You're In The Driver's Seat, Even When Anxiety Is In The Car
The most frightening part of having anxiety for me is how much it’s capable of making me freeze. For me, anxiety usually plays out in threes — I’ll have trouble breathing, my body will tingle, and I’ll have ruminating thoughts. Therapy has helped me extensively when it comes to strengthening my mind to jump in to interrupt the thoughts or to remind myself that the episode won’t last forever.
I don’t have the same strategy in place, I realized, when it comes to my body. Instead my knee jerk reaction is to believe that my physical symptoms aren’t just inevitable, but also unconquerable. And that’s one of the hardest parts of living with anxiety that no one tells you about — that if you’re not careful, you learn to cede your existence to anxiety when it shows up.
For me, it’s an especially slippery slope because I’ve always had a really hard time taking up space or pushing back to own space. If I wanted to get introspective, I could probably credit everything from my disordered eating habits to my love of writing to the fact that I have a hard time taking up physical space. When I start having an anxious moment, I give up all space and actions related to my body to my anxiety.
I stand still. I let the jitters slowly find their way onto every inch of my body. I can’t get my mind to tell my arms or my legs what to do. I don’t only find it hard to move forward, but I find it nearly impossible to even move in place.
Try freezing still while having your mind go a million miles per minute and the description of anxiety sending people into fetal position doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
Anxiety convinces you that you succumbing to it is the only option if you want to make it pass. You start bartering for the next moment that will be free of anxiety by handing over your present moment as an offering. It was only during one of my most recent therapy sessions that I realized that the offering will never be enough. I needed to stop feeding anxiety and instead learn to give it wheels and instructions on where to go.
There was something really freeing about realizing that even when asked in therapy to imagine what I would (physically) do during a hypothetical encounter that would trigger my anxiety, all I could think about was how still I would be. It gave me a place to work from.
Right now, I suck at telling my body what to do when I’m anxious. Being terribly bad at something doesn’t have to be a dead end sentence, unless I choose it to be. The only reason the lies we tell ourselves can so often sound like truths is because we’ve repeated them so much. If we stop repeating them, if we start replacing them with proof of concepts that show us otherwise, then we start seeing ourselves as capable of living up to that expectation. Because whether we’re telling ourselves we can or we can’t, we’re giving ourselves an expectation to live up to.
I’ve been helping my anxiety catch me in a game of freeze tag simply by the mere fact that I haven’t even tried to move. I’ve learned that the mental games anxiety plays aren’t ones that I can dodge and remove the minute I notice them, there’s still a process to living with it that I have to work into my schedule whenever it shows up. The expectation shouldn’t be to not have any of anxiety’s symptoms pop up — I don’t have control over that because most times my triggers aren’t intentional or avoidable.
The desire to want to give my anxiety wheels isn’t so I can outrun its presence in my life, it’s so that I can still feel like the owner of my own life even when it does show up. I’ve heard people describe anxiety before as an entity that acts as your backseat driver, telling you where to go and how to drive. I’m not trying to get it out of my car, I’m trying to make sure that even when it shows up, I’m still the one driving.