Children of the 70’s who grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood know that he famously encouraged us to look for the helpers in times of crisis and suffering. Spotting the helpers meant we were not alone – that we could trust in a basic sense of goodness in humanity.
Now, you and I both know that he was talking about real life crises – natural disasters, poverty, war. But one day his words hit home for me as I was taking a little drive.
Let me tell you a story.
A few years back I was doing exposure work on this one particular bridge/highway combo. It was just one of those spots that seemed to remain difficult for me no matter how many times I drove it. Because it was a challenge, it became my “go to” route for exposure whenever I would feel my overall anxiety popping up.
Three times a week, for about a month, I drove this loop over and over again, 45 minutes at a time. Students of anxiety will tell you that exposure practice needs frequency, intensity and duration to be effective.
One day while I was driving, I started to get that scrambly, panicky feeling as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was having a hard time remembering that in all my experience driving while anxious, I’ve never had to pull over because it was too intense. Not once. I worked on simply saying,”Yes! I want this discomfort!” but the part of me that wanted to escape quickly was gaining strength.
Just at that moment, I noticed there was a crew of workmen on the side of the road and a sizable pull off just before the bridge began. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? If I really needed help I could simply pull over and ask those guys!
It was like the heavens opened up and the universe provided me with my own highway support crew! I laughed out loud and decided to view their presence as a little gift. Each time I passed by the pull off and gathered strength to cross the bridge, I said, “Hey Fellas! Thanks for being there for me!”
A little while later, I passed by a police officer hiding amongst the trees, looking to catch people speeding. Instead of rationally checking my speedometer to make sure I was within the limit, I smiled again. “Wow, there are helpers everywhere today!” I later texted the story to my husband who noted that most people get anxious when they see a cop on the side of the road. I responded with, “Well, you know, one persons speed trap is another persons ride home!”
It’s kind of amazing how significantly my levels of adrenaline dropped as I utilized the combination of humor, paradox (seeking out anxiety on purpose), gratitude and was distracted by my imagined “out” – the ability to pull over with support. Was the imagined “out” a crutch? Absolutely. But, it also gave me the boost to keep going while saying yes to the anxiety for another few rounds that day.
This isn’t news, but it’s amazing how our beliefs and imagination have the power to either turn on or turn off physical sensations. It works both ways – our beliefs and our imagination can either send us reeling with panic & anxiety or strengthen us with the knowledge we can handle whatever comes up.
Sometimes you just have to find a way to keep going, to stay and linger with your fears and sensations a little bit longer. The best way is to experiment with acceptance and even asking for more. But in aiming for perfection we sometimes wait and wait and never get out the door.
So, today, do whatever it takes to make your world a little bigger. It turns out there are helpers everywhere. We are rarely alone in our pursuits and challenges. But the most important help we will find is right there waiting, inside of ourselves.