Parenting

My Therapist Suggested That I Try Making Fun Of My Anxiety, And It’s Working

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Like a lot of people, I’ve been meeting with my therapist online more due to the economic uncertainty and terrifying reality of living through a pandemic. And naturally, we’ve been discussing my anxiety because on a scale of 1-10, it’s been at 11. It was already pretty bad before all of this, but if anything is going to make an anxious person more anxious, it’s the threat of losing my job and/or contracting COVID. The other day, though, he said something that gave me pause. “You’re a funny guy,” he said.

I agreed with him.

“But a lot of your humor is making fun of yourself. Have you thought about making fun of your anxiety?”

This kind of weirded me out at first, I’ll admit, because it felt like making fun of my anxiety meant that there was something about me worth making fun of. I’m pretty good at doing that myself, but when someone else takes a jab, it feels like it’s confirming something I already suspected, which makes the depression and anxiety worse, and well… this is mental illness. As he suggested laughing at my anxiety, I was just kind of expecting that I’d be up thinking about this at 4 o’clock the next morning, because that’s my life.

He must have seen that in my eyes though, because he went on to explain further. He said that since a lot of my anxiety comes at night, I should try poking fun at those thoughts I have that tell me I’m never getting to sleep. I worry that if I don’t get to sleep, the anxiety is only going to get worse, and those thoughts feed on themselves, making the anxiety worse. (That’s how anxiety works, by the way. Think of a snowball getting bigger as it rolls — but not fluffy and full of winter wonder, just filled with terror and burning.)

Anyway, the reality is, I’m not going to die if I don’t get to sleep. He explained that, and I know it’s true, but for some reason when I’m in the throes of a late night anxiety attack, logic doesn’t matter. Anyone living with anxiety will share that sentiment, trust me. But it’s a little ridiculous when you think about it while you’re calm. And though my therapist’s suggestion to laugh my way through the anxiety definitely seemed like a strange approach, it’s not that weird when I compare it to the strange internal dialogue that makes me anxious in the first place.

I mean, how hard is it to listen to a voice in my head that suggests that I need to look at the clock every few moments, getting more and more nervous as bedtime approaches? That voice tells me to get things in order good and early so I will have time to unwind, and if I don’t, I will have a panic attack, which feels like dying. There are actually times in my life when I’m afraid of clocks after a particular hour because they make me nervous. It all feels like a Mel Brooks comedy, where someone pulls a clock out on a neurotic character and he reacts to it like Dracula seeing a cross. Only I am the neurotic character, and for some reason, I cannot help but laugh at the irony in that.

For the past few weeks now, I’ve been making fun of my nighttime anxiety by ending every anxious statement I hear in my head with a “whoooooo, scary ...” mocking voice, and I can’t help but laugh.

And the more I do it, the more I am reminded of a Boggart. For those of you who are not Harry Potter fans, a Boggart is this monster thing that takes the shape of your biggest fears. Thus, if you are afraid of spiders, and you run into a Boggart, it would turn into a spider because Boggarts are dickheads like that. So how do you fight a Boggart? With a Riddikulus charm: a spell that turns it into something funny, like putting clown makeup on a terrifying spider, thus taking away its power to terrify you.

In so many ways, this laughing at my anxiety strategy feels like I’ve found my Riddikulus charm.

As weird as it sounds, it feels like I brought this big, drooling, sharp-fanged monster into the room and made fun of its tiny nipples. For the past few nights, I’ve been laughing myself to sleep, which I must say is a far preferable to panicking myself to sleep. So I’m going to keep at it. If you think this could help you too, it couldn’t hurt to give it a try — because maybe, as they say, laughter really is the best medicine. Even for anxiety.

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