Friday, October 26, 2007

The Anti-Anxiety Talisman

Anxiety makes itself known to us when we are too young to even know the word or its meaning. A toddler experiences separation anxiety whenever a parent or loved one leaves. Infants may go through phases of becoming tense or fearful in the bath. My own daughter experienced her first night terror at 5 months--far too young to have experienced anything terrifying enough to cause such a reaction.

Children who experience anxiety also have marvelous coping skills to soothe themselves when anxiety tries to ruffle their feathers. Infants will suck their fingers or thumbs. Toddlers may find a binkie, lovey, or blankie when they're feeling out of sorts. Older children may keep a dream catcher above their beds, look at a favorite picture, or perform some other night time ritual to keep "the wild things" away.

We can learn from children's uniquely intuitive ways of coping and find our own talismans or mantras whenever we sense anxiety's presence. A client of mine repeated the mantra "I am my own safe harbor" as he felt anxiety approaching. A teenage client who often felt overwhelmed by social anxiety brought on by Asperger's Syndrome said he would "lay low" and try to "avoid trouble" like his favorite action-movie star. A woman who was deeply affected by OCD would make a brushing motion over shoulder, as if she were shooing away a pesky fly, trying to discourage anxiety from "landing" on her. The lyric "It may look like my wheels are spinning/I swear they're spinning for a reason" has given me comfort in my own life.

An anti-anxiety talisman will not end anxiety's appearances. It can, however, disallow anxiety from gaining purchase in areas of life where it is not welcome. The imporantant part of creating the talisman--whether it be a mantra, a visualization, a piece of music, or an object--is that it be meaningful and accessible to you should anxiety creep up unexpectedly. Anxiety may catch up with you from time to time, but it doesn't have to catch you off guard.

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