Anxiety can be difficult to understand. It can also be difficult to explain. But I heard it explained well on a pod cast and I wanted to share it with you. What we know is that we feel uncomfortable or even scared when we are anxious. But, why does that happen and what do we do about it? I’ll tell you about the podcast and the example I heard that can help you understand your anxiety.
Commuting is nothing if not boring. Driving through California desert gives you nothing but time to think…or wait for your morning coffee to kick in. Luckily, I found a rather intriguing podcast that made the drive tolerable. It’s called Armchair Expert hosted by Dax Shepard and Monica Padman. Both are actors and Dax is frequently recognized as the husband of Kristin Bell (ya know, the voice of Ana from Frozen).
Anyway, before Dax became a well-known actor, he went to college and got his degree in anthropology, a distant cousin of psychology. Anthropologists are knowledgeable in human development and behavior over the years. So, naturally, Dax understands people. Years of therapy and being a recovering addict has also afforded him a wealth of knowledge about how folks think.
The Analogy on Anxiety
I’m giving you this background because he shared something so profound on one of his episodes that it stuck with me. I want to share it with you, dear reader, because I hope that this analogy gives you some insight as to how your brain works when you’re anxious.
Disclaimer! For the life of me, I cannot find the episode, so the following is not a direct quote, but rather my interpretation of what he said. The analogy on worth goes something like this:
Our brains are like a car with a driver and three passengers. In the car are worthlessness, unlovable, hopelessness, and you. At any given time, one of them is driving the car. The driver makes all the decisions including how fast to drive, how safe or reckless to drive, or whether to take the smooth path or dirt road. When “you” drive the car, the ride is calm. “You” stop at all the red lights and go on green. “You” obey the rules of the road and take the scenic route. “You” are a responsible driver.
When the ride gets rough, and there is no regard to red lights or stop signs, one of the passengers took over the wheel. “You” got kicked out of the driver’s seat and worthlessness, unlovable, or hopelessness took over. Worthless takes the bumpiest roads because they feel like they don’t deserve stability. Unlovable drives recklessly and without a seatbelt because they believe that no one cares about their safety. Hopelessness drives without their hands on the wheel because, well, why bother?
So, when you notice that you’re thinking negative thoughts about yourself, or when you engage in self-destructive behavior, ask, “Who’s driving the car?”
Then kicked them out and take back the wheel. It’s your car, dammit.
Therapists’ Understanding on Anxiety
I think most anxiety sufferers would agree to the analogy. There are moments where it feels as though you are in control and life feels stable. Then suddenly, anxiety hits and it seems as though everything in your life is going wrong and there’s no way out. When that happens, hopelessness, unlovable, or worthlessness kicked “you” out of the driver’s seat and took over.
Humans naturally want to be their most ideal and best self. However, traumatic experiences, tough upbringings, and chemical imbalances (including poor diet) can spark these negative thoughts and feelings. It can be challenging to be your best self when your mind keeps telling you you’re no good or unloved. Although those thoughts are untrue, it’s hard to believe otherwise in the moment. I have a blog post on coping skills when those thoughts take over the driver’s seat.
We are not born worthless, unlovable, or hopeless. Experiences of trauma, small or big, lead us to believe we are bad. But beliefs and the truth aren’t always the same thing. You are not worthless. You are lovable. You are hope. Despite what others may have said to you or the experiences you have been through, you are still just as valuable as everyone else.
You are important.