Last week, a wild tiger was seen roaming the romantic city of Paris. Police, firefighters, and helicopters searched for hours outside homes, schools, and businesses for a wild cat on the loose. Nobody was hurt thank goodness. Authorities were unclear if it even was a tiger. Perhaps some form of large cat.
All this hullabaloo made me realize that, perhaps, the lessons learned could benefit our mental health.
The sudden appearance of a tiger can feel a lot like the sudden appearance of anxiety, anger, and depression. What are these tigers in our lives, roaming our streets, striking fear and worry in our hearts and minds at unpredictable times?
Lessons to Tame The Wild
In Paris, the police made it very clear that running from a tiger is a bad idea. In the off-chance that you come face-to-face with a tiger, Paris authorities advised the following to its citizens:
“Despite all your instincts, the advice is NOT TO RUN. If the beast is hungry it would want to chase its prey. Instead, summon all your courage, and shout. If that doesn’t work, start waving your arms about, but don’t back off.”
From this we can apply:
- Lesson #1: When confronted by a tiger in your mind, don’t back off. Summon all of your courage to fight it off. Other techniques to manage it can then follow.
I never really thought of this lesson before in the context of mental health. Be courageous? Fight anxiety, fear, and depression with all your might?
But the more I thought about applying how police advise people to face tigers, the more I realized how we can apply the same lessons to improving our mental protection.
Too often we let those tigers of anxiety, anger, or depression get the better us. Sure, we can practice beep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and journaling to help work through difficult times. Those are all useful.
Paris police also reminded citizens of the following:
“YOU are trying to scare the beast.”
From this we can apply:
- Lesson #2: Anxiety, worry, anger, and depression are wild animals. Survival means scaring the animal before it overcomes you.
The life changer is in building up the discipline to fight. The next time you feel the pangs of anxiety or depression coming on, gather as much energy as you can. Confronting a tiger can mean the difference between life and death. How you decide to respond will influence both the animal and you.
How A Patient Applied These Two Lessons
For the past week I introduced Lessons 1 and 2 to a patient of mine, Mrs. Jay, a tall, sharp-minded, 45-year old attorney. She found these ideas somewhat unorthodox, but decided to apply them to her life regardless every day over the past week. Every time she felt anxiety building up inside her, she would close her eyes, gather immense energy in her mind, and yell silently at the anxiety as if it were a tiger.
Mrs. Jay found the story of the Paris tiger quite insightful, and enjoyed the analogy between her anxiety and a tiger on the loose. She came back to my office today to tell me how the new approach went.
“Great!” she told me. “Now I have command over my anxiety, instead of the anxiety controlling me.” She reported that this technique leaves her feeling more empowered than any technique she had tried previously. “Scaring off my anxiety was silly at first, but now it works.”
What You Can Do
Anxiety, anger, and depression are ruthless and unrelenting like wild animals. Maybe it makes sense to treat them as such – with aggression and intimidation – instead of tippy toeing around them.
So the next time anxiety, anger, or depression appear unexpectedly in your life, do as Frederic Edelstein, the head of France’s Pinder Circus, would do: “If you see it coming towards you, make as much noise as you can in order to frighten it.”
by Dr. Charles Chaney