Anxiety is a Parrot

The constant chatter of anxious thoughts and feelings is frustrating and exhausting. Sometimes it feels like the harder you fight it, the louder and messier it gets! What gives? How do you make it just be quiet already?

One of the ways I understand anxiety is that it is a parrot. It sits on your shoulder and squawks things that range anywhere from mundane and boring to alarming and inappropriate. Whatever it's squawking, though, it probably doesn't really know the specific details and isn't really trying to talk to you about that topic.

It's just repeating back things you've heard before and thought were important.

Imagine that literal parrot, though: if you were to get really upset with it, really frustrated and angry, and started yelling at it, would it stop? If you swung at it and tried to knock it away, would it calmly stop squawking? Or, in its fright and agitation, probably squawk louder, harder, more often, and maybe start pecking back at you?

Anxiety's the same. It's not entirely sure what it's talking about other than it seems to get a reaction when it does. The harder you fight it, the more likely it will get louder in its agitation and repeat that same thing over and over again.

So how do we get the anxiety parrot to quiet down?

For one, we can't cut the occasional anxious thought out of our heads. Anxiety can be a helpful indication that what's going on is important to us in some way. It's no longer helpful, of course, when it takes over, but building a more positive relationship with our anxiousness and other feelings can help a lot. It's going to live on your shoulder, sure, but we don't have to yell at it and try to knock it down every time we see it.

Maybe your anxiety parrot has a name. That way, when those thoughts and feelings swell, you can think "Sparkles seems upset," and then be curious about why and what that means for you. It's easier to separate yourself from the experience of anxiety when you think about it that way. With an anxiety parrot on your shoulder, showing a good example of the responses you want to have is also a great tactic. Sure, Sparkles is squawking about 12 million different things that may or may not happen tomorrow, but if you model for Sparkles that you should take some calming breaths and practice going about your current business, Sparkles will learn that it's ok to be a little calmer too.

Is this too silly or just silly enough? I try to think about things in a lot of different ways so that everyone can pick what works for them. If you would like some help with this idea or any that might work better for you, we can schedule some time to talk.

Stephanie Bloodworth, LMFT-A