You’re going to fight a shark. I pick the shark; you get to pick the location of the fight.
Strangely enough, this is a statement I often make to clients that are facing anxiety. After the initial shock of such a strange prompt, I hear a wide range of responses: a children’s pool, in shallow water near the beach, a 7-11 parking lot, a knife store, or an army base. While I’m far from a shark expert, I have to give the best chance of success to those that chose to face the shark somewhere other than its natural habitat.
The same is true when the opponent is anxiety rather than a shark. We have the best chance of success when we face anxiety outside of its natural habitat, which is the brain. Oftentimes people try to think their way out of anxious thoughts, which is rarely successful. However, when one can externalize their anxiety in some way the struggle often becomes much more manageable. So, how does one externalize anxiety to get it out of its natural habitat? Here are a few options.
- Talk about it. When we talk about our anxiety we involve another person and define the borders through our words. Anxiety that was once comfortable in your head is now shared between two or more people and better illustrated through words.
- Use a creative outlet. Write, draw, paint, sculpt, etc. This helps to give literal shape to anxiety and better reveals the challenges you face.
- Convert it to motion. Go for a walk, run, play a sport. Whatever it is, bring the intent of channeling anxiety to an activity involving movement.
There are many other options for externalizing anxiety. The main function of any of these methods is to better understand anxiety and reduce our fears to realistic sizes. One of anxiety’s greatest weapons is its ability to inflate and exaggerate reasonable fears. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu states “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” We know the natural habitat of anxiety is the mind. Use your knowledge of yourself to pick the best method to externalize anxiety and level the playing field. Sharks aren’t easy to fight but the battle becomes winnable when we select the right location.