When I was doing group therapy, we used to do a one word check-in and check-out at the start and end of every meeting. It was supposed to be one word to describe how you’re feeling right at that moment, and helped the two instructors gauge how helpful the material covered that day is. I often went from “tense” or “stressed” or even “tired”, to “calm”, “relaxed”, or “optimistic”. One thing that I noticed, though, is that a lot of the time both the instructors would go with “curious”.
“Curious”? What the shit does that even mean? It’s the end of the day, we’re all stressed out and run down, and you’re “curious”?! It even made me angry because I didn’t understand what that meant. All the contexts I could think of to use the word “curious” would be more like “I’m curious about how I will do on my next exam and it is stressing me out”. Not particularly effective in anything except for making me worry. I’m not a child, the word “curious” has fallen out of my vocabulary.
Since then, though, I’ve come to realize that “curious” is a life choice, just like being an optimist is a choice. If you go about life curious about what’s happening around you, it brings you further into this moment right now, not drifting off to all the things that stress you out. Being curious is about really being here, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s about being open to what happens to you in the moment, and accepting that what’s going to happen is going to happen, and worrying hasn’t prepared you for this moment any better than you could have prepared yourself. It’s about knowing that you can’t pay attention to everything at the time, but actively trying to experience more, get more out of this moment.
As for how this affects anxiety, I think it is a good anxiety-reducing technique. When I get anxious, I try to smile slightly and put on my explorer hat. What’s making me anxious? Is it worth worrying about? Is there really any threat here right now, or am I just feeling scared and sick because my brain is messing with me? When I realize that it is all in my head, it often goes away. I also use this tactic to help my symptoms disappear, like exploring the nausea instead of fighting it. Let the feelings fill you, don’t run away or try to hide them. Just sit with it, and see how it feels. The more comfortable I get with the feelings in my body, the less they scare me. Anxiety lives on fear: without the fear, your anxiety has nothing to feed on. Without fear, you put the lie out there and expose it for what it is.
Your symptoms are real, there’s no doubt about that. Anxiety is a legitimate mental health illness, and it causes very real symptoms that can take over your life if you let them. But just remember, if you are open to how you feel, it can’t hurt you. In fact, fear can’t hurt you: the panic arises from how you react to the feelings of fear. If you let the fear in, it disappears. It isn’t easy, and I certainly still struggle with my fear even knowing all of this. It’s going to take a lot of courage to do this at the hardest times. I believe in you, though, and I hope you believe in me.