The other day I left my therapy session and I was mad at my therapist.
I’m an internal processor. So, when I’m mad my mind tends to race. And on my drive home, it was doing just that. I kept replaying my session in my head because this has happened a couple of times before and each time it’s been because my therapist said something I needed to hear but wasn’t ready to hear.
This time she mentioned that she felt I have been giving my anxiety too much weight in my life and that it would be helpful to focus on other parts of my identity, too.
Naming and sitting with our emotions is important and necessary. The statement “if you can name it, you can tame it” is one I lean into often and have found much emotional healing through. And as a person who used to be an emotional avoider, I have told myself I can’t go back to that and I need to lean into my emotional experiences even when they are hard and challenging.
So, I was pretty confused and angry that my therapist had given me the opposite feedback.
The next morning I got up bright and early and was on a walk with my son. Part way through, I noticed that I was tired, cranky, anxious and not enjoying the beautiful morning around me at all. I thought to myself, “I go on these walks to help manage my anxiety, and here I am still feeling anxious and not feeling any better!”
And then it hit me. My day has only just started and already I am formulating it with activities that I need to do to manage my anxiety. I’ve structured my days with walks, yoga, outside time, reading, cleaning and journaling all in hopes of reigning in my anxiety.
Which in and of itself isn’t bad, these are all great coping skills and have had a history of helping me manage my anxiety much better. But, in implementing these things, I had started to put my sole focus on doing these things for anxiety and neglected to give attention to the other reasons I engage in these hobbies. And, in general, I had forgotten that I’m more than a person who lives with heightened anxiety.
I will never encourage you not to name your emotions but, like my therapist was trying to tell me, it’s also important not to let our mental health become our sole identity. Naming it is good, but it’s also good to remember it’s only a piece of the pie in your identity. When experiencing heightened emotional experiences and mental illness, name them, but also take time to name other aspects of who you are.
For example, since the birth of my son, I’ve experienced heightened anxious tendencies. But, I’m also:
- A wife
- A mother to my son and two dogs
- A daughter, sister, aunt
- A Christain
- A book reader
- A therapist
- A business owner
- An outdoor enthusiast
- A wannabe landscape designer (who has so many unrealistic plans and dreams for my own yard)
- A cook
- A Kansas City sports team lover
- A musician
- A blogger
- A fitness enjoyer
You can also do this exercise with a particular activity. For example, I go on walks every morning to help manage my anxiety from the get-go, but I also go on walks because:
- I love the outdoors
- I love being outside when animals are up and scurrying around, but humans aren’t quite out and about yet
- I love that time with my son and seeing him take in the sights of the early mornings
- I have always wanted to be that person that starts my day off being active, but have never been able to until my son was born and continually hitting snooze was no longer an option
- I used to be a runner but haven’t been able to continue due to injury. So pushing myself on my walks gets my heart rate up and gives me a glimpse into the runner’s high that I miss
Naming these other pieces starts to decrease anxiety’s weight on me. It’s still there, I’m not dismissing it, but I’m putting it in its place. Anxiety may be a part of my life, but it doesn’t have to be my whole life. Whenever your mental health starts to feel like your sole identity, take some time and remind yourself that there’s more to who you are.
Kylie Larson, MA, LPC