“People are frightened by what they don’t understand.”
~Joseph Merrick

It’s human nature to be fearful of the unknown and to prefer the comfort of familiarity. Many strive to stay safely in their comfort zones. However, new experiences provide great opportunity for learning and personal growth and they will find you, even if you don’t seek them out.

The most common issue I work with as a therapist is anxiety. Adults and children alike struggle to manage and overcome feelings of tension, worry and uneasiness. Sometimes these feelings are mild, sometimes they are severe but in every instance they are unwelcome and unwanted.

Which is where Joseph (aka John) Merrick comes in. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, he is commonly known as “The Elephant Man.” As a very young child, Joseph Merrick developed severe physical deformities that gave him a monstrous appearance. He was rejected, feared and ridiculed by most people despite the fact that he was an intelligent and loving human being (if you haven’t seen the 1980 movie directed by David Lynch, I highly recommend it. There are a few books written about Joseph Merrick as well). Sadly, Joseph Merrick was harshly judged and grossly misunderstood due to his appearance.

So what does The Elephant Man have to do with anxiety?

Most people regard anxiety the way most people regarded Joseph Merrick. It is feared, rejected, ridiculed and misunderstood. To be sure, anxiety is scary. It creates strong feelings of discomfort and fear. I don’t mean to discredit the validity of those feelings. However, I think our interpretation of the discomfort exacerbates the fear, thereby worsening the experience.

In other words, I encourage you to shift the way you regard anxiety. It scares you so you reject and shun it without taking the time to really understand it. Instead of expending your energy trying to push it away (which never truly works), I encourage you to welcome it in. Sit with it, get to know it, and find out what it’s really all about.

Anxiety is commonly regarded as a foe. It’s considered a force to battle against. But what if it’s a force to battle with? What if anxiety is there to help, not hurt you?

Anxiety comes bearing a message. It shows up when your deepest desires and beliefs are somehow not in alignment with your life. Sometimes it’s easy to identify what triggers anxiety. Most often, the anxiety seems to come out of nowhere and it can feel like it serves no purpose other than torture. The truth is, it arises to sound an alarm and its unpleasantness issues a wake up call so you will get motivated to move toward a better experience. When you ignore the message or misinterpret its purpose, anxiety only becomes more relentless in its delivery. It will not go away until you face it and understand what it needs you to know.

Anxiety pushes you out of your comfort zone. It screams, “change something, PLEASE!”

The next time you notice it show up, don’t reject it, don’t run away. Welcome it in and hear it out. Listen to what it has to say. Recognize that despite its hideous appearance it means well and only wants to help you. The message may not be clear at first, or you may hear it and think that it makes no sense. When interpreting meaning, it’s important to trust your instincts. Seek help from a professional therapist if needed. Although it may be terrifying at first, when you take the time to explore beyond the surface, you will make incredible discoveries. Remember, anxiety cannot hurt you. It doesn’t want to hurt you. It only aims to move you into alignment. Unfortunately, it has to be harsh in order to get your attention. So wake up and listen!

 

Do you experience anxiety? What helps you feel better? Have you managed to overcome anxiety? If so, how did you do it? What has your anxiety taught you? Is there anything you’ll take away from this post? Please comment and share your thoughts!

Adina Arden Cooper

I'm a healer, a guide, a supportive companion. A storyteller, an artist, an ally and an advocate. I help individuals thrive and communities come together through counseling, coaching, and community building. I believe that shared humanity is a powerful strength and that our stories connect us in beautiful and sacred ways. As I stumble, skip, or soar my way through this life, I invite you to join me on the journey. Likewise, I'm honored to travel with you. In witnessing one another, we find meaning.