The Question that cuts out Anxiety and Overwhelm

Photo by Filippo Ruffini on Unsplash

Ah, anxiety and overwhelm.  We know them well don’t we?  Those moments where the Crazy Lady wrings her hands and yells, ‘WE CAN’T DO THIS!’ into your mind.

Those single thoughts of ‘What if this doesn’t work out the way I planned’ that suddenly spiral into imaginary complete disasters, break-ups, redundancies, bankruptcies, eating ourselves to death.

Those mornings where we wake up to the Crazy Lady sounding the alarm bell of a life that is about to go WRONG because we are taking TOO MANY RISKS, eating TOO MANY CAKES, saying TOO MANY THINGS…

You feel it too right?

Ouch.

We get afraid of the future.  And when we get afraid we hold back.  Carry on doing what we’ve always been doing.  Hunker down under the bedclothes and go back to sleep.

Keep. It. Safe.

Play Small.

Put our dreams back in the box to grow dusty and unloved and crack on living the life we have accepted as good enough.

A wonderful friend of mine taught me this simple question to introduce whenever anxiety hits me in the stomach.  I’d say it has at least a 90% success rate, which puts it in my all-time favourites list of tools in my toolkit.

Even when it doesn’t work perfectly, it has a positive impact, reframes things, just slightly. 

Sometimes that’s all I need to get back in motion.

To slink out from under the duvet and crack on with my day, knowing that all is good in the world.

I’m not sure that she meant to be this huge lightbulb moment in my life and yet she was.  Don’t you just love it when things happen that way?

This is how it went.

I was with a bunch of new found friends, about to embark on a bit of personal development (my favourite thing to do).  Except today, this was quite definitely NOT my kind of personal development.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

We had come away for a week together and whilst the week was full of many wonderful things, there was a big dark cloud hanging over it.

The mysterious ROPES COURSE DAY.

Ah.

You see, whilst I had no clue whatsoever what this day was going to hold for me, I did know this.

I DO NOT DO ROPES COURSES.

I AM TERRIFIED OF HEIGHTS.

With nothing in my knowledge apart from the three words, ‘Ropes Course Day’, I was completely and utterly convinced that I was about to enter my own personal hell. 

Which made me a less than appealing breakfast companion.

Whilst I was trying to cover up my complete agitation as best I could, I was doing a poor job.

Every time someone came down to breakfast and said ‘Good Morning Danielle!’ to me in their cheery voices, I grimaced and made a comment like, ‘Doesn’t feel that good to me right now’.

I pushed my food nervously around my plate, noticing my stomach somersaulting, high jumping, and generally stirring up a whirlpool inside.

As the others laughed and enjoyed themselves, I looked at them thinking they had all gone mad.

HOW COULD ANYONE BE HAPPY AND ACTING LIKE THIS WAS ALL GOING TO BE FUN?

My stomach growled.  I could tell there would be a good few toilet trips today…

My friend looked at me, “Danielle, what’s going on with you?”

“I’m scared through to my very bones” I confessed ruefully, “I don’t know what’s coming today but I know I want it over with fast.  I want to get through the fear and the inevitable failure and get out the other side”.

She wasn’t one for small talk.

“Danielle, right here, right now, what’s going on that’s scary?” she asked me, “because as far as I can see, we’re sitting here having breakfast.  There are no ropes here.  No-one has asked you to do anything that you don’t want to do.  People are laughing and having fun.  You are completely safe.  For some reason, you’ve decided to go into the future and worry about something YOU KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT.  Why don’t you come back to here and be with us where there is only fun and laughter and great conversation?”.

BOOM.

Right here, right now, what’s going on that’s scary?

She was right.  One hundred percent.  In my life, at that moment, the ONLY thing that was happening, was that a bunch of my closest friends were having breakfast.  I had a choice about whether to join them or whether to stay locked in my head, worrying about what might happen in the future.

I smiled.  We had breakfast.  Sure, my stomach took a while to catch up and yet, before I knew it, I had a wise voice in my head, that stayed with me throughout the entire day, asking,

“Right here, right now, what’s going on that’s scary?”.

The fear and anxiety bubbled up many times that day.  It started full swing when we were invited to climb into our harnesses.

As my stomach began to turn on the internal whirlpool and the voice of the Crazy Lady dialled up her panic, I said to myself:

“Danielle, you are standing on the ground.  Putting on a harness.  It’s a bit of material with some metal clips.  There is nothing scary at all in putting a bit of material on whilst standing on the ground.  You are safe.”

And I was.

The exercises were challenging for me.   There were three.  The first I completed.  The second, I didn’t.  And yet in both, I had an increasing feeling of safety.  People were catching me when I allowed myself to fall.  My fear was not real.

Then the final exercise.  It was a big one.  Mentally, I had decided that I would do half of it (who knows why we say these bonkers things to ourselves…that’s another blog entirely) and that would be enough.  I was still hooked on safety and had a new definition. It wasn’t quite as bold as it needed to be and yet I congratulated myself, because, PROGRESS.

Deep down, I knew I had more.  Strong powerful woman that I am, I decided today was not the day.

Our leader had other ideas.

