I love a good analogy.
There are a thousand ways to look at anxiety and I will probably share them all with you before my blogging days are over. I am convinced there is an “Anxiety Epiphany” waiting to happen in all of you, and I am going to try my hardest to make sure you all get to yours. Analogies are my favorite way to help you do that.
When the topic of anxiety disorders comes up, talking about your subconscious and your amygdala can quickly turn into a whole lot of “blah, blah, blah”. It’s technical and it’s boring and it is easily over-complicated. (Not to mention the fact that as a non-medical professional, it is out of my ball park.) Using analogies to explain anxiety in ways that people can easily relate to is much more in my comfort zone, and it also helps people better understand whatever aspect of anxiety I am trying to explain.
Analogies simply make anxiety coaching easier.
So in that spirit, I want you to think about all the times when you have asked yourself “Why does anxiety make me feel this way? Why do I feel so weak and defeated and helpless?”
Well………..imagine a boxer at the start of a fight.
Round 1 doesn’t go so well. He takes a few hits to the face. Ding, Ding, Ding – the round is over. He goes and sits down for 60 seconds, gets cleaned up by his team and then he is back up fighting again for Round 2.
Round 2….he is holding his own. He is getting a few punches in, but this is “The Champ” he is fighting here. The Champ is tough and is landing some good shots. Upper cuts, hits to the body..over and over again. Finally, the round ends. Our boxer goes back to his corner for some more cleaning up and rest.
Round 3 starts and he is back at it. Our young boxer is getting a little tired now. He taking a lot of blows. He is losing his stamina and balance….starting to stumble. He is trying his best to fight but The Champ is in much better shape and has too much experience compared to our guy.
By the time the last round gets here, our guy is in bad shape. He has been taking repeated back to back beatings with only a bit of rest in between. A lot of doctors would tell our guy he should think about dropping out. His body just can’t handle it. But our guy is trying to win. His spirit is strong. He wants to be the best. He wouldn’t quit unless they forced him to. So he gets back in that ring and boom – with the first punch, he is knocked out. The fight is over. Our guy is done.
As you can imagine, the road that lies ahead of him will be tough, both physically and mentally.
This boxing match and its after-effects are a lot like the evolution of an anxiety disorder.
There is one big difference though, aside from the obvious. And that is: Awareness.
The beauty of awareness is that it allows you to see a problem, know why you have the problem, and then know how to fix the problem.
Our defeated boxer knows why he is miserable and in agony in the hours and days after the fight. He knows that he just took a rough beating and that he has to rest up and take time to heal from all his wounds before he tries to go back into the ring. He knows he can’t handle the physical stress from another fight any other way. He knows there is no weakness in saying “I just went through a rough fight. I won’t be fighting again for a while. I have to take care of myself and build my strength back up.” He knows that is what is best for him and his career – so he does it.
But when our anxiety disorders break out and our symptoms start erupting, we don’t have that same awareness. Most of us are completely clueless as to how our lives seemed to fall apart around us. We feel tremendous discomfort, fear, and dread but we have no idea why. In most cases of GAD and Panic Disorder, there was no obvious “attack” and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious threat looming. We have no idea that the stress of our lives and our negative thinking is basically kicking our butt and throwing punches at us every single day. The discomfort seems to come from nowhere at all. And without knowing where it comes from, we don’t know how to make the discomfort stop.
We don’t do any healing or resting when our mental “wounds” appear. We aren’t even really consciously aware that we have wounds. So we keep getting up and going out there into the ring of life, taking hit after hit, doing the emotional equivalent of stumbling around “punch drunk” – bewildered and confused, wondering if we are crazy, and worrying and thinking negatively every step of the way.
On some level I think that we are aware that we are under too much stress and that our lives need to slow down. But here is the thing. Those of us with anxiety are fighters too….just like our boxer. There is some instinct we have to keep going. Even under serious pressure, we refuse to stay down for the count. Of course there is that small part of us that wants to go hide in our beds, and escape the world, but few of us actually do anything to escape our stressful lives in any serious or healthy way. We just keep on carrying on with our day to day lives, waiting for this terrible discomfort to hopefully go away on its own, as mysteriously as it arrived. Which of course, it doesn’t.
