Whenever I read the word brains I always hear it in that slow, growling zombie voice. Anyone else? Maybe just me.
When I was younger I could watch any and all horror movies. The scarier the better. However, as I got older I find that I cannot bring myself to watch the same scary movies anymore. I notice while watching scary movies that I am not just being scared, grossed out, or in sheer terror. Instead I begin to experience intense anxiety. The worst are zombie movies. Night of the Living Dead was always one of my go to scary movies, but I can’t watch it any longer. There is something deeply unsettling about zombies – that no matter how far you run, how good you hide, or what weapons you have – eventually you will be eaten and become one of the undead. That anxiety response is just too much for me now.
Anxiety is a fascinating thing and one that has served us and our ancestors well by keeping us safe. But it also causes us a good amount of pain and suffering when we are experiencing anxiety unnecessarily. Anxiety enacts our fight or flight response which originates from the sympathetic nervous system, which usually occurs as a response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or a threat to our survival. But anxiety can come out in other ways too. If we have to stand up in front of a large group of people and give a presentation we may sweat profusely, we may find it difficult to breathe, or may even feel a tightness in our chest. Or we may experience anxiety when we’re in a large group of people we don’t know.
However, most of the time when we experience anxiety these events are not life threatening but our nervous system has perceived that there is a threat. Speaking in front of others may be anxiety producing but it won’t kill us. It may have our body convinced that there’s a tiger right there that’s going to rip your face off, but fortunately, that’s just not true. However, if there was a tiger we would be grateful for our fight or flight response system that would respond quickly and would allow us to stay safe. This was incredibly beneficial to our ancestors when there were predators around and many other threats against their lives.
Unfortunately, there is not an easy fix to get rid of anxiety. If we can label what we’re feeling and accept that we’re feeling anxious it can lighten it just a bit. We can also change how we talk to ourselves in the moment. Rather than saying, “I’m going to fail miserably” or “I shouldn’t be nervous.” Typically, these statements can make us feel worse. Instead we can say gently to ourselves, “I’m anxious, it’s ok, I can still do what I need to do. I am safe.” Anxiety doesn’t have to derail the things we want to do, we just need to gently acknowledge and accept that it is one of the very things that makes us human.