I began to climb the tall tall tree trunk that I was supposed to get to the top of and jump off.

“Ha, that’s what THEY think!” I said to myself.  “I’ll get somewhere near the top and then I’ll be coming right down thank you very much”.

I got to the point we had all committed to.

“I’m coming down!” I yelled to the audience below, “yay me!”.

Turns out they were less impressed.

“KEEP GOING! IT’S YOUR LAST CHANCE!”

Not safe. Not safe. Not safe.

“I. AM. COMING. DOWN!” I shouted in my most assertive powerful voice (it’s a good one!).

“One more step, Danielle, one more step”.

I looked down into the face of my leader (I couldn’t see it that well, let’s be honest, we were pretty high up).  He was giving me everything he had.  I know HE would feel that he had failed if I did not do more.

And so I searched inside myself, “In this moment, what’s happening that’s scary?”.

I realised I was safe.  Up a tree trunk, yes.  But my feet were solid and one more step was neither here nor there.  I could move a little further.

I unfroze my legs and took a step.  Checking in, I realised I was STILL safe.  And so I managed another.  And another.  Frankly, amazed at what was happening.  Amazed that nothing scary was happening, EVEN WHEN I WAS FACING ONE OF MY GREATEST FEARS.

I made it to the top.

It was one of the biggest moments of my life.

A fear that had held me in its grip for many, many years, suddenly had less power.

I realised that in this scenario I had ALWAYS been safe.  Strapped into my harness, with friends and experts holding the ropes to catch me, I had always been safe.

And so now, this question has become a treasured friend for me.

Over a year ago, when we set up Somebody Inside, there were moments when my Crazy Lady wanted to host the biggest Panic Party ever.  She has wanted to go wild with her fears of penniless destitution, loss of reputation, unemployability factor.  You name it, she has all the disasters articulated.

If she had her way, I could wake up on the sunniest morning and be full of fear in moments.  She hauls out her very best Tools to Create Immediate Paralysis and brings everything to a grinding halt.

Not any more friends.  Because now I have my question.

“In this moment, right here, right now, what’s going on that’s scary?”

And I look out of my window, and notice the birds singing and the sun shining.  I realise that we have a roof over our heads and food in the cupboards and that right here, right now, there is nothing bad in my life.

Maybe there will be in the future.  Maybe this wonderful glorious business that makes my heart sing every day won’t last for ever.  Maybe she will go out with a bang that implodes many things in my life.

But RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, that is not the case.  Right here, right now, I am sitting at my desk, looking out at the rain, thinking it’s time to get wet and take Scruffy for a walk.

Right here, right now, I am safe.

I am finishing up a blog.

There’s nothing bad happening at all.

Don’t you just love it when we can make things that simple?

6 thoughts on “The Question that cuts out Anxiety and Overwhelm”

  1. Really helpful. Love how you engage all your senses in the moment to help notice right now x

    My scary lady still questions what if it is a really scary moment, and starts rattling off possibilities far fetched possibilities and I realise again i’m Worrying about something that might not ever happen! Just breathe and take it one moment at a time , wake up and see, smell, hear, taste what is here now & manage that just that. A lot less scary x thanks

    1. You’re so welcome! It’s the simplest technique and yet so effective. So much of our fear is about things that are not happening at all and we miss out on life as a consequence.

  2. Thank you Danielle.

    My issue is definitely that I don’t know that I’m even dreading / fearful of ‘something’ – I’m laying in bed reading this having a coffee and my heart is RACING.

    I’m running through my to do list, stressing out about going OR not going to the gym, about whether I can fit in our coaching session, whether I’ll even get out of the rat race and be happy and I am realised that that’s my fear… all of them things.

    And you’re right.

    In bed now, with my lovely coffee, soft sheets, light streaming in through the window from the sunny day… in this moment right here right now what is going on that’s scary? (Or to dread/worry about?) NOTHING!!!

    Thank you. Coaching session booked. I shall look forward to it x

    1. Danielle Macleod

      You are so welcome – isn’t it great when we realise it’s all in our heads? Enjoy that sunshine!

  3. Tatjana Peterson

    Wonderful story dear Danielle, and so vivid as if I lived through it (again). Yesterday I went for final reconstructive surgery of my two breasts a year or so after my first breast cancer surgery. You want to know what my main fear was about? That the insurance company would not ‘approve ‘ that I needed my nipples and areoles back – for dignity sake! In other words, that they would decide, at some near point in the future, that THAT kind of aesthetic intervention was not health related and therefore not covered as medical claim. I was brave enough to share my fears with my doctor who indignantly exclaimed: “What, your body was mutilated and you think this is the same as bigger boobs surgery? Trust me, they will pay.” I was relieved and he also wrote a letter to them just in case it was needed. And so I was in the cold pre-op room, for the operation that will restore my dignity and improve sex drive with my husband, and numerically even there was no stress in that very moment: my blood pressure read 123 : 78, closest to being perfect. The world faded for a while and I am going home tonight! There is no stress, no stress at all as I write this in my hospital bed. Thank you so much for your wonder work of empowering women!

  4. Pingback: I’m not Remarkable – Remarkable Women

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