My goal with this blog is for people with anxiety to make friends with it and see it as a gift in their life, as opposed to an enemy.
And I think the best way to become friends with your anxiety is simply to understand it. Don’t hate me for saying this but once you understand anxiety’s motives and its purpose and its “way of thinking”, it can almost take on a bit of an endearing quality.
Honestly, if you don’t think it’s possible to think of your anxiety as “friend, not foe”, give me a few minutes to try to convince you with one of my favorite things in the world….an anxiety analogy.
Who doesn’t love an anxiety analogy? 😉
I have a dog named Bear.
He is a German Shepherd, a big moose of a dog really, and this dog makes me crazy. I love him with all my heart but he is a handful. He thinks he is a puppy and races through my house as if he is the size of a Chihuahua, always knocking things over or stepping on my toes, and he is always running out of the yard. My neighbors are all very familiar with the sound of me yelling for Bear to come back home after he takes off chasing a deer down the street or into the woods.
Bear has eaten a hole in my sofa, made a buffet out of a box of crayons, which then melted into my lovely beige carpet when they fell out of his hot, steamy doggy mouth, and he has some “digestive problems” which don’t always make him so fun to be around.
Bear is also VERY protective.
He thinks of himself as the guardian of our family and he takes his job seriously. If he sees somebody walk by our house, he will sit in the window and bark until they are no longer in his sight. I am pretty sure our mailman is glad that he doesn’t have to leave his car to deliver our mail because every day he comes, big old Bear is watching him through that window, growling and barking.
If we are lying around watching TV and Bear, who is usually laying on the floor at our feet, gets a vibe that the slightest thing is “off” his head and ears jerk up and he will make low growling sounds under his breath. This always catches our attention and makes us say “What did he hear?”. But then usually, a minute or two later, he will lay back down and let out a sigh, and that is how we know there is nothing to worry about.
But sometimes Bear isn’t convinced everything is okay, and he will start pacing back and forth in an agitated way and sometimes, he will just start barking…..loud, booming, obnoxious barking. He will go to the window and sit there and “Woof, woof, woof” in that deep tone of his that literally shakes the pictures on the walls. And he will not stop. I always go to the window and look out and I usually never see anything. I say “Bear, go lie down. Its okay. Nothing is out there.” . But he won’t stop.
After a few minutes of this, it starts to get a little grating on the nerves and I scold him and say “Bear, stop barking and lie down!” But he won’t listen. He just keeps it up, woof, woof, WOOF, letting whatever or whoever he sees or senses know that this is his house and his family.
He makes his presence known and he would rather be scolded all day long then stop doing his job. That is what is most important to him.
Eventually, 10 minutes later or half an hour later, however long it takes for him to decide that all is clear and the threat is gone, he will go lie back down and let out a sigh.
And then WE all let out a sigh because we have some peace and quiet again.
As much as I get annoyed with him, and as much as that booming bark of his hurts my ears, I can never get mad at him when he gets like this.
Instead I think of how lucky I am that I have such a loyal dog who will go to such lengths to protect my family and keep us safe. Yes, he drives me crazy sometimes, especially when he starts his barking sprees…..and eating my furniture…. but I would much rather go through this life with him than without him.
When I see him lying next to my kids beds at night sleeping, I realize what a blessing he is to our family and I am so grateful for the love and protection he gives us. Whenever I check on my kids at night, I always bend down and pat him on the head and tell him thank you, and he always thumps his tail on the carpet as if he understands exactly what I am saying.
My dog and my anxiety are very similar creatures I think.
They can both be so loud sometimes that its hard for me to think. They can be aggravating and relentless at times. But they are both just doing what they have to do to help keep me safe and I think of them both as gifts.
When I say anxiety is a gift, I don’t just mean in the sense that it has made my life better for all the lessons I have learned from it. I mean that I also see it, literally, as a gift.
Anxiety is the gift of protection.
Whether you believe that nature made us or God made us, you cannot deny that there was knowledge, at a cellular or spiritual level, that we would need some help in keeping ourselves safe. It was known that we can’t always count on or rely on other people to save us. So we were given this gift…this wonderful gift of being able to create adrenaline to aid us in times of crisis.
Am I the only one that thinks that’s pretty amazing?
Imagine where we would be without it.
