Rethinking the Kryptonite of Anxiety

by jane arie baldwin

At sea in Galapagos

At sea in The Galapagos 2012

 

Below is a post I wrote 5 years ago. I have not overcome anxiety completely as I had hoped but I do have a new respect for this challenging emotion.

There’s a new paradigm that sees life as all-inclusive.

Now previously perceived problems are seen as

actually offering help and information.

German biologist Giulia Enders at 24 years old is all the rage in her native land with her debut book, Charming Bowels. In it she calls for the gut to be given as much attention as we give the head and the heart. She tells us that the gut is full of many different kinds of bacteria that carry different functions and also each has unique information to help our body function properly. Likewise, Kelly McGonigal has a similar message about stress in her book, The Upside of Stress. She says that there is important information in stress that can motivate us, give us confidence, and help us develop protection.

Karla McLaren in her book, The Language of Emotions, has given me a new perspective on emotions and has caused me to rethink the ending of my previous post below. Karla says that worry offers us the gifts of foresight, focus and task completion. It is our procrastination alert system!

When feeling anxious Karla says to ask,

“What triggered this feeling? What really needs to be done? 

Attend to the messages of worry and anxiety, she suggests. They could have important information for you. They could be pointing to deep-seeded anger that needs to be addressed or a place where a good boundary needs to be made.

QUASHING THE KRYPTONITE OF ANXIETY

first published May 14, 2010

Storm clouds loom to the Southeast and the Northwest of me this afternoon.  It rained all morning.  A hard soaking rain poured down onto the bulbs sprouting up in my yard.  Runoff dove down the side of the cliff and raced toward the Brazos.  Clouds to the South claim with their thunder that this storm may be repeating itself this afternoon.  Yet for this moment there is a calming peace accompanied by the promise of a clear sky directly overhead.

This scene as a metaphor for life is not lost on me.  To the contrary, I sit at my desk watching a female squirrel acrobatically taking sunflower seeds out of the bird feeder.  She has an urgency about her – maybe it’s the storm, maybe it’s her knowing that I am here, that Nigel the Yorkie could come bursting out of the door at any moment to chase her; maybe she’s still nursing the young squirrel standing on the sidewalk not quite knowing what to do.

It is in her urgency that I see myself, her manic addictive urgency to complete this task at whatever the cost, even at the cost of ill health or death.  What I don’t see in her Godlike animalness, is a thinking and rethinking about what she is doing — whether or not she’s doing the right thing, whether she has prioritized properly for the day.  She systematically collects and eats, collects and eats stopping occasionally with keen awareness to check on her baby and look for intruders.  Indeed, what before looked to me like urgency I now recognize in her as stalwart focus.

My question is: Does she anthropomorphize – Beatrix Potter style – when she gets home and force herself to feel a sense of relief about the day’s accomplishments; or is she really just a little squirrel Buddha that recognizes the concept of accomplishment as simply another form of suffering?  It is here that she laughs in my face with her squirrel cum George W. Bush snicker revealing that she doesn’t bother with either of these over-thought-out ideas.

I bring all of this up because the other day in a moment of clarity – you know, when you realize that you are not being mindful and just allowing your thoughts to throw up all over you all through the day – I caught myself in a panic. I realized that I had created anxiety about my day and then acted as if checking off my todo list was going to save me and make me feel better thus bringing relief to my anxiety.  That’s the way the world works, right? That’s what the old familiar voice was trying to tell me, “Check it off the list, then you’ll feel better, then you’ll be safe.”

Well, I realized, I’m done with this rollercoaster – up, down, up, down, safe, not safe, relief, anxiety. I recognize my addiction to anxiety and how I create it in my daily life by setting up situations to feel angry, scared, and frustrated so that I can justify feeling relief.  Anxiety has been this outlet for me for most of my life.  Anxiety has been a distraction, an excuse to create confusion.  It has been my kryptonite weakening my attentiveness to self-discipline, self-motivation, and commitment.  It has blocked my clarity and hampered my judgment far too long.

Even though I no longer recognize anxiety as part of my identity, it still creeps in when I’m not paying attention. It is not me. It is not a part of this clear moment of cloudless blue skys.  It is a part of the storm that whirls to my Southeast and Northwest.

Ms. Squirrel continues her task of pillaging all the bird seed in front of my eyes.  She has taught me a simple lesson today about distractions and persistence – that with focus and awareness I can get the job, any job done even with the promise of dark clouds on the horizon.