Befriend your anxiety; give it a name

April 20, 2020

When I was enrolled in college, I was required to take a language. I chose Spanish. I was not good at languages. Faced with two semesters of Spanish, I called my mother, told her I was anxious and could not sleep. I wanted to give up. 

Encouragingly, she told me it was just another mountain I had to climb and assured me I could do it. She sent me a poem titled “Don’t Quit.” I pasted it on my dresser and repeated it daily. What I did was befriend my anxiety, and it worked.

During these troubling times, many people are anxious and don’t know how to manage their anxiety.

Recently, an article by Laura Turner appeared in the New York Times titled “How to be Calm About Anxiety.” Like me and many others, Ms. Turner was troubled with anxious periods in her life. Several therapists were unable to help her alleviate her problem. 

Success came when she found a therapist who encouraged her to turn her anxiety into an ‘imaginary friend’ and to give that friend a name. She named her anxiety Susan and, over the years, has dialogued with her imaginary friend Susan. Even today, whenever anxiety returns, she uses her imagination, inviting Susan to sit next to her at work or at home. Although anxiety no longer has much control over her, she accepts that it will come back now and then.  

There are four healing lessons to learn from Ms. Turner’s article.  

First, don’t try to deny or fight feelings of anxiety - accept them as a fact of life. Everyone has them. Deal with anxious feelings without trying to change them. 

Second, do not allow anxiety to take you away from focusing on the important things of your life. 

Third, welcome your anxiety as a companion and give it a friendly name. Even paint an imaginative image of it, so that you can welcome it whenever it comes to visit.

Fourth, some psychologists say that you can converse with your imaginary friend and ask its advice on those important things of your life. Who knows what wisdom for you waits in such an unlikely companion? 

Dr. Barbara Barski-Carrow, communications educator and expert in dealing with anxiety and trauma, has taken the time to reflect on the present situation in our country and offer some simple suggestions that anyone can use.


  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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