Anxiety Surfing

Today I was contemplating an idea I was committing myself to bringing into existence.  I had dreamed of doing something like this before. There had even been previous ideas that I had tried to bring to fruition. I had invested time and money only to have it all come to naught. Was I just setting myself up for failure once again? Was I going to make a fool of myself? I felt a familiar feeling rising within me. Anxiety.

“Big surprise!” I thought sarcastically to myself, as I bit my lips together. All afternoon my foot had been bouncing frantically with increasing frequency and for longer durations. The tension at the base of my skull and dull ache and pressure in my temples and behind my forehead told me my body was already preparing for battle.

“Battle? Hmph! Why does it always have to be a battle?” I pondered as I opted for a distraction as my first approach to the increasing tension in my body.

I flipped on Paramount Plus and clicked my way over to the search button. (Why does it take so much effort to get to that little magnifying glass? And that’s before you have type, arrowing and clicking on a digital QWERTY keyboard what you want to find!) 

Down arrow, right arrow, right arrow, OK.

Up arrow, right arrow, OK

Down arrow, left arrow, left arrow, left arrow, OK.

Right arrow, right arrow, right arrow, right arrow, OK.

Down arrow, down arrow, right arrow, right arrow, right arrow, OK

“Hmmm. All Stars Untucked? No. All Stars? Watched it and Season 7 isn’t out yet. Drag Race? Nothing new there.  Regular Untucked? Nope. Queen of the Universe? Seen it. Wait a minute. What’s this? Dragging the Classics, Brady Bunch? Hell, yes!”

The show was hysterical. I revelled in the pinch of sarcasm Bianca Del Rio brought to Carol Brady. I’ve always enjoyed Bianca’s sense of humor. The ever-perky BenDeLaCreme as Greg Brady made me chuckle. It was nice to see a fellow PNW resident doing so well. And Mother RuPaul was fierce and fabulous as always. My mood was lifted but the tension in my muscles had spread to the tops of my shoulders as I tried to forcefully push the growing sense of dread and tension away from my body.

Maybe more distraction was in order. I pressed the home button on the TV remote and switched to Netflix. Rejecting my way across my “Continue Watching” list, I finally settled on Coven of Sisters. Set in 1609, it tells the story of a group of women accused of witchcraft who go to great lengths to postpone being burnt at the stake. The story line was captivating and intense, but the level of suspense was quickly amplifying my rapidly increasing anxiety.

“This strategy is definitely not working!” I thought.to myself. By now there was an uncomfortable knot in my stomach. “You know,” I reflected. “Ben and I were talking about this Wednesday. What was that tool we were talking about? The one about observing anxiety?” I tried to remember the details off the top of my head while Coven of Sisters continued to increase the suspense and my body responded in kind. This was definitely not working.

“Time to look up that tool.” I decided.

When Ben, my therapist, describes the tool, he talks about sitting back and just observing the process of anxiety as it is unfolding and not placing any judgement on any part of it.

My friend, Nancy breaks the process up into a series of questions that guide you to describe your anxiety in physical terms. Either way, you’re objectively observing.

I had recently written up the tool, combining both processes into one, so I would have something tangible to turn to when I couldn’t remember the tool or needed help focusing as I used it. While this wasn’t a “really bad,” case by any means, it was a perfect opportunity to practice.

I switched off the television and put on some meditation music. I pulled out the tool card I had made; sat back on my sofa; made myself comfortable and started focusing on my breathing.

Gradually the rush of thoughts and energy in my mind slowed. I looked at what I had written. As my emotions started to surge again, I closed my eyes and took another deep breath.

“Oh look, anxiety. I can feel the tension and stress  rising like an ocean wave inside me…

“OMG!” I interrupted myself with a shudder. “I hate the idea of playing in the ocean!” I declared emphatically, balking at and resisting the imagery.

I switched back to focusing on my breathing and patiently restarted.

“Oh look, anxiety. I can feel the tension and stress  rising within me like an ocean wave.”

Deep breath, in through the nose; out through the mouth.

“It feels scary and I am frightened,”

Deep breath, in through the nose; out through the mouth.

“But I know that it will eventually crest, and abate. It always does.”

Deep breath, in through the nose; out through the mouth.

“The trick is riding the wave rather than fighting against it.”

Deep breath, in through the nose; out through the mouth.

The image of a Tarot card that I have been pulling frequently in the past several days, popped into my mind.

An individual who, to my mind, is neither masculine or feminine effortlessly rides a huge wave on a yellow surf board. They are dressed in a red bikini top and a pink tutu. A rainbow clown ‘fro frames their face that is adorned with a red clown nose. They smile with confidence and a lack of concern as their wine splashes out of their goblet.

“So far so good.” I think as I glanced down at the list of questions Nancy has asked me before when my anxiety was much higher than it was this evening. “I am surfing my powerful, potentially overwhelming emotions to calmness.”

I close my eyes again and begin describing what I am feeling.

“I feel my anxiety in my stomach. It feels like a crackling, tangled ball of bare electrical wires.”

Deep breath, in through the nose; out through the mouth.

“It’s a copper colored, lumpy, uneven sphere.”

Deep breath, in through the nose; out through the mouth.

“It smells musty and a bit like rust when it’s wet.”

Deep breath, in through the nose; out through the mouth.

I pause, smiling to myself, as I realize my energy has shifted. I am back on solid ground.

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