So it’s been a week of snow in the Pacific Northwest. I know myself well enough to know that a few years ago, this amount of schedule changing, routine altering, unknown factors, kid managing, working from home would have left me a twisted-up anxious mess. While everyone else was outside sledding, throwing snowballs, giggling with snow day freedom, I would have been inside worrying, restless and anxious.
But now? After a lot of work, I’m now the one giggling and throwing snow balls. Finally! At least for the first half of the week. Then I started to notice something that I wanted to share out of curiosity that someone might appreciate hearing the play by play of how anxiety can wreck our experience of the beautiful life in front of us.
I noticed stress rising up here and there when it came time for me to make the call on cancellations for events in our faith community. I dismissed it thinking, “Come on Jenny. You’re the leader. Just make the call and stop worrying about it.” So I pushed it away and moved on.
Then a day or two later I noticed a physical symptom in my body that started to bother me. I noticed I was fixating on it, worrying about it, spending way too much time playing the “what if” game.
A few years ago, this part of my anxiety (fixating on a symptom as a form of control) could have easily gone on for a long time. I would look things up online (not a good idea!), call my nurse mom and even call the doctor. Which led to more anxiety. What started out as a little normal life stress now became a whole big thing. And my body memorized how this felt. It recalled it back the next time and I felt absolutely stuck in my fight or flight responses.
This week, I noticed what I was doing long before it got out of control. And that’s what I want to celebrate and share today.
Instead of allowing this to continue, I was able to see what my brain was doing (thank you meditation practice!) and make a different choice.
I sat down on a comfy chair in my living room with my laptop and proceeded to have a conversation with my anxiety.
“Fear, I see you. I notice you. It’s okay that you’re here.”
Immediately, I feel emotion rise in my throat. Immediately. It’s incredible how quickly my fear responds when I give it space to speak.
“Worry, what do you want to share with me?”
I’m worried you’ll make the wrong decision.
I’m worried this snow will never end.
I’m overwhelmed by all the changes in our schedule.
I feel out of control.
“Fear, I hear you. You’re worried I’ll make the wrong decision. I know you worry about that a lot. I might make the wrong decision and I can handle that. I see that you’re here and you worried for me. I’m here with you. It’ll be okay.”
Then I proceeded to tell my fear that I’ve actually had quite a wonderful week. The snow is beautiful and the extra time with family has been a gift. I’ve had extra time to write and I enjoy working from home so it’s okay for my fear to relax and enjoy this change of pace while it’s here.
A few tears streamed down my cheeks and I took a deep breath. And that was that. I moved on to something else.
Then about thirty minutes later, I was making breakfast and noticed a feeling of boundless joy rise in my throat. I celebrated with a dance in the kitchen at how different it feels to believe I have agency over my anxiety. I spent decades running from it, avoiding it and denying it. I thought my only option was to push it away.
I never knew I could talk to it.
I never knew my fear just wanted a few moments to tell me how it felt. And that if I gave it the floor, fear could get its’ worries off its chest. And we could both move on to the business of enjoying this one precious life we get to live.
I also notice many of my reactions are hard-wired from my childhood years. There was a time when I couldn’t handle my worry. I was young. I tried to learn how to make it go away by being good, making people proud of me and achieving something. I did the best I could then. And now, I get to unpack all that with great curiosity and grace, because now I’m 36 and I can handle my worry. I’m strong enough to listen to it and give it the room it needs to be heard. Then I get to give compassion and safety back to my fear that I couldn’t when I was six. It’s all rather weird and quite beautiful!
This is an extra vulnerable post to share. Because as much as I share about mental health, it’s still a little embarrassing to share the little fears we all have. Shame whispers at me, you should be over this by now. Grow up. But that voice doesn’t get to drive anymore.
We all have weird little fears. And if we don’t talk about them to others, we continue to shame ourselves into deeper isolation, fear and anxiety.
So there you go. That’s my play by play call on how you can emerge out of deep seasons of crippling anxiety.
You can talk and listen to your fear. It has important things to tell you
You can heal pain from your past with the help of others.
You can giggle and throw snowballs and make snow angels.
You can breathe deeply of this moment in front of you and let everything else fall away.
Just keep showing up and paying attention, my friend. We’re with you.