We often get our best ideas in the middle of the night. This one came to me at 3 a.m., my mind wide-awake out of a dead sleep, and racing with all of the “what if” scenarios of life…
Somehow in this moment I knew just what to do: right there with my fiancé sound asleep next to me, I began to exhale in huge imaginary balloons of stress in all sorts of colors – red for the ones that made me fill up with rage, blue for the ones that made me feel like I was drowning in sorrow, and brown for plain old yucky feelings that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
But let’s back up a bit… ever since I can remember I’ve had crippling anxiety, from social anxiety, to a fear of getting sick, or a general fear of something bad happening.
When I was a young girl, I can still remember quite vividly the feeling of terror at having to speak to a strange adult. In my teen years, I remember traveling on family holidays with my own trusted kit of disinfectants to not contract anything in foreign hotel bathrooms.
Over the years I worked very hard to push these feelings away, instead of embracing these feelings, I opt to act “as if,” pretending to be at ease and confident on the outside, while wrestling with paralyzing social anxiety or a constant sense that my world could come crashing down on me at any given moment. I worked so hard to pretend that I was okay that people started to believe me. I learned exactly what to do to make people think that I was confident, at ease and in control of my life. I smiled. I made small talk. I held my head high and walked like I owned whatever room I strode into, while on the inside chastising myself for being not enough… I’m so awkward… I’m not articulate enough… I’m clumsy… Nervous… I didn’t make them feel enough at ease…
My mind would race with these kinds of thoughts, and I would shove them back inside, hoping that no one had noticed my “weaknesses”.
Then one day in a grocery store, in front of a line of onlookers, I had a full-blown panic attack. And it was only the first, soon they were happening often, and always at the worst and most embarrassing times. I begged the doctor to give me a pill to make them stop, and eventually they did. But soon my anxiety crept back in wearing different cloaks. It manifested as other things like a horrible episode of stress induced psoriasis and even the loss of my voice that sent me to speech therapy.
Here is what I’ve learnt: When we refuse to acknowledge our feelings, they will manifest themselves in other ways so that we are FORCED to acknowledge them. Unchecked sadness, or anger, or stress can manifest as anything from a cold or upset stomach, to other more serious and even life threatening illnesses. We must remember that our feelings exist to help us, even when they aren’t the warm and fuzzy ones. They point us in the right direction, showing us what needs to change.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers, or that I am now cured. I’m not. I still wrestle with myself and my unchecked stress. But the simple visualization technique that I dreamed up that one night has worked miracles in many ways for me. I wanted to share, in case maybe it can help you too.
- Sit in a quiet, comfortable spot and close your eyes. Breathe deeply for a few moments, direct your attention to a particular worry or source of stress.
- Think about it in vivid detail for a moment until you feel that you’ve fully taken in the scope of the problem. Remember that even this “bad” feeling is here to teach you something. It’s here for your own good!
- Now give this problem a color. As an example, if you feel angry, you might choose red. If you feel sad, you might choose blue, etc.
- Exhale fully. As you do so, envision that you are blowing up a giant helium balloon in the color you have chosen. Continue to exhale until you feel that the energy of this feeling has fully left your body. Hold the string of this balloon in your hand.
- If you have other worries, blow up another “balloon.” You may choose to continue until you have an imaginary bouquet of balloons, or stick with just one.
- When you are finished, release your grip. Envision that your balloons are floating up into the sky, now offered over to your higher power. Say a prayer that the all details of this worry are being taken care of now.