How to cast a spell on your anxiety?
“Boggarts are shape shifters” says Hermione Granger in the 2004 much acclaimed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie. “They take the shape of whatever a person fears the most. That’s what makes them so terrifying.”
As Professor Remus Lupin teaches them the defense against Boggarts spell; “Riddikulus!” he adds “..what really finishes a boggart is laughter. You need to force it to assume a shape you find truly amusing. I want everyone to picture the thing they fear the very most into something funny.”
First goes Neville Longbottom, with his fear of the much terrifying Professor Severus Snape as he waves his wand and yells “Riddikulus” Professor Snape turns into a ridiculous looking old lady with a giant feathered hat. They all start laughing and you can see the fear diminishes from everyones faces.
When it was Harry’s turn to practice the spell, his Boggart turns into a Dementor, a soul sucking foulest creature with no face. Much like the definition of anxiety if you ask me. After class when Harry and professor Lupin discuss the incident, Professor Lupin tells Harry that “what you feared the most is the fear itself.” And that, usually is the case. When anxiety starts to creep its way in, we don’t even know why we fear so much but the fear frightens us tremendously.
“Our pain becomes their power.” Just like anxiety and fears we face, the more we worry about them the more powerful they get. We keep feeding them with our default fearful “what if” thinking.
“What if that lump is cancer?”, “What if the door knob is contaminated?”, “What if I fail the test?”, “What if I have a heart attack and die?”, “What if I make a fool out of myself in front of anyone during my presentation?”, “What if I choke?”, and the worry list goes on and on.
As the Dementors gain their powers from people’s fears, your anxiety and panic attacks will derive their power from your worries and fears as well, one “what if ” at a time.
So what can you do?
Lets imagine we have a magic wand and as we wave it against our fears and yell Riddikulus, they disappear. Sounds too good to be true, well it is. BUT, if you can find a way to make any situation a bit silly and smile about it, it will not feel as threatening anymore. When “what ifs” start to rush in your brain, just stop and think for a second. Get your wand ready and replace the what if with “WHAT ELSE COULD HAPPEN?” Cast another one: What is the likelihood of my fear becoming reality? What are my facts? Am I acting with my facts or with my fears?
Let’s assume you are about the give a presentation. If your fears are not fact based than cast away your spell: Riddikulus! :
“I am very well prepared for my presentation, I had a good night’s sleep and did some stretching in the morning. I had a decent breakfast, all my notes are ready, I am leaving early enough to find parking and I look pretty darn good today.” Now these are my facts.
Take your worries a little “lite”. When you feel worry creeping in, acknowledge it but don’t fight it back. Say something like, “Oh, there you are. But you know what, I have a presentation to make and I don’t have time for you. Make yourself at home as my days of fighting you are OVER.” As you go on with your day, without acting on your fears, you will realize your worries will be losing their powers and the affects will diminish. Remember what goes up has to come down.
Surrender to your anxiety, don’t try to fight it. Remember, if you fight, it gets bigger. Every distraction, is a good meal for its big belly.
Let’s look at another example here. Let’s assume you get nervous while driving on highways and you feel a surge of anxiety coming. You get alarmed and started to slow down. Your anxiety intensified because you believed it and acted on it. Even worse, you started to change lanes rapidly to take the next exit or pulled over, breathless, your heart pounding, feeling dizzy and disoriented and scared out of your mind. Anxiety at its best, glorified and validated of its powers over you.
Now let’s play another scenario, where instead of changing lanes or slowing down, start focusing on your facts and do nothing to validate the anxiety and keep driving. Start to focus on your breathing which is quite heightened at this time. Think about the waves washing the shore and slowly bring down your breathing to the rhythm of the ocean. As the waves crash the shore, inhale with it, then slowly exhale. Focus on your breathing as you try and be more mindful about your surroundings. Let anxiety try to distract you. Pay no attention. Keep gently breathing and looking at the things around you. That red truck you just passed, that kid who made a silly face at you, the mountains, the clouds, and keep driving. When you get a chance make a silly face to yourself on the visor. And smile. And let anxiety slowly leave your body as you keep focusing on your breathing and your surroundings.
So next time, when anxiety shows its ugly face remember your spell: Riddikulus!
Wands at ready!
Sirel Taner-Caballero, LMHC