Making Space for Anxiety
Since it’s probably is not going anywhere any time soon
There are so many articles that talk about getting rid of anxiety like its something separate from the human experience—something that can be easily removed if you simply tries hard enough. Anxiety isn’t a wall to climb over. It feels more like a circular track—like there is no end to it.
There’s a problem with treating anxiety like there is a cure. If and when whatever prescription fails, it comes with guilt that you aren’t doing it right. Anxiety is like any other emotion and it helps to manage it rather than try to bury or extinguish it.
What’s in Your House?
The mind is like a house. It has many rooms, they are all connected with hallways and each room contains a lot of stuff. Information that helps us make sense of the world we live in.
If you have anxiety its hard to move around in the house. There are large, looming boxes. It seems like in every room and in every corridor there is a box. It is hard to get to the stuff in all the rooms because the boxes are in the way. They block the windows and doors. And the worst part about these boxes is that they are impossible to remove.
Outside of the Box
The boxes may be impossible to remove but they are not impossible to manage. When the house gets filled up its time to expand. As humans we have a limited about of brain power to think about stuff. This is called cognitive load theory. The more we have to worry about any any given time the worse we get at thinking.
We run out of space because there are too many boxes. Anxiety keeps us from thinking straight. Move anxiety from out of your brain and into something else.
Last year I began to journal. I filled pages with a stream of consciousness about how the world around me was closing in. The blank pages became my garage and I moved all the boxes in. I freed up space in my house.
The act of writing became my process of cleaning the house. Giant boxes would appear in the rooms and journaling helped me move them into their space. The beauty of the external, mental garage is there is an infinite space to keep moving boxes in.
The space doesn’t have to be journaling, sometimes it can be therapy, meditation, or the catharsis of a hobby.
Fragile This Side Up
The idea is to be able to recognize when anxiety starts to bubble up and move it from your brain onto the page (or to another person, or a project). Acknowledgement of how you’re feeling is liberating. Setting aside space to experience anxiety comes with the space to manage it. You learn things about yourself and what sets you off. What seemed like impossible situations to live though before now become doable and with practice maybe even enjoyable.
Getting started can be overwhelming. I mean, look at this image. A blank page can be absolutely terrifying.
Here are a few tips to get started:
- Get a small notebook, one that will be easier to fill up.
- Writing about how you feel physically. Are you tired? How does your stomach, back, or shoulders feel? Is your heart racing?
- Write about things recent that have happened. What have you eaten? How does the chair your sitting on feel?
- Write about emotions that are easy to access. What are things you think are fun? What is something that really irritates you?
- After a while it gets easier to dive deeper. When you anxious, what is the context? Did some one say something? Why do you think you feel this way?
These tips have been helpful for me. What are some other ways you manage anxiety?