Sometimes we can be so stuck in our anxiety that it becomes like a cloud surrounding us- the very context in which we are living- a cloud that’s hard to see past. The worst part about this is that we become accustomed to our anxiety- that anxiety becomes a habit- our automatic response- our norm for living. We forget that life can be more than anxiety. We forget that WE are more than our anxiety.
Instead of acknowledging that anxiety is an experience, we begin to over-identify with anxiety. In other words, we begin to believe that anxiety is who we are, and we say things like, “I’m an anxious person,” “I’m stressed out,” “I’m just a bag of nerves,” and so on…
Naturally, the coping mechanism we turn to is to try to get rid of anxiety in some way. We may do this by drinking alcohol, binge-watching Netflix, over-eating, working out, keeping busy or over-working, isolating… you name it! It’s not that any of these things are necessarily “bad.” In fact, in moderation, these coping mechanisms can be helpful and even healthy. But when we engage in these coping mechanisms chronically, inflexibly, and in excess, they become an unsatisfying rat race. They begin to drive our lives, and we put more power in them than we do in ourselves. And the ironic thing is that our lives STILL revolve around trying to reduce anxiety and stress!
There is another way- a better, more effective way.
Instead of revolving your life around trying to reduce anxiety and stress, give yourself the power and permission to embrace the light. By “light,” I mean happiness, joy, excitement, laughter, hope, gratitude, love, pride, fulfillment, etc. This is a process that I call, “letting the light in.” When we take this mindset, anxiety may remain to some extent, but it becomes less significant- It is no longer the cloud that we live in. Taking this mindset allows us to experience the various colors of life.
It sounds simple right? So why is this more difficult than it sounds?
Letting the light in entails vulnerability. We struggle with letting the light in because it feels vulnerable. We’re afraid that, if we let the light in, something terrible will swoop down and take that light away from us, and we’ll be stuck in that dark cloud again. Vulnerability expert, Dr. Brenё Brown, calls this process “foreboding joy.”
Think about it. Anytime something good happens to us, we instantly begin thinking of all the things that could go wrong. We put an offer on a house and begin imagining that we’re going to get out-bid or that the loan won’t get approved… We have a child and imagine all of the freak accidents that could kill that precious child… We get our dream job and imagine all of the things we’ll do to sabotage it…
In other words, we rob ourselves of the light because of our fear of losing it. The problem with this is, this is a lose-lose scenario. When we feed our fear of losing the light (i.e., when we feed foreboding joy), then we rob ourselves of the light almost completely.
Again, give yourself permission to let the light in, as vulnerable as it feels. You might even influence the outcome you’re hoping for via the self-fulfilling prophecy.
This does not mean you have to put on rose-colored glasses and ignore the fact that there is a chance it might not work out. You can have a balanced awareness of the negative possibilities while also acknowledging the good opportunities that might come.
This week, I challenge you to remind yourself that you are more than your anxiety. I challenge you to practice letting the light in. Instead of running yourself raged trying to force anxiety out, courageously allow the light to fill you.
Until next time,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.