“There is no such thing as a weird human being. It’s just that some human beings require more understanding than others.” ~Tom Robbins
You are not going to be eaten by tigers.
A dear friend of mine offered this little gem to me during a particularly challenging bout of anxiety recently.
I am not going to be eaten by tigers.
And while it might seem like a silly statement on the surface, I must confess that I found it to be extremely helpful. And sort of profound.
And that I repeated it to myself on more than one occasion while attempting to breathe and run and cry and talk and sleep my way through the anxious feelings. Doing my best to let my body know that, indeed, there were no tigers nearby and that, in fact, everything was pretty effing fantastic.
Anyone who knows me — or who has read this post — knows that I am no stranger to anxiety.
I used to lament this fact and hate that anxious feelings sometimes seem to follow me around. But now, I have a certain counterintuitive fondness for my anxiety, if only because I feel like I’ve learned — and continue to learn — so much from it. And that it has afforded me the opportunity to do some pretty deep work on myself over the past several years.
Part of this process has been accepting and surrendering to the anxiety, while also releasing any real attachment to it as an identity.
Which, again, might seem counterintuitive or even like a completely impossible contradiction, but I promise you it’s not.
I’ve also had to absolve myself from being responsible for the fact that anxiety exists in my life at all. Even while I continue to encounter it on a regular basis.
And I’ve had to forgive myself for all the times I’ve been unable to manage it gracefully or somehow prevent its occurrence.
Because here’s the thing, you guys. My anxiety? It’s not my fault.
And if you are someone who also encounters anxiety on a consistent basis, I’m here to tell you:
It’s not your fault either.
And that maybe, just maybe, there’s some wisdom to be extracted from your experience.
I want to be clear here. Saying that anxiety is nobody’s fault is not the same as saying it’s ok to let those anxious feelings dictate your actions and control your life.
What I am doing is giving you permission to stop blaming yourself all the time.
Seriously. Stop it. It’s not helping.
Anxiety lives in your body, it creates patterns and grooves that get locked into place and that set off sequences of events when the right trigger is introduced at the wrong time.
And there are many reasons why these patterns get initiated in the first place. There’s even new research that reveals just how much a pregnant mother’s emotional state — and the hormones she secretes as a result of these emotions — can affect her baby’s response to stress.*
I, for one, am kind of convinced my mother actually was being chased by tigers the entire time she was pregnant with me. And so I popped out totally expecting tigers everywhere.
When I didn’t see any right away? My sympathetic nervous system decided to stay fired up all the time just in case they ever did show their faces.
Which they never did.
Except my nervous system never got the memo.
And so, yes, I am pretty much every day reminding my body that today, I will not be eaten by tigers.
At this point, my body hears the message most days.
And on the days when it doesn’t? I see these as an opportunity to take better care of myself, to lean on my friends for support, to let myself off the hook a little bit for not always having my shit totally together.
My anxiety has taught me compassion — for myself and for others.
It has taught me humility.
It has taught me that I’m pretty sensitive to change and newness and not knowing what’s going to happen next. Even when the change is good change.
And it has taught me that being always and completely put together as a person is actually kind of boring.
(See also: No one actually fits this description anyway.)
I’ve learned that working with my anxious feelings, going into and through them, rather than just aggressively fighting against them, is actually much more beneficial in the long run.
Anxiety is your body’s (maladaptive) way of trying to keep you safe. Of trying to communicate with you somehow.
Which: Good looking out, body.
So, I say thank your body for trying to protect you, and then go about letting it know that there are no imminent threats. Find ways to let it know you’re safe already.
And that while you appreciate its commitment to your protection, its hyper-vigilance is generally unnecessary.
Also: Listen. Pay attention.
Those anxious feelings might actually indicate that something is not quite right. Not necessarily predatory animals approaching, but possibly a more subtle shift that needs to take place in your life.
Dietary. Lifestyle-related. Job-related. Or within your most intimate relationships.
So take note. And then remind yourself:
YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE EATEN BY TIGERS.
You got this.**
*Here’s a great TED talk by science writer Annie Murphy Paul about just how much a fetus actually learns and absorbs while in the womb. It’s pretty fascinating. I highly recommend giving it a listen.
**There are SO MANY things I could say about anxiety. And a variety of tips about how to engage with it and manage it and decipher what it’s trying to tell you. Eventually, my goal is to discuss all of these things in more detail. Because I don’t want this post to come across as any indication that I believe addressing anxiety is easy. It’s not. But, ultimately, the point of this particular piece of writing is simply to assert that your anxiety is absolutely, 100% not your fault. Even if the managing of those anxious feelings is up to you. Also: I have been there. And I’m totally in your corner.