Updated: Nov 17
*Stressed: A feeling when we evaluate an environmental demand as beyond our ability to cope successfully including elements of unpredictability, uncontrollability, and feeling overloaded.
*Overwhelmed: An extreme level of stress, an emotional and/or cognitive intensity to the point of feeling unable to function.
*Worry: A chain of negative thoughts about bad things that might happen in the future.
*Anxiety: An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
Sometimes anxiety can feel like being stranded in the middle of an ocean with no idea where you are for days on end. You’ve been rowing your boat for hours with no land in sight, ruminating about which direction you came from or how you plan to find land, and consumed with fears of starvation, sunburn, dehydration, loneliness, bad weather, scary sea creatures, and death. At first, you may have felt stressed as you took on the challenge of rowing your boat with muscles full of energy and still some hope in mind. But as energy begins to run out, hunger and thirst start to creep up, and hope gets smaller and smaller, anxiety starts to set in as a negative thought comes in questioning what the future holds. You try to think of every possible option that will fix your problem, but you become overwhelmed and unable to even think logically.
If only anxiety would be the solution to finding land.
Anxiety may give us some cortisol and adrenaline to keep rowing for a little while, or help us think more quickly to analyze some plans, but what happens when those run out? If anxiety can’t give us a map that points us in the right direction or energy to help us row our boat the length of the Pacific Ocean, what is it good for?
Now, I’m not saying that feeling anxiety is a choice that we can just choose to have or to not. If it was, I’m sure you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place. Our body was magnificently created with a sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze) to help us survive through a threat. These threats may not just be physical, but emotional and mental as well. However, if this emotional response is not helping us survive or get through the threat, then it is going to feel uncomfortable, painful, and maybe even worsen the feeling if we continue to remain in it. Because our emotional experience is chemical in nature, it is physiological. We cannot just think our way out of an emotional experience although we may try. Modalities such as EMDR Therapy are effective in resolving memories that are maladaptively encoded therefore responsible for our emotional experience.
*Happiness: Feeling pleasure often related to the immediate environment or current circumstances.
*Joy: An intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation.
*Gratitude: An emotion that reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others.
You’re overwhelmed, depleted from rowing your boat, and decide to give up rowing. You lay down in your boat feeling defeated, thirsty, hungry, and still anxious. A delicious looking fish jumps into your boat and you feel a rush of happiness that you can finally eat something. Amazing! You look around after you’ve eaten the fish and are overcome yet again with feelings of despair and anxiety. What are you supposed to do now?
I’d love for you to imagine this possibility:
You have a little more energy now that you have some food in your stomach. You take a big, deep breath and say, “I am grateful that I was able to eat that fish and have some new energy to start rowing again.” You notice that there is not a whole lot in your control right now, so you make a logical plan to just keep rowing in one direction for as long as you can. And you start rowing.
“I am grateful that I have these paddles to row with.”
“I am grateful that I have a boat.”
“I am grateful that the sky is blue.”
“I am grateful that I can be out in nature.”
“I am grateful that my arms have some strength to row the boat.”
“I am grateful that I can sing some songs as I paddle.” *sings*
“I am grateful that I can look around.”
“I am thankful that I can pray and meditate.”
In the midst of immense difficulty, we may not always be able to change our circumstances or how we feel. However, we can recognize that letting anxiety take the lead may not benefit the outcome in any way and try to make our experience of rowing just a little more enjoyable/bearable.
The feeling of gratitude and the intentional practice of recognizing what we are grateful for can help us bear through these difficulties in a way that brings forth a little more joy. This doesn’t discredit or undermine the severity of our struggles or intensity of our emotions/experience, but it can increase our joy as we fight through it. We can recognize the reality of our situation and face it head on, while giving ourselves moments of gratitude that will give us the energy to keep going.
EMDR Therapy is an amazing modality that allows us to fully process through the sadness, grief, anxiety, and despair that we experience. We cannot neglect that we feel overwhelmed and have to keep rowing if we want to find land. But how much longer will we be able to row if we allow ourselves a break from the anxiety to experience some gratitude and joy?
*Definitions by Brene Brown in Atlas of the Heart.
Interested in more information? Schedule a free 15 min consult to learn more! With offices in Gilbert & Phoenix Arizona, our therapists are ready to help you achieve your limitless potential. Call 480.448.1076 today!
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