And my Oscar nomination goes to Iron Man III for its unabashed depiction of anxiety. If super heroes can get panicky, then panic isn’t just for losers. Panic happens to very strong, heart-throb, geniuses who aren’t sleeping well and have had traumatic experiences (see Iron Man II).
My favorite part about Iron Man’s anxiety attacks is how they end as quickly as they come. One minute he thinks he’s seriously ill, and the next he’s on his way to conquering the bad guy. Research shows that panic is very temporary, peaking in just 10 minutes, and then dissipating. So if you can hang out just a bit, and remember that all intense feelings end, then chances are, just like Tony Stark, you’ll be feeling settled and ready for your next few steps in just minutes.
Many people think their problems will last forever. Bad things have happened and they think they are forever stained. They started feeling bad, and they think the bad feeling is permanent, that it’s become part of their character. But all emotions are temporary. Traumatic experiences do change a person, but it isn’t necessarily true that they leave an indelible, dark stain. People heal. Often one finds a deep and rich wisdom from painful events. Some even hear their true calling after hard times, like when abuse survivors decide to help other victims, or cancer survivors turn to activism, or veterans find they have a knack for comforting the grieving. When one finds their core strength, they tend to want to share it.
Just as the laws of physics say energy cannot be created or destroyed, we cannot destroy the past or the bad experiences in them. The car accident has happened, the war was fought, you cannot undo that wretched 8th grade. But physics laws also say that energy can be transformed. Those emotions in the wake of traumatic experiences are like energy. You can think of them as strong emotional energies in the process of transforming.
So when you begin to feel anxious, don’t get anxious about feeling anxious! It stops. Knowing that anxiety is an emotion that is temporary, that will dissipate, that will transform, can give you reprieve from the anxiety about anxiety. You can essentially, in this moment now, lop off the head of the anxiety monster and greatly reduce its power.
Don’t quite believe it? Try these two simple experiments to transform anxiety.
- Note one of your most anxious times of day. Dinner time? Driving to work? Rate the anxiety level 1-10. Then, take ten short minutes each morning to meander outdoors and breathe slowly and deeply, just watching trees and birds and such. Nothing else to do. After seven days, observe that anxiety time and see if the number hasn’t come down a bit. (Then imagine what a daily yoga practice would do.)
- Note how you begin to feel anxious. Is it a flutter in your stomach? Does your jaw clench? Whatever it is, decide that when you begin to feel that particular sensation, you will interrupt the trend with a switch: turn on music, go clip the roses, take a few minutes of long, slow belly breaths, call a friend, do some stretching, take a walk, or a water break. See if making this switch right at the beginning, over time, doesn’t help you to feel like you have your own iron super suit.
P.S. Yes. That’s Robert Downey Jr. doing yoga.