Is anxiety just our imagination gone awry?Michelle Balaun
Why is it that some highly successful and intelligent individuals suffer from crippling anxiety? Many people would assume that if you’re smart, you can think your way out of having anxious thoughts because you should know better. However, what’s hard to accept for some, is that being with your thoughts day in and day out can make it difficult to gain a perspective other than what you’re constantly ruminating about.
Anxiety is our imagination gone awry. All of the what-ifs focused on worst-case scenarios. Many people identify with their anxiety because they recognize that they are afraid of the unknown. What they don’t see yet is that the unknown does not have to be this scary place with jagged edges and land mines.
Creativity is on the other end of our imagination. Also based on the unknown – but this time, softer and playful or exciting and exalting. It is the same rush of emotions and ideas as anxiety, but this time, it has that feel-good feeling. It’s exhilarating and expansive versus constrictive and minimizing. Think of it as a pendulum and either end being anxiety and creativity.
The effectiveness of therapy for anxiety isn’t when we are told to “think happy thoughts” or “stop the thought”. It would be so easy, right? Those methods, though ultimately helpful, are based on a very black or white idea about our state of mind. We can either think of marshmallows and rainbows or many children running with scissors with their shoes untied and for my fellow perfectionists- a room full of crooked paintings.
What if we could see that our sense of reality lies on a continuum. We can stop the thought and think happy thoughts once we can placate the anxiety. We can only pacify it when we understand it. AND follow up with action. Insight is wonderful and even more effective when we have the tools to act on it. It’s a mutualistic relationship- insight informs action, action provides more insight, the mind benefits. We can only manifest our fantasies into reality when we prepare and think about the costs and benefits of our endeavors. Taming the mind to generate this flow is my aim in therapy with my clients, and my aim within my own life, as well. It offers a sense of control that is more realistic and true. And during these moments of so much uncertainty, I believe we all need a bit of flow between these ends of the pendulum.