Confession: I get self-absorbed when I am anxious. Consumed by whatever it is I am worried about. My body contracts, and my mind goes around and around in my own little swirly moon shell. It sucks.
I understand that this is the nature of anxiety. It pulls us into its swirl, limiting our scope to whatever it is that troubles us. Whether over the quotidian worry du jour, or something very legitimate and scary that is actually happening, anxiety consumes. So I am not beating myself up about what I am confessing, but nonetheless, I find it embarrassing.
When I was a little girl, I was so anxious about potential calamities befalling my family members on any given day, that I held us all up every morning begging for reassurance. “Dad, you promise you won’t fall in front of a subway?” “Mom, you promise you won’t get in a head-on collision?” etc.. etc.. ad nauseam. Finally one morning, in an act of brilliance born of running extremely late, my mother preemptively said, “You Are Reassured.” Which over time then got shortened to “YAR.” That one syllable became all I needed to hop out of our VW bus with its Flower Power stickers and go join my friends in school. But the point I’m making here is: I was asking my family to reassure me. I had no idea how to self-soothe. Again, I don’t blame myself. I was a kid. And, to be fair, the anxiety was actually a byproduct of our family system, all the chaos and unresolved dysfunction that had come down the multi-generational pike and now lived in my house. (Hence in my body. And my mind.)
In my twenties, when I was a newlywed and (luckily for my brand new husband) in therapy, my wise wonderful therapist Leigh told me I was no longer allowed to wake up Pierre in the middle of the night when I felt anxious. “It’s not his job,” she said, “it’s yours.” What? My anxiety was my job? To manage and handle? Til death do I part? Cold turkey, I stopped waking up my husband. And found I had quite a big job on my hands. Working the night shift.
What I ended up discovering recently, through writing my memoir, is not only how self-absorbing the state of anxiety can be, but also, how the state of gratitude is its antithesis, or antidote. I spontaneously entered a state of over-the-top gratitude when my twelve-year-old daughter Téa miraculously recovered from a life-threatening accident. Organically, I experienced how the state of gratitude precludes anxiety, as well as the reverse: the state of anxiety obviates gratitude. Not that you can’t toggle back and forth between the two states, because I certainly did. And do. But the biochemistry of the two states are very different: anxiety fuels and floods the brain with adrenaline and cortisol, whereas gratitude creates the feel-good hormones like dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. I am currently revising my memoir to make this point more explicit, and include the brain science behind it. But in the meantime what I want to share is: anxiety isolates us, keeping us in our negative swirl of what could go wrong. Gratitude connects us, opening our hearts and physical postures to all of life, all that’s right, and to each other.