Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anxiety between the covers

Were you ever dead tired and pleasantly sleepy just until the moment when you slipped between the covers? Suddenly or gradually, you realize that you are no longer sleepy. Your mind begins to work at old problems. Your muscles tense up.  You wonder how you have twisted yourself into such an uncomfortable position.

All day, you were busy and productive and mostly positive. Now you feel that your life is a snarl of unresolvable problems. Now you feel cornered and resentful and you wonder how so many people seem to be more capable of satisfying lives than you are. It doesn't make you feel better to know that many of those people believe you to be competent and successful and a model for good choices.

So you begin to tell yourself a story about how dumb it is to feel this way. Some part of you knows that the anxiety that is driving this is pointless. Some part of you wants to give up the old, old battles and rest to fight another day. But telling yourself to stop thinking is like telling yourself to see how long you can hold your breath. It's only a matter of a few minutes until it all begins again.

Don't stop. Be anxious. Think about the times when you were really terrified and then the bad thing happened. Because the one thing I know from here is that thing that made you crazy didn't kill you: it didn't even stop you from reading this.  So think about that thing and notice that you survived it.

Then notice that you have many, many terrifying memories of things that didn't happen. That you were sick with worry and then things got better. The bad stuff and the anxiety about it are two different things: sometimes they are related and sometimes they are not. Sometimes there is just too much activity in the alarm centres in your brain. Sometimes you guess wrong about what happens next.

So let yourself guess. Let yourself notice that you are anxious. Let yourself feel what you feel. Acknowledge that it's probably not real and that it really is uncomfortable. Persist in finding the edges even if they seem to be outside you and around you. Notice that even if every muscle in your body is tense and every nerve is on edge, there is still a part of you that is apart from the anxiety, a part that is watching your mind run in circles.

And then imagine that you could turn up the intensity switch on the watching and turn down the intensity switch on the anxiety so that more of you is watching and the you that is anxious is further away.  And if it's hard, then play with it, being anxious and then being detached and then being anxious and then being detached.

After a while, you will begin to learn. You are anxious for good reasons and you are anxious for nothing and it is all the same. There is no reason not to sleep once you are between the covers and the lights are out.  There is no reason not to fall deeply asleep and watch your dreams as you have watched your anxiety.

And then just sleep.


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