Truth Grounding: A Piece About Anxiety
I’m a naturally anxious person, particularly skilled at the sport of Imagining All Worst Case Scenarios—gold medal level skills, I’d argue.
“My mind is my main problem almost all of the time. I wish I could leave it in the fridge when I go out, but it likes to come with me,” the writing goddess Anne Lamott wrote. I only just recently figured out that this worry pulsating through my body since I was but a sweet child (disclaimer: this is a lie, I was not a sweet child) is what one might call Anxiety. This means I’ve had my share of panic attacks over the years—those breathless moments of feeling claustrophobic inside your own body—though I had no idea that those were actually called panic attacks until maybe a couple years ago.
I am a six on a personality test called the Enneagram (if you haven't taken this test yet, do it, because it's scary accurate). This number, the Loyalist, is described as someone primarily motivated by Fear. As The Enneagram Institute describes it, “They think—and worry—a lot!” Encouraging! And so through the years I have stayed true to this, letting Fear and its alter ego, Anxiety, journey with me.
September has been the best month of my year so far. When people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them I’m thriving, and I actually, really mean it. This is great and often not the case, because how many times do we actually mean “I’m good!” in response to a friendly “How are you?” inquiry. (Answer: maybe 3 out of 10 times.) I’m working a job I love while also freelance writing, which means every day is different—no longer am I trapped inside a routine that strangles me with its same-ness. I published a magazine with a team of incredible people and I’ve spent mornings working from my favorite coffee shop and I’ve boogied at a Bleachers concert in Atlanta with one of my best friends who lives too many miles away. I’ve eaten a surplus of queso and a boy who happens to be a former member of a British boy band offered me a piece of his carrot cake, so YEAH, I’ve peaked.
And yet, I’ve been terribly anxious.
Recently, I was feeling all sorts of anxiety and my mind was like the scene in Spongebob where his brain minions are frantically trying to find his name, only my mind minions were frantically writing all these ghastly stories for my future—some maddening overthinking shit going on, I tell you.
So my friend, the one who boogied with me at Bleachers, suggested I take a walk.
Movement is always good for an anxious mind, so I set out on that Sunday afternoon for a stroll, just me and some broody tunes from the brilliant Aussie band, The Paper Kites, to properly set the scene. The Tennessee air held the tiniest hint of cool, the trees whispering rumors among their leaves of the coming of fall, of change, of relief from the clinging summer humidity.
This same friend had told me about a grounding exercise that her counselor had suggested: when you start to feel the onset of a panic attack, that whole trapped-inside-your-body feeling, try to focus on the things that are physically grounding—your feet on the floor, for instance.
I thought about this idea of grounding as I walked, willing my crazy Spongebob mind to focus on what I knew to be true: the sweet fragrance of a bush I passed by, an invitation to slow down and take a deep breath; the sound of leaves crunching beneath my feet; the way the breeze wrapped me in a welcoming we’re-so-close-to-fall hug. And then I moved on to the bigger truths: the good, beautiful things that had taken place that month (see above, re: British boy band member and carrot cake). And then I settled on the truthiest of truths: God had provided for me in the past, and He would provide for me again.
I call this Truth Grounding.
This isn’t to be confused with Truth Blanketing (thanks to the roomie, Chelsey, for teaching me this concept)—the whole, “The sky is blue, my life is great, I have no reason to be anything but happy!” kind of attitude that shames us into believing it’s a bad thing to feel sad or disappointed or angry about your job or the dude who ghosted you or the Twitter presence of the U.S. President. No, feel your feelings—have the cry, drink the wine and watch New Girl, get tacos with your best friends; you’re allowed to feel unhappy despite otherwise decent life circumstances like a stable job and a general lack of poverty.
Truth Grounding still lets you feel those feelings. It doesn’t hide them on the top shelf of the closet; it just steals the mic from Anxiety for a hot second to point out that maybe, just maybe, the story Anxiety is telling you isn’t entirely accurate.
Because here’s what I’ve realized about Anxiety: it likes to make up stories. And we’re like kids in kindergarten gathering in a semi-circle around our sweet, white-haired teacher, munching on our goldfish and listening with rapt attention. “Anxiety, tell me more! What happens next?!” we plead, wide-eyed. And Anxiety is all “LOL K” and proceeds to tell a Lord of the Rings-sized tale, only this time Frodo (also a six on the Enneagram) is not victorious and the evil guy in the fiery mountain gets the ring and we all die, the end. But instead of saying, “Wait a minute…” we believe the story and then we go into panic mode because HELLO, ANXIETY JUST TOLD US THAT WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE.
Dark stuff, the kind of stories Anxiety tells. I don’t think it’s possible for naturally-anxious people to wake up one day and declare, “I shan’t feel anxiety ever again, I dare say!” in a voice not unlike that of James Stewart. Feelings are natural and beyond our control, like our heartbeat, but we do have the choice of how we react to these emotions. We can choose to listen to Anxiety’s wildly morbid stories or we can choose to ground our thoughts into what we know to be true. The anxiety won’t necessarily go away—I still felt the undercurrents of worry on that fall Sunday, but the stories were quieter, just faint murmurs this time, because I willfully chose to listen to truth instead.
The best stories are the true ones, anyways.