I have always been a worrier.
I overthink everything. Even as a kid, I was affectionally nicknamed “the worry wart.” I remember my Dad used to play The Worry Song by Monty Python, which is silly and ridiculous (as you’d expect) but listening to it makes me laugh because a lot of it actually rings true for me. It also helps to see how pointless all this mental energy actually is.
If you’ve never experienced it, it feels like an unpleasant, repetitive and negative voice that never, or rarely, stops. At least that’s my experience of it. When its manageable, it feels like barely audible nagging background noise. When its not so manageable, it feels like my mind is a broken ferris wheel that accidentally got lodged on turbo speed mode and all the kids have been flung off and are screaming for their life. It builds momentum with each turn. I try many methods of self-regulation but I’ve found that most of the time, the best way to slow the ferris wheel is by venting to people. But some people soothe my anxiety, while others can ignite it like a match in a dry forest. I figured seeing a counsellor could help guide me to unlock where this feeling stems from and then figure out methods to tame it once it erupts from its slumber.
Since my job offers three free appointments to see a counsellor, I decided to try it out. I’ve also always been interested in becoming a counsellor and recently while having a chat with a friend of mine, she told me she too wanted to work as a counsellor. But after seeing a few different counsellors she realised she never wants to. I found that quite intriguing, I wanted to go not only to find ways to help myself but to also imagine if I could take on a job like that.
When I arrived at the appointment I was told to take a seat until my name was called. I sat down, grabbed a magazine and started feeling paranoid I’d run into someone I knew. Finally, an older woman with long, dark brown hair and sad blue eyes opened the door, peeked her head in the waiting area and said, “Kimberly?” I joined her to her room and took a seat in a very uncomfortable chair which faced directly at hers. I realise now why Sigmund Freud used the lounge chairs, it’s so much easier to relax when you are sprawled out staring at the ceiling. You can just lay there without having to stare directly into the eyeballs of a person you just met a minute ago. I find eye contact in general uncomfortable. I think if I were to be a psychologist, I’d have the client sit in a chair that faced slightly away from me so they didn’t feel obligated to hold eye contact. I’d also get a really comfortable chair, that was semi Freudian lounge chair and semi-normal desk chair. I’d also have nice art and framed photographs on the walls to stimulate discussion if need be.
I told her that I have always been interested in a becoming psychologist. But with my own family loss, I don’t know if I could do it, at least not yet. I worry that I could get too involved in lives of others and take their tragedies home with me. She explained that it’s much different to sit in “this” chair and help a client than it is to be directly involved in a family member. Essentially her message was, you can and will learn how to build walls between you and them, its not as hard as you may think.
When we talked about my anxiety, she guided me through two relaxation techniques. If you experience anxiety from time to time, you may find them useful to try out as well:
Close your eyes and imagine a rainbow. Now think about your favourite colour in the rainbow, whichever one makes you feel the best. Then imagine inhaling that colour. Once your lungs are full of this colour, exhale the dark grey ‘anxiety’ within you. With each breath, watch this colour slowly permeate through the dark grey. Continue this exercise until all the dark grey is gone.
The other exercise was more of a way to equip myself like armour against anxiety. She suggested to treat the next anxious and stressful situation as if I were watching the main character on a tv; close and interested to their pain, but also detached from it and thus able to give proper advice. Sometimes we are much better at offering support and advice to others but rarely do we offer the same support and encouragement to ourselves.
But the most powerful and interesting thing she said was that anxiety can actually be your friend, it can work for you rather than against you. She explained it like, “you have a sharp mind and if you don’t give it something to do, it will get up to mischief.” It reminded me of the metaphor I’ve used for my mind as being a disobedient dog. It feels like I am constantly retrieving it from places it has no business being. But there are times when my disobedient dog brain works for me and sits by my legs and listens to my demands. It’s usually when I’m reading a fascinating book, or am engulfed by a riveting conversation, or learn something new about the mind or our artificial intelligent future. These are rare to come and vary in potency, but when they do, the thought goes so deep inside my head, I forget where I stop and theirs begins. I spend hours daydreaming and thinking about it. It’s amazing.
Out of all the techniques, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with my hyperactive mind is to give it a large bone to keep it happy and busy. I will look for things I actually want it to do and keep it focused on productive things. Perhaps one day I’ll get to the point where I won’t need a bone to keep it reeled in. Maybe over time, it’ll learn to go exactly where I want it. I guess that’s the Dalai Lama level and I have a lot of training to do in the meantime…
If you experience anxiety, what things do you find helps you the best? What’s your best method of self-regulation?