Tough Cookie
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Tough Cookie

Ease Anxiety With This Simple and Effective Visualisation

The lesser-known puppy technique.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

I have an anxiety disorder. There I said it. I’ve blurted it out. Do I get an award? To be honest, perhaps it’s not even a disorder, it’s just normal, run of the mill, human anxiety.

Who knows?

All I know is that I’ve dealt with anxiety in varying degrees throughout my life so far.

Occasionally it’s fleeting and kept at bay; sometimes it has been seriously debilitating, seeping through me in the form of a potent OCD, as well as panic attacks, nervousness, intrusive thoughts, constant worry, and generally feeling like I’m going a bit mad but can’t explain why other than wishing I could temporarily switch my brain off and just be fucking normal.

You too, huh? Well, I’ve tried loads of different coping mechanisms, and all of them DO help to varying degrees. They include:

  • Clean diet. I am avoiding sugar, eating whole foods.
  • Avoiding drink and drugs (all include potent, anxious comedowns).
  • Regular, good quality sleep.
  • Exercise — especially lifting heavy weights — helps me massively.

But you know all this. These are the basics. Do the basics first. Cover these bases and then if anxiety is still giving you the occasional kicking, move onto advanced techniques.

So let me tell you one of them I have used recently. It’s not hard, but it does need you to put cynicism aside, as it sounds a bit weird.

I came up with it from talking to a great hypo-coach and, in part, adding my own twist to what he said, so I got something that worked for me.

And it does seem to work.

The Puppy Technique

I call it this because when I started, I visualized a puppy (that’s not the whole technique, by the way, just visualizing a cute dog, so stick with me), whereas now I visualize a little fluffy monster with tentacles.

Intrigued? Think this sounds crazy? Perhaps it is, but so is the human brain, so let’s rise to meet that crazy son of a bitch head-on.

I’ll write the whole technique out in steps, as this is a visualization to be done at the point of anxiety.

Let’s begin.

Step One — Recognise the Anxiety

You begin to feel anxious. It might be because you’re about to do a presentation or a public performance. Perhaps it’s been triggered by work or social situation, an OCD symptom, or perhaps it’s just when you’re watching TV, and your mind suddenly decides to do anxious backflips because that’s the way it works.

Whatever the case, recognize the anxiety and accept it’s happening.

Do not fight it.

Try not to even think, “Oh no.” Just recognize it with an almost scientific detachment and think, “Hmm, that’s interesting” like you’re observing something from afar.

Step Two — Visualise the Puppy

Now, this is where the technique kicks in. But first, a quick explanation before we talk about the puppy.

What is happening when you get anxious is that your brain is trying to warn you of danger. Even when there isn’t any, it’s not trying to hurt you; it’s not your enemy, it’s your greatest, most loyal friend and ally. It loves you and wants you to be safe. You are a team. Team YOU.

Now think about owning a puppy. Not a newborn puppy, but a mature one. Let’s say, ten months old, that sort of age. That mature puppy feels the same way about you as your brain does. It’s loyal, clingy, and loves you unconditionally. You are that puppy’s universe.

Then imagine the postman comes to the door. The puppy goes berserk. It thinks there’s danger. It wants to protect the house, and it wants to protect you. It’s barking loudly, jumping around and ripping up the letters as they come through the door.

Well, if you haven’t worked it out, that’s your brain with anxiety. But whilst we tell the puppy it’s OK and to calm down and we might give it a hug or a rub, with our mind we do the opposite. We loathe it freaking out, we dread the anxious feeling, and we immediately push against it. It triggers us into an instant tailspin of negative emotion.

We need to change that.

Step Three — Put It On Your Shoulder

Now imagine the puppy is on your shoulder. Maybe shrink it down in your mind, whatever works. But imagine it’s there, barking like crazy in your ear, thinking there’s danger.

That is where the anxiety is coming from. That cute, loyal puppy on your shoulder. You’ve got all those feelings and put them in the puppy on your shoulder, who is currently going berserk, barking, and growling because it thinks there’s danger.

Step Four — Calm the Puppy

Now you need to internally talk to the puppy (or out loud if it helps!) and reassure it. Calm it down like a real puppy, barking at the postman.

Say to that cute puppy sitting on your shoulder “Shhh, it’s OK. There’s no danger. Thank you, but we’re all good.”

Thanking the puppy for warning you of danger is important. It changes our reaction to anxiety from “Oh no!” to “Hey, thanks for trying to protect me.”

The real-life puppy is only trying to help out of love. So is your mind. In puppy form or otherwise. If we put the gratitude in the mix, it helps combat the negative emotions.

How I Do It

And that’s it. Reassure the puppy as much as needed. Talk to it. Or, if you want to skip the puppy bit altogether, reassure your mind. But I find it doesn’t work half as well as visualizing something.

In fact, I do the above steps but have changed it slightly over time. Instead of a puppy, I picture a cute, fluffy monster with tentacles. It sits on my shoulder barking and making a fuss like a puppy would, but every now and again, it stings me with a tentacle.

The tentacle shoots anxiety into me. That’s my fluffy monster giving me a helpful boost of energy and alertness to help me.

This is because when I am in a really anxious situation, I get waves of adrenaline. When I feel one, I think, “Thank you for the energy, fluffy monster, but we’re OK, it’s all OK.”

This helps me reframe the adrenaline I feel as helpful, almost a skill boost given to me by my protective monster. And I can be the one, reassuring the monster it’s OK. I’m the one in control, helping the monster understand that everything is fine. I feel in charge.

Give it a go. I told you it was weird, but somehow, the mind responds to visualization much more than just vaguely attempting to control how to feel in a given situation.

Change it how you like. But please do try it. I find it helps immensely. In reality, I move through the steps in a second or two, and whilst I’m telling the friendly monster on my shoulder to calm down. I’m feeling boosted, and alert from the adrenaline (or tentacle) boosts.

Reframe the anxiety as your friend. Your mind, that puppy that monster is only helping Team YOU.

Make friends with it.

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Jamie Jackson

Jamie Jackson

Between two skies and towards the night. // Email me: jamiejacksonati [at] gmail.com