See the illustrated girl above? She’s me. She’s a lot of people, actually.
I love counseling clients who struggle with anxiety. Mostly because I struggle with it too, so when I offer them helpful tips and strategies it’s because I know from experience that they work.
(I’m kind of like the formerly bald guy from that old Hair Club for Men commercial — “I’m not only the Hair Club president, I’m also a client.”)
Lately I’ve been anxious because my husband and I are about to make a major change in our lives. I can’t share the details just yet, but I can tell you that it makes me feel like this:
In the meantime, people are telling us our decision is stupid. I’m fine with this because if I were in their position I’d be saying the same thing…and if they were in mine, they’d be making the same stupid decision.
But even though this decision feels right in my gut, the process of change itself is no less scary. There are so many unknowns: What if something goes wrong? What if we fail? What if our back-up plan fails? What if the worst case scenario comes true? What if we come to regret making this big change?
But my Muse (the one I met during this guided visualization exercise) tells me that with too many what-ifs floating in your head, you’ll never make brave changes in your life. You’ll never push through fear for the sake of your own sanity, healing, and well-being.
So I’d like to share a 2-step process for reducing anxiety about the unknown future, specifically designed for naturally anxious people like myself. When my usual thought-changing techniques aren’t helping me feel better, this one does the trick every time.
Step 1: Accept The Truth
Accept that you have an anxious temperament. It’s part of you, so don’t judge it, don’t hate it, and don’t fight it — just learn to do brave things despite it.
Sometimes I like to imagine that we all have an invisible wild animal that walks the earth alongside us. This wild animal is the physical manifestation of our natural temperaments, including our strengths and weaknesses. Our job is to learn to care for it, know it inside and out, form a good relationships with it, and bring out its best. Same goes for anxiety — you can either accept it and transform its energy into one that pushes you to do great work (anxious people are often hard-working perfectionists), or you can hate it, fear it, fight it, and ultimately let it control you. The choice is always yours.
Step 2: Wave & Cliff Visualization
After you accept your anxiety, make peace with the fact that negative thoughts and worries will always flood your mind. It’s just part of your reality.
Imagine that your anxious thoughts are like waves crashing into a majestic rocky cliff on the shore. Yes, they’ll always keep coming. But you know what? Like waves, they always pull away too.
So when you’re in the middle of a freak-out about your unknown future, simply let the waves come. Tell them, “Oh, hi. You again.” Emotionally detach from them. Instead of listening to individual worries, just be aware that the waves are crashing against the shore again, because that’s just how you roll.
Remember: your anxious thoughts are not you, they’re just ideas that flood your head before pulling away.