I’ve been reading a book about quelling anxiety. Not for myself, of course, because I don’t need it at all. Ha.
One thing I’ve learned is that the fear of anxiety is what makes anxiety something to fear. Anxiety in itself is nothing, just extra adrenaline. Becoming hyper-aware of it and then fearing its arrival is what makes anxiety so crippling.
The thing to do about this, the book says, is to dare anxiety to do its worst. When you start to notice the symptoms of an anxiety attack, you’re supposed to call them out. “Heart palpitations? Is that all you can do? I’ve gotten through that before. Try harder.”
This approach is based on the premise that running away from fear makes fear more frightful. It makes its steps sound louder, its voice more resonant, its whispers more chilling. You try not to look until you can’t bear to look.
But when you do end up forcing yourself to turn around and stare fear in the face, you find that it’s really small. It’s pitiful. It’s laughable. When you run toward it, daring it to do its worst, you find as you get closer how utterly small and insignificant it is. You find its claws dull and its voice nothing more than a squeak.
One day a friend and I were talking about fear. We noticed how fear is often like a door that swings shut, and if you leave it alone, if you choose not to indulge it, it’ll stay shut. It’s not strong enough to open the door itself. But idiot humans that we are, we indulge a peek. We crack the door open, and then we stick our foot in, and then we keep it there, even though what we let out makes us miserable.
But running is tiring. And a heavy door on a small foot hurts. So why do we torment ourselves when the thing we’re running from and the thing we’re leaving the door open for is just a knee-high squeaky nebby jag* who’s only alive because we indulge it? To be honest, it doesn’t make sense. And it’s just plain impractical.
Running away from fear is one of my main hobbies. And every time I manage to outrun it, I double back, crack open the door, and stick my foot in to let the fear catch up to me. I’m both runner and doorman. It’s exhausting. It’s moronic. But it’s my nature.
Recently, during a super stressful week, I tried out the book’s strategy. I dared my fear to do its worst in the little knots of life that often turn into my biggest sources of anxiety.
The fridge is getting empty and I’m not sure when I’ll have extra money to go to the grocery store? Excellent. Let’s see how long I can round up what’s left in the kitchen and play Iron Chef.
The new month means a new round of bills more expensive than last month? Sweet. I can’t wait to see how much higher the heating bill is this month. I am actually very interested; the weather’s been cold and I live in an old drafty house. Let’s see how drafty, shall we?
I’m tired and emotional and need to take care of some similarly tired, emotional people? Awesome. I’ll see how long it’ll take before I quietly burst into tears. Maybe I’ll break my record and make it three days instead of two.
Of course, my snappy comebacks helped. I’m always one to laugh at my own jokes. But I realized that calling fear’s bluff helps immensely. Because fear can’t ever keep its own promises.
The book cautions me that I have to keep up with this approach until it’s second nature. It’s a process that won’t be overcome overnight. And sometimes I forget altogether. Sometimes going through the process of calling fear’s bluff is too exhausting. I’d much rather run away and get my foot stuck in the door instead.
But that’s okay, because I have another trick up my sleeve that neither fear nor the book are counting on: I happen to be a child of God. And when I’m tired of running or holding a door open or turning around and going through a set of bluff-calling questions, I can look up and pray one of my favorite prayers:
“I can’t wait to see how You’ll turn this into something I can worship You for.”
It’s a work in progress. But it gets me to stop running. And it helps me shut the door tight.
*Nebby Jag (n). A term of derision. A contracted form of the phrase “nebby jagoff”, taken from the Pittsburghese “nebby” meaning nosy and bothersome, and “jagoff” meaning an unintelligent person, a jerk.