When this street art tiger leaped out of the shadows on a rainy night recently, what struck me was the vast size of its head compared to the thin wood of the chair before it.

The whole scene seemed to echo the suspect circus routines I’d seen in my childhood, where lions and tigers would be ‘tamed’ by a ringmaster wielding a chair. Yet on this night, the chair seemed pretty slim defense in the face of such an opponent.

It also reminded me of a talk I’d heard several years ago, by a Jungian analyst who specialized in working with people who were living with eating disorders. With her client’s permission to pass this story on, she shared how that person had described their relationship with anxiety and anorexia , which went something like this:

‘It’s like being locked in a room with a wild lion. There’s only you, the lion and a chair in the room. The lion is the anxiety. Anorexia is the chair.

‘As the lion comes closer, even though it seems useless, the chair is your only defense. So you grab it, in the hope it can offer some kind of protection. It’s almost impossible not to…’

So what has any of this got to do with you?

Well, perhaps it’s an opportunity to contemplate some of the fears or anxieties in your own life.

When they appear, do you find yourself automatically reaching for some kind of ‘chair’ – an interim measure; a quick stopgap; an emergency relief; a distraction; a potentially damaging habit?

And if so, then what?

Can you use this ‘chair’ to either tame the anxiety, or to keep the fear at bay long enough to make your bid for freedom via the metaphorical door in the room?

Or do you find yourself just hanging onto the chair (perhaps for dear life) – glued to the interim solution, unable to look for longer term relief?

What particular protective mechanisms or automatic habits might you be using in this way?

Could it be useful to re-evaluate any of them?

Are any of them actually holding you back somehow?

For as scary or difficult as letting go of such ‘chairs’ or habits can be, it seems that just automatically hanging on to them can come at a cost of its own.

Perhaps it’s about learning when to pick up the chair, when to try and stay to tame those tigers, and when to just drop the chair and get out of the room…

So what are your thoughts? How do you tame anxiety when it leaps out of the shadows like this?

Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Artwork: Sydney Street Artist

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.