Curiosity Kills Anxiety When Anxiety Tries to Destroy Us
Thursday, January 22 2015 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
“Life must be lived and curiosity kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” – Eleanor Roosevelt.
Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my heroes for her wisdom and for her deep humanity. I take her words to heart. When anxiety barges into our lives, however, it can be difficult to refrain from turning our back on life. Indeed, anxiety often forces us not only to turn our back but to run and hide safely away. But what we might remember is that curiosity kills anxiety.
Anxiety and Panic Make Us Avoid Living
Anxiety can plague us with worry and fear. It can induce panic. It can lead to compulsive behavior. Anxiety can make us avoid life itself. The physical and emotional signs of anxiety are great.
What is happening? How can anxiety disorders do this to us? Anxiety worms its way into the operations center of our being: our brain. It oozes in and takes over creating anxious actions and reactions in every area of the brain.
With the brain sufficiently rattled, anxiety goes to work on our thoughts. Anxiety likes to keep the mind’s focus on negative thoughts. This way, we’re trapped in “what-ifs” and our own anxiety-provoking answers to those “what-ifs.”
Get Curious To Kill Anxiety
It might not seem like it, but all of this is great news. Because anxiety consumes us from within, embedding itself in our brain and working its dark magic, it’s right where we want it to be. Well, we want it out, yes. With it lodged firmly in the brain, it’s easy to fight it with the best weapon we have: our brain.
As anyone living with anxiety likely knows, we can’t simply think anxiety away. That doesn’t work because when we are trying to think anxiety away, what are we thinking about? We’re thinking about anxiety. Our focus is on how much we hate it and that makes it stronger. What we think about is what flourishes and grows.
We must trick anxiety by shifting our focus. A fun way to shift that focus is to become curious. Fill yourself with wonder about the world outside your anxious brain. Being curious puts your mind on something else and thus takes it away from your anxiety.
Ways to Be Curious to Kill Anxiety
Your name doesn’t have to be George, and you don’t have to be a monkey in order to develop healthy curiosity. Here are a few ideas to get you started shifting your attention to things other than anxiety.
Seek Out Things that Are Interesting to You
Actively search for things that capture your attention. Go to the library and wander the shelves looking for topics that jump out at you. On your computer, use StumbleUpon, a discovery search engine that takes people from topic to topic. Grab a camera and head outside for a walk, a quest for cool things to photograph.
Pay attention to these things. Engage in them. When you’re being curious like this you’re not thinking as much about your anxiety and its power diminishes.
Ask Engaging Questions
This builds off of all of the interesting things you are doing and finding to take them to a deeper level. Be like a child incessantly asking “why?” Kids do this because they’re curious and their minds are attending to what they’re doing. Questions aren’t just for kids. When we ask “why” and then seek the answer to our own question, it’s difficult for anxiety to keep its grip on our brain.
Play the “What-if” Game
This one involves beating anxiety at its own annoying game. With all anxiety, but especially in generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety puts thoughts in our brain such as, “What if I fail? What if my daughter gets into an accident? What if I get fired? What if I mess up?” These are harmful what-ifs because they send our mind racing with anxiety.
The what-ifs can be good, though. “What if I___ [fill in the blank with something negative]?” becomes “What if I don't___?” Or the question can become “What if ___ [fill in the blank with something positive]?” Every time anxiety shouts a what-if, counter it with a curious, positive what-if.
These are just a few ways you can train your brain to replace anxiety with curiosity. Curiosity engages the mind in healthy ways, and in so doing, curiosity kills anxiety. We can absolutely live our lives and keep our curiosity alive.