I hate it when people ask me, “are you looking forward to christmas?”
In all honesty, it’s been a long time since I looked forward to anything, what with the future being heavily laced with fear and dread. But Christmas in particular gets my mind doing loop the loops as I imagine myself free falling, without a parachute landing unceremoniously on top of a brightly lit christmas tree.
At which point all around point and laugh at just what a loser I must be to have done such a ridiculous act.
That’s just how imaginative the anxious mind can be, creating an entirely catastrophic outcome to a seemingly inocuous event (don’t even get me started on weddings or other large family gatherings).
But this is just how things roll between my ears. And as hard as I try to fight it, it would seem right now that’s how I’m wired.
So I reckon I have two options: Fight it or accept it.
Ok, so I’m going to tell you about my experience of both approaches.
This must be the brave, plucky approach right? Because fighting is brave, or that’s what we’re told. In my case fighting means the following: denying I’m feeling in a particular way and putting a shiny spin on it.
“No, no, I’m not anxious, or depressed. No, I’m actually feeling quite positive and it’s really just only positive thoughts that I’m thinking right now. Yes, yes, that’s right. I’m super chipper and totally in control of myself and my surroundings.”
This approach takes a lot of effort and generally ends with me having a migraine. So in my mind (albeit an anxious one), any such approach that brings on headaches is not cool and not generally good for my health.
Accepting the incessant outpourings of the anxious mind (or the scary physical sensations for that matter) is not an easy task. After all what does it mean to accept? In a way it’s to say yes to whatever appears, be it a thought or a sensation. But saying yes in a soft, gentle way, not saying yes with a mental sledgerhammer.
It actually doesn’t really matter what the anxious thought is saying, if you pay attention to the energy form it takes, there’s a sharpness and aggressivity to it. Or it might be like a crying hysterical child, as more often that not, it is our crying, hysterical child that wants to be heard.
So what happens if you take a hysterical child and you try and slap it into silence? It cries some more, right? What’s the approach that will probably get that infant to quieten of its own natural accord? Cradling it? Asking it what it needs? Not judging it? Rocking it gently until it stops crying.
But this can take some time. The baby might calm down and then start crying again a few moments later. Doesn’t mean it’s been a big, acceptance failure, just that your anxious baby just needs a bit more TLC.
For me, acceptance is both the softest and the bravest approach and is the path through anxiety I will be trying to remember to take this festive season (in between occasionally slapping myself about with a mental sledgehammer, before eventually remembering to accept that as well).
I invite you to join me.
For more strategies for acceptance try Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach