Lizard In My Pocket

Lizard in my pocket

I can often be found carrying lizards in my pocket at work.

They aren’t real, and they come from a nice variety pack of different colored, striped, spotted, plastic reptiles. I hand them out to patients who are truly struggling from their experience with anxiety.

When Anxiety Becomes Too Much

We all experience anxiety. It is a universal human phenomenon and can work to help us appropriately avoid situations. I don’t give lizards out for garden variety anxiety, only when it becomes problematic. Anxiety can sometimes intrude on life. It shows up as social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and even panic attacks.

Staying in Overdrive

Our brains retain some reptilian mentality. It scans every environment for threats or lack of threats. Once a threat is confirmed, we go into fight or flight reactions. If the switch that senses anxiety is constantly turned on, anxiety is playing too large of a role in a person’s life. Living in a constant state of anxiety is extremely exhausting.

Accepting Anxiety

Everyone has different ways of coping with the inevitable stressors and anxiety of life. Some have healthier methods than others. Breathing and meditation techniques can be great tools for some, while others choose other routes to alleviate their uncomfortable feelings. Many turn to worrying, creating rigid rules or rituals around their eating and other behaviors, avoiding social situations, or abusing the use of a substance.  A very common reason people come to us is for a medically assisted withdrawal.

Many of our patients started their substance use disorder as a way to avoid feeling their anxiety. Unfortunately, they find themselves in the scenario that they cannot stop without facing withdrawal. 

Recent studies have shown the promising effects of anxiety acceptance, versus anxiety management. Life can trigger anxiety at nearly any time. Accepting how it feels in the body and not passing judgment on yourself for having it are very powerful tools on the path to recovering from substance use disorder. 

Recognizing the Lizard Tune

It’s important to note that all forms of anxiety are temporary and will pass. That means that learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings in the body can allow someone to remain present in their life without the effects of anxiety running the show. 

What if a person could learn to recognize their lizard brain’s familiar tune. “Thank you for noticing that potential threat, everything is fine, and I am fine.”

That’s the conversation that will inspire me to bring forth a lizard from my pocket.

Joan Shepherd, FNP

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