Anxiety is a nuisance. There is no other way to describe it. It is paralyzing and exhausting. People who suffer from anxiety or have experienced panic attacks know that if they could wave a magic wand and get rid of it, they would. But what if we could look at some kinds of anxiety as an indicator of growth? Once people start in therapy, what I have noticed is that anxiety can also show up when we are on the RIGHT path. It is a different kind of anxiety all together but it can feel very similar.
If you have ever hiked, the safest and most predictable trail is always the one that has already been cleared. Our brain works much like this. When we have gone through life doing the same things over and over, it is like taking the trail that is clearly marked and worn. The view is not that great, sometimes it’s muddy or even impassable after it rains because it is so worn, and very often, we get so used to walking this path, we forget to take the blinders off and look around. We know the way and we don’t even have to think about it anymore. This is the way many people enter into therapy. We have worn our path well, and while it may not be the best path, it’s the one we are used to.
When we start forging a new trail, there are a ton of obstacles; brambles, fallen trees, snakes and branches that hit us in the face. We’ve gotten “new shoes” for this new terrain but they haven’t been broken in yet, so they still hurt. Many times, we see these as reasons to get back on the old trail; “It’s safer.”, “It’s predictable.”, “It’s kind of boring but I am not that adventurous anyway.”, or “I don’t know my way around.” We notice the uncomfortable nature of the new trail and mistake it for old anxiety. As humans, we are risk averse, so it is easy to revert back. We put on our old shoes and go back to the well-worn trail.
But, what if these obstacles, or new anxiety, could be seen as indicators that we are actually on the RIGHT path? It takes a while to clear a new pathway through the woods and, if we think of the brain in the same way, we can understand that is also takes a while to clear a new neural pathway. We are going to get whacked in the face by a branch or trip on a rock, and goodness, get scared to death by a snake.
What I encourage you to do is just take a deep breath, brush the dirt off and keep trekking. The more times you take the new path, the clearer it will become. You will remove the fallen trees, cut down the branches, know where the rocks are and the snakes will have retreated deeper into the woods. You will see things you have never seen before and the views from the new trail will soon outweigh the normalcy of the old trail.
In fact, where is that old trail?
It used to be right over there.
But it is too overgrown.
I can’t even see it anymore…