What a Bumblebee Taught Me About Anxiety
Whether you have a diagnosable anxiety disorder or feel anxious from time to time doesn’t take away the suckiness of what happens when uncomfortable emotions come up.
When you are in the throws of your own fears, telling yourself stories about outcomes based on anxious predictions and narratives about all of the reasons you are weak, you will do anything to just make it go away.
This is what happens:
An event happens→I tell myself a story about the event→I react
It’s a fun game that I play with myself. I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember, so I’m really good at it.
The problem is that I have been doing it in a way that co-signs my self-defeating beliefs. You know, my bottom line that creates the rules that I choose to live by.
Here’s the problem with this stellar game that I play: my self-defeating beliefs are just that, defeating.
It’s like being in little league and expecting to win against a major league baseball team.
Not gonna happen.
But I’m gonna keep trying. I’m no quitter
Doing it Wrong
The problem with doing things the same way all the time is that you are going to get the same results all the time.
I mean, that would be fantastic if the results were chocolate and red wine.
But they are not.
The results are more self-defeating beliefs and thought rumination that takes me down a pretty deep rabbit hole with no cute rabbit at the end.
To paint a picture of my shade of ridiculousness, let me give you an example.
Event: Someone criticizes me
My Story About Event: They think I’m stupid. I’m stupid.
My Reaction: Defensiveness in an attempt to mask the fact that I feel stupid[
Then what happens is that I play the conversation over and over in my head until I find an explanation that makes sense to me.
I didn’t think this through all the way to the end because an explanation that makes sense to me is that I just got found out. The cat’s out of the bag. Monica is not smart and now everyone knows it.
I sit with this belief for a while, a looooong while.
I don’t like it. And with most things that I don’t like I try to get away from it.
Leave the situation as quickly as possible.
Fight, telling myself to just stop it thinking this way
In my last year of college, my boyfriend broke up with me. The boyfriend that I thought I was going to marry. The one I put all of my energy, hopes, and dreams into. One day I thought things were great, and the next day BAM! over. I was devastated. It was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning.
I worked at a student painting company that summer. I was part of a crew that would paint houses. I really sucked at it, but I enjoyed the manual labor because it got my mind off of things.
My ride to and from work in my beat-up gray Dodge, Omni was riddled with rumination about how I was not good enough for this person, how of course he found someone better, how I was dreaming to think that anyone that I loved could possibly love me back.
You know, the usual post-breakup ways of making yourself feel better (that’s sarcasm).
Anyway, there is this one day that I remember so clearly. It was a really beautiful summer day. The temperature was exactly right. The sky was clear blue without a cloud to be seen. And then there was me, with tear-filled eyes wondering why, why, why.
What a productive way to enjoy a summer day (again, sarcasm).
As I was driving down the road, my arm out the window, my tears being blown away by the wind, a bumblebee flew into my car.
I freaked out.
I started swatting at it. I swerved the car, somehow thinking that a flying insect was not able to keep up with the speed of my stellar driving moves.
The bee seemed to be getting angry. The more I tried to fight against it, the more it circled around my face.
I finally pulled over. I stopped my car, rolled down all of the windows and didn’t move.
The bee flew out.
Lessons of the Bumblebee
Do you know what’s weird about that bumblebee incident? Somehow this bumblebee was significant enough that its impact has stuck with me all of these years.
I remember at the time after the bee flew away and I continued my drive back home thinking that for at least 3 minutes, my mind was on nothing but this bumblebee.
For 3 minutes I got a reprieve from my sulking and my thoughts about how I would never find happiness again.
For 3 minutes I got out of my own way and had something more pressing to worry about.
What Does a Bumblebee Have to Do with Emotions?
I can’t say that I put the bumblebee up on a pedestal at the exact moment. All I knew was that this bee gave me a sense of normalcy for 3 minutes.
But there are two broader lessons to be learned from this bumblebee.
Lesson 1: Distractions Help
When we are tangled up in a world of doubt and sadness, we tend to get stuck there. We sit in this space trying to make sense of how we got here. We keep coming back to the same things, and those things are usually centered around our self-defeating beliefs.
This is what was happening to me. I ruminated and ruminated until I eventually fell asleep, and then I would wake up and ruminate some more.
I was consumed by rumination.
But this bumblebee provided a way for me to think about something else.
In dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), they call this distress tolerance. It’s all the ways that we can live with the distress but also allow ourselves to get our minds off of it for a while.
So basically, distraction. Things like:
Talking to a friend
Distractions are good because they allow us to still live our lives in the midst of an emotional crisis. They take away our rabbit hole experience and bring us to the surface for a minute, where we see light and life.
Healthy distractions remind us that we can still live life even when we are distressed.
As with anxiety or any tough emotion, sometimes we just need to allow ourselves a minute vacation.
So if you are experiencing tough emotions, use some distress tolerance skills. For more on that and for some examples from DBT therapy, you can read this article on Distress Tolerance in Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Lesson 2: Don’t Swat
My first reaction to the bee flying into my car was to swat at it, try to get it to leave me alone.
What happened instead is that the bee became angry. When the bee got angry, it posed a bigger threat.
It wasn’t until I pulled over, sat still, and rolled down all the windows did the bee eventually fly out of my car.
So let’s think of this in terms of uncomfortable emotions.
The first thing we want to do is get away from them. Swat at them, swerve, yell, scream.
Trying to fight against these emotions, just like trying to fight against the Bumblee, creates a bigger, more threatening problem.
What to Do Instead of Swatting
Uncomfortable emotions are like the bee. The more you swat at them in an effort to get them to go away, the more aggressive they become.
The goal is to not swat. Instead, stay still in the uncomfortable emotion and wait for it to pass.
Emotions only last for about 30 seconds. No, I’m not lying to you. You think I am because you have experienced emotions that last for days, weeks, months.
It is not the presence of the emotion that has been ongoing.
It’s the thought about the emotion that keeps it alive. The thought is the energizer bunny that keeps the emotion going and going and going…..
Mindfulness is important and powerful for a lot of reasons, but one really important one is that it allows things to pass in a timely manner.
I hate uncomfortable feelings. I want them to go away as quickly as possible.
I start swatting at them.
I start creating stories around them.
I start telling myself who I am because of them.
And THAT my friends, is why my anxiety won’t go away and I feel stuck.
The next time you have an uncomfortable feeling, picture it as if it were a bee.
Stay with it. It won’t kill you.
You may feel like it will, but it won’t’.
Let it sit with you. Notice what it looks like. Notice what it feels like. Stay curious about it. Without judgment about how you should feel, just notice.
Don’t label it with a thought.
Let it pass.
And it will go away.
And That is How you Make Honey.
Emotions are just emotions. We create them into big, strong giants when we label them with thoughts. The thoughts consist of who we think we are.
You think you are a rock star, your thoughts will be around everything you do is right. Uncomfortable emotion enters, belief about self overrides it, uncomfortable emotion goes away.
You think you are the opposite of a rock star, you think everything you do is wrong. Uncomfortable emotion enters, belief about how you messed up keeps it going, uncomfortable emotion stays alive.
It’s not rocket science, but it also not child’s play.
It’s hard work to make honey. That’s why they call them busy bees. But honey has lots of benefits. It is both tasty and great for flavoring, skincare, and health.
It’s hard work to create new stories and habits. But creating the best version of you also tastes good, is great for the skin and health. So keep at it. You are worth the effort it takes to live an inspired life!