Yesterday at The Nook I met with a fabulous client who said to me, “I’m not sure what to worry about now”. She said it half joking. And half not. As with many jokes, there was a seed of truth, a little kernel wrapped up in a distracting joke.
Karen is a gentle, soft-spoken engineer in her early 50’s. Like most engineers, Karen is very pragmatic and highly analytical. She plans her life carefully and executes those plans efficiently. On the surface she looks like any other working Mamma: works hard, owns a modest impeccable home in a trendy area of Toronto, two kids, a partner, and a dog. She loves her aging parents and is thoughtful towards her partner and friends.
Seven years ago Karen’s life exploded when she discovered that her daughter, Sarah, had a serious drug addiction. She was 16, bright, beautiful, artsy, with her entire future laid out before her. A future that was now precariously hanging by a thread as she began to lie and steal to pay for her habit. She dropped out of school and had a new group of friends. At times she wouldn’t return home for days at a time. Karen and her partner sought treatment and counseling and did everything to manage their world that had become unrecognizable. The low point was kicking Sarah out. Karen was broken hearted and terrified of what Sarah would do to support her addiction.
Sarah has been clean for five years now. She has completed her first two years in university and is in a stable relationship. She is once again close to her parents. This story has a happy ending.
Except for the anxiety. Karen became used to ever-present worry, waiting for a call from the police saying that Sarah had been picked up… or worse. She became used to sleepless nights and the knot in her stomach. Racing thoughts and expecting bad news became Karen’s “new normal”.
For many people with generalized anxiety, this is how it begins. With a trauma, a string of bad luck, or a series of upsetting events. Tendrils of worry take root and flourish. For some people, their story of anxiety developed later in life. For others, the worry tale has been crafted and amplified since early childhood until it is woven into the fabric of their self-concept.
“I’m just a really anxious person”
“I’ve always been anxious”
“Anxiety is part of who I am”
Often times, great films, and books have surprise endings, events that we don’t anticipate. If anxiety is part of your story, I encourage you to begin playing with a different ending; and ending that includes shedding your anxiety like a too small coat or outgrown sweater. Start imagining what life would look like without anxiety. What would you do? Where would you go? How would you behave differently or think differently if the shackles of anxiety were thrown off? Use your imagination, just like Ben Stiller’s character Walter Mitty in this fantastic film. For pragmatic steps that will teach you to manage your anxiety in the moment, check out my online course, Simmer Down. With consistent practice, motivation, and optimism, you can learn to manage your worry and panic. Life is good, don’t let anxiety trick you into thinking it needs to be complicated.