world where that grows
lean with fear and fat with blessing, lean and fat.
White cow, don’t make yourself miserable
with what’s to come, or not to come.
– A Small Green Island
Photo credit: stock.xchg
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