In her beautiful and funny book ‘Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life’, Anne Lamott talks about the times when she is sitting at her computer, willing herself to write, and the words don’t come. She begins to experience an anxiety attack. She starts to have a meltdown, feels panic rising, thinks the well has run dry and her career is over.
Then she stops.
Tries to breathe.
And lets her mind wander… actually wander into all the silly, crazy, self-loathing, day-to-day, terror and panic-filled judgements… She starts looking around her.
‘…and finally I notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.
It reminds me that all I have to do is write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running… just what I can see through the one-inch picture frame…’
Yep. A one-inch picture frame can stop an anxiety attack.
Anne’s story can be a reminder that, sometimes, the very best we can do is simply respond to the smallest thing that is immediately in front of us. Be where we are, right now, and take the very tiniest of steps (to pivot around rather than ‘move forward’ as we are so often told to do).
Anxiety can block us from looking through the one-inch picture frame.
Anxiety tricks us into catastrophising, it sweeps us away and blows things up with a fast-beating heart, sharp intakes of breath, paralysing fear… sometimes it even stops us dead in the street and we have to sit down and catch ourselves up again before Anxiety completely carries us away.
I’ve felt that, and I know it’s terrifying.
The one-inch picture frame can succeed when ‘reality checking’ can fail. There’s nothing more frustrating than, when the Anxiety tornado has blown on down the road, you ask yourself over and over ‘why did that happen to me?!’ The intellectual part of your brain can’t make sense of what’s happening.
That’s because it doesn’t make sense. Anxiety is attacking the OTHER part of your brain- the part that simply experiences the world.
Having a small, physical reminder of something meaningful to you, something that makes sense to the ‘experiencing’ part but also connects with the ‘thinking part’ of your brain, can make a huge difference to overcoming the Anxiety.
So here’s an idea for responding to anxiety:
If you have a saying you like, such as ‘putting one foot in front of another’ or ‘this will pass’ or Anne’s ‘this is all I have to bite off for now’, go hunting for your very own talisman.
Squirrel around your local thrift store, $2 shop, or in a cupboard at home to find something that automatically connects you to that saying. Even better if it triggers something emotional for you without any effort, if it creates a SENSATION and not just a thought. Thoughts aren’t useful when it comes to anxiety, feelings are way better. Bodily felt memories of times of strength can be incredibly powerful when you ‘jog’ them on purpose.
Go find this little piece of magic you can see or touch when Anxiety is getting the better of you.
You can stare at it and describe it to yourself, rub all the ridges carefully with your fingertips, smell it if it has a scent. Look through it if it really is a tiny frame…
Anything special that holds your attention in such a way that the panics decide to take a hike for a moment. Something that reminds you that all you have to do right now is just BE. Here.
And to breathe. Slowly in and even more slowly out.
The one-inch picture frame and friends like it might help outwit Anxiety when it’s blown into your mind uninvited and unwelcome. Perhaps, rather than fearing the ‘battle’ with anxiety, you may be able to capture, shrink down to size, or even befriend your old foe…
Do you have any uniquely personal ideas for overcoming Anxiety ‘right in the moment’? I’d love you to comment below and share your tips with others.
If you’re looking for a counsellor, you can contact me directly. I work alongside you to come up with thoughtful, creative, professional solutions to even the most serious problems.