6 Life Rafts for the Anxious
Are you an anxious creature? Have you ever laid frozen, glued to your bed, mind circling down a rabbit hole of fears, self-diagnoses, and what-ifs?
I future trip too. I wrote this post for you and I. Let us place some ashwagandha on our tongues, light a House of Intuition candle, and swipe ourselves with a stick of selenite. Translation: Let’s grab a hold of some life rafts to help us stay afloat. I’m sure you have your own list. I share my list of life rafts with you in hopes that you please borrow one next time your mind gets mischievously creative.
1) No More Google
You may google to research elephant sanctuaries. You may google the population of Duvall, Washington. You may google how to get involved in the fight for more gun regulation. You may not google “what are these dark spots on my abdomen and could they mean cancer” because, darling, you are not an expert. You cannot self-diagnose these things, especially while plummeting down the rabbit hole. Schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. Go to a doctor. That is all you can do. And then the doctor will most likely tell you they are sunspots because you are no longer in college. Your skin has had a few birthdays, that’s all. All you can do is take the next right action—seek professional counsel—and realize that you are very much not that counsel.
If you’re anything like me, then perhaps you get amnesia at times. I often forget that I went to school for marketing and for dance. Sometimes I even wake up with a sudden MD, or a penchant for practicing naturopathy. "No no, dear,” I then have to remind myself. “No no.”
We go to the dentist for our teeth, the podiatrist for our feet… Why on Earth is there still a stigma around going to the therapist for emotional health? This one is a no brainer. If you are anxious, you deserve professional support. An easy place to start is by searching the therapist directory on Psychology Today. You can filter the search by zip code, specialty, and accepted forms of insurance. If you are uninsured, you can even look at therapists who offer sliding scale options.
3) Do Not Meditate
Honey, I know this is controversial advice. But for the anxious, meditation can feel like walking off a diving board blindfolded into a pool of sharks. Seriously, sitting and being with our thoughts is what us anxious creatures are already doing 90% of the time, and not in such a way that induces calming vibrations of healing to the psyche. Meditation is not always the optimal tool. If you are swirling down the rabbit hole, please don’t use meditation against yourself. Please don’t berate yourself for not sitting down, alone in the dark, to listen more closely to the voices that hound you.
Go on a walk. Call a safe friend. Feel your feet on the ground (that’s me twirling in my friend Mari’s music video), play a cathartic song, take a shower. If we are getting technical here, these are all forms of meditation—walking meditations, dancing meditations, bathing meditations, etc. These are all forms of being present in your body.
But you are not “wrong,” my anxious darlings, if you do not want to sit on the floor in silence while your brain is screaming. Meditate tomorrow if you can, or next month. Today, start with gently doing what feels possible, like rewatching the entire first season of Grey’s Anatomy.
4) Practice Acceptance
Do you know the serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” If God isn’t your jam, you can pray it to the universe. You can pray it to your dog. You can pray it to your mailbox, your stuffed animal, your pet cactus. Any way you pray it, it is a worthwhile intention and mantra to carry in your heart.
I often alter the prayer by naming the specifics of what I can and cannot change. For instance, I remind myself that I can’t change other people. And that if I’m gentle, patient, and loving toward myself, I just may be able to change my own behavior instead.
5) God Box
Again, you may call this simply “the box.” Though I’m a big “God” fan, myself. Here’s how you use this life raft: Write down each and every concern you have on a piece of paper. Examples from my past God boxes are “what if my face is truly too fat for me to be lovable” and “what if [a friend] didn’t answer my phone call because I am a no good terrible piece of shit.” Intense, I know (#anxiety). I won’t share the more serious ones or else I’ll have to add to my God box “what if I am manifesting horrible realities by putting them out into the universe.” I fold these up, place them in the box, and I tell myself that now God will be taking care of these concerns. I no longer need to wrestle with them, because She/He/They has got it their agenda now.
The nicest thing about the God box is opening it a month later to find that most of the paper scraps have been resolved without my involvement. That is what some might call grace. In general, I do like to remind myself that God is working behind the scenes for me, as well as putting in overtime.
6) Allow Your Feelings
So you’re anxious? That’s okay. Are you sad? That’s okay. Are you rapturously joyful, tap dancing in the grocery store aisle? That’s okay. A very wise cousin of mine once lent me the mantra “I’m not okay and that’s okay.” I’m sure she’d let you borrow it, too. You can’t be wrong for having a feeling—I was shocked to learn this at age 18 sitting in my first therapist’s office. This one echoes raft #5. It's important to not judge yourself for your anxiety.
Most of us are plagued by a monstrous pressure to be “happy.” People share smiling photos on social media and announce their new job, new beau, new baby, whatever. Have you ever noticed how few people announce their pain? I'm not suggesting Facebook is a solvent place to do so, but is important to acknowledge that how people share themselves online (or in person) is only a fraction of who they are. So please, don’t compare your insides to somebody’s outsides.
For the anxious, it’s vital to have a few life rafts on hand.
Anne Lamott said, “your sick, worried mind cannot heal your sick, worried mind.” In other words, don’t try to figure it all out on your own. Don’t try to figure it out with just anyone, either—don’t go to the hardware store for a banana. In other words, if you know your Aunt Judy responds to you with criticism and finger-wagging rigidity, why would you keep calling her for “comfort?” When those voices inside your lovely, troubled head are rattling on, give a megaphone to the one who is reasonably sitting down in some corner, smiling quietly, realizing her powerlessness. I promise she is in there somewhere. Notice, perhaps, that this moment happens to include a few simple, safe things. Like a warm cup of tea. Or a flickering candle. Or Netflix.
In case you need reminding, you are not alone. Someone out there cares about your feelings, they really do. I would say it’s me, except my therapist may gently remind me not to take on too much, like, for instance, all the world’s pain and suffering. Instead I sit here and share myself with you in this small way, hoping one of my life rafts provides you some buoyancy the next time you start to sink.