It’s true that our anxiety is a little bit more “present” than the average person’s but that is simply a product of who we are and it doesn’t make it any less of a gift.
I personally have no doubt that if my soul was up in heaven before I was born, and I was given the option to choose what kind of “protection package” I wanted for this life of mine, I was flipping straight to the back of the brochure for the big stuff, trying to find the one most likely to keep me safe!
Even if they said:
“You might want to think twice about that one. The “Turbo Reactor Adrenaline 1000” hasn’t been completely tested with the personality traits you are going to have. We haven’t quite worked out all the glitches yet.”….
I still would have said:
“You know what? I don’t care. I gotta live a long time down there….I have a lot on my “to do” list. That’s the one I want and throw the extended warranty in there too. I’ll work it all out once I get down there. Where do I sign?”
That is just who I am. And its hard to not be grateful to have been given something that is exactly what I know I would have picked out for myself.
And the same goes for Bear.
Back before I got Bear, if I was told to pick the exact kind of
dog I wanted, I would have said “I want one that will be a part of our family…..and be loyal and gentle and would love my kids so much that he would do anything to protect them.”
And if they had said “Well, we have a dog that we think will fit that bill to a tee, but he is a big moose of a dog who will race through your house and bark at air for twenty minutes at a time, rattle your walls and windows and probably develop a few other bad habits along the way.” , I would have said “I don’t care. I will take him. We will figure it out as we go along.”
I would have gladly taken Bear knowing about every “personality flaw” he has…..that is how important it is to me to have a loving dog that I trust with my kids….. and I remind myself of that every time he gets on that “naughty” list.
It took me awhile to “figure it all out” in both my relationship with Bear and with my anxiety.
Let me just say it has been a rocky road in both circumstances.
But I am so glad that I didn’t give up on either one of them, because all of the aggravation they bring to my life is so far outweighed by the good they bring to it. I know them both so well now and I understand them, and they are two of my greatest friends.
I know how it sounds to hear me talk about my “relationship” with anxiety and that I think of it as a friend. I can feel eye rolls from as far away as Idaho. And I get it. There is a time when I would have felt the exact same way. But you see, I HAD to form a relationship with my anxiety, in order to make peace with it.
I could no longer spend my days treating it as this “ugly thing”….this awful “force” I had no control over. It was too much. It was too overwhelming. I knew I couldn’t live the rest of my life as a victim to that. I had to get to know it, I had to befriend it, I HAD to start thinking of it as a good thing. I had no choice. And now 20 years later, I know without a doubt that this change in attitude saved me.
I know it can seem like an impossible thing to do….to learn to think of your anxiety as a friend and a gift……but if I can do it, anybody can.
There is a quote from the movie Pollyanna.
(Yes that is one of my favorite movies. I am an odd pessimist, aren’t I?)
I can’t remember it exactly but it was something along the lines of “If you look for the bad in people, you will surely find it.” And I think the same could be said about anxiety. If you look for the bad, you will find the bad. It practically jumps up and yells “Hi! I am The Bad!” on a continual basis.
But if you look for the good in anxiety, you will surely find the good. It might not be as easy find, but if you get to know your anxiety and put a strong focus on understanding it, it will get easier and easier. Just don’t stop looking because you will be turning your back on one of the most amazing parts of who you are as a person.
I think what it comes down to is that when you make friends with anxiety, you are really making friends with yourself.
I know that befriending your anxiety probably seems like a pretty tall order at this point in your life, but every time you start thinking of it as a terrible thing, just think of my big obnoxious moose of a dog and remember that he and anxiety really aren’t so different.
They are both just trying to do their jobs in the only way they know how, which is pretty exhausting and exasperating, but they both only have the very best of intentions.
They both just want you to be okay……and well, at least your anxiety won’t eat your couch, right?
Now…..I know I played some dirty pool by putting pictures of my sweet eyed Bear nestled up to my kids. But when you think of anxiety in that light, doesn’t it seem even a tiny bit endearing?
If you need still some more convincing, check out this article from Psychology Today that gives you a few more reasons to look at your anxiety as a pretty cool thing.
This post is dedicated to Spell Check. Thank you for showing me that I really needed a refresher course regarding the proper usage of “lay” and “lie”. Thank you for always having my back. I couldn’t do it without you.
Photo Credit: All Photos: Lisa Scott, TheWorryGames.com