Our boxer knew when the fight was over. The knock-out was very real and literal and told him he was done. He had nothing left to give. He knew it was time to leave the ring for a while.
The problem with battling the stress of life is that except in the most extreme of circumstances, there is no knock-out. There is nothing that physically forces us out of the ring and into healing and better self care. So we stay in and keep fighting, staggering around, day after day, never recuperating and often feeling bad about ourselves and feeling like we are weak and broken. This only contributes to our symptoms of anxiety.
Our physically and mentally beat up boxer is aware that he has to stay positive. He is not going to sit around feeling bad about himself and calling himself a weak loser because he took some hits and needs to rest. He knows he did his best and that there is no shame in bowing out of the ring until he has given himself time to recover.
Most boxers are positive thinkers to the extreme! They know that being down on yourself is a waste of time and energy and they aren’t going to let any negative thought seeds plant in their minds and start growing.
This is the attitude that those of us living with anxiety disorders must adopt!
On top of the emotional, “stress-caused” wounds that we are already dealing with, once we finally figure out that stress is at the root of our problems, we then turn around and start causing more damage by beating ourselves up and saying that there must be something wrong with us because we can’t handle the same amount of “life” that everybody else can handle.
The truth is that those of us with anxiety are strong enough to handle anything!
We prove that every day just by getting out of bed. With all the thoughts and fears that run through our minds every day, we could easily choose to just hide under the covers and let them come cart us away somewhere. But the idea of that is appalling to us! That is our biggest fear. We WANT to be strong. We WANT to be brave and independent. We just need a rest – or at the very least some more relaxation incorporated into our daily lives. But we think that if we admit to needing rest, then other people might think we are crazy or exaggerating what we are going through. So we muster up the strength to carry on, no matter how bad of shape we are in, telling ourselves the entire time how scared, weak, tired and incapable we are.
Is it any wonder that after a while we start over-reacting to everything?
Pretty soon we are so nervous that even our own normal bodily sensations can send us straight into a panic attack. We are “scare-a-noid”, startling easy, too scared to drive, feeling sick to our stomach all the time, hyperventilating, muscles constantly tense, etc. When you spend all your time in the ring, and never give yourself the proper amount of time to recover from the first match before moving on to the next one, pretty soon your whole life is spent bracing yourself for the next punch.
Every person on this planet has a stress threshold. But most people’s stress limit are higher than the limit that those of us with anxiety disorders have, and it is a little more obvious to them when they are about to reach that line. When they start having emotional and physical symptoms of stress, they recognize those symptoms for what they are and they take some time off and heal. They don’t over analyze it and soon they are fine again.
But most of us with anxiety are so sensitive, that we have stress limits that fall below the “average”. We just aren’t aware of it. When we start having physical and mental side effects of our stress, we think the only logical explanation is that we have just lost our minds – which of course adds even MORE stress to our already maxed out stress limit. And as I am sure you are aware, there is going to be a very high fee when you go over your stress limit.
Get back below your stress limit by resting, healing and thinking positively. Then you won’t be paying those fees anymore.
Okay, I think I just threw a credit card/shopping analogy in the middle of a boxing analogy. My husband would laugh at that. I guess my subconscious is trying very hard to get me out of the sports world and back to my comfort zone.
But anyway, back on track here……It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
There is no mystery to anxiety. There is no reason to be bewildered. We are just sensitive people who are not taking care of ourselves. And now that you have awareness, you can rest and heal your mind and put a recovery plan into place. If you aren’t sure where to start with that, consult a therapist in your area or contact the ADAA. You can also refer to the steps I took for anxiety recovery or my anxiety resource links page.
Photo Credit: Boxing Gloves https://www.flickr.com/photos/generationbass/5415100068
Photo Credit: TKO Photo – Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Shopping http://pixeden.deviantart.com/art/Fashion-Shopping-Girls-Vector-248160723
Photo Credit: Header Image – Pixabay