Anxiety Management Technique: Naming Your Monsters

Abs - July 11, 2017

Years ago, when I was new to the anxiety scene, I had absolutely no idea what was going on inside my head. I understood vaguely that I had some kind of mental issue, but, back then, Panic Disorder as a diagnosis didn’t really explain much.


Here’s what I did know: I was having lots of dizziness and chest pressure and my stomach was in knots all the time. Sleeping was a nightmare (literally)—or at least, falling asleep was. My thoughts would race around a phantom track at breakneck speed, leaving me shaking and in tears. And it seemed that I could NEVER catch my breath.


Clearly, this “Panic Disorder” was fatal.


The first highly recommended psychiatrist I waited a month to see was very smart but cold and inaccessible. She rolled her eyes when I asked her to explain things in a “not too scary way” (you know what I’m talking about—when you are in the midst of constant acute anxiety, anything can trigger it) and told me to drink these expensive yellow shakes (I threw up in my mouth a little just now, remembering their chalky, granular bitterness).


My next psychiatrist was maybe not quite as smart, but very warm and accessible. When I asked him to be delicate with me, he said, “I promise to make soft clucking noises whenever you seem anxious.” I really liked that guy. Tom was his name.


During one session, Tom asked me what my anxiety looked like. “You mean what symptoms do I get?” I asked. “No. I mean describe what your anxiety looks like. Is it big or small? Thin or fat? Does it have teeth or claws? What color is it? Human or animal?”


I didn’t think he was serious, but Tom went on to explain that visualizing my anxiety would actually be quite helpful in my quest to manage it. “It’s a technique I use a lot with kids, but you strike me as the imaginative type. Give it a try.”


So I did. I went home and spent hours trying to conjure an image of my anxiety. Here’s what I came up with:

My anxiety is a group of three palm-sized “monsters” named Worry, Panic and Fear. They don’t appear to have coloring, aren’t particularly thin or fat, and definitely don’t have teeth or claws.


“Question for you,” said Tom. “If they don’t bite or scratch, how are they monsters?”


“They’re monsters because they take over my mind and cause all these awful symptoms.”


“How can they do that without teeth or claws?” Tom asked pointedly.


And that, very honestly, was the beginning of a very very long healing journey (still in progress, by the way). I began to realize, with my visual aids, that Worry, Panic and Fear, in and of themselves, weren’t so scary or dangerous. If I let them get control over me, they were more destructive than a houseful of unsupervised toddlers. But—and this was a big but—if I could harness them somehow, then they lost their power.


“I encourage you to talk to them when they get out of hand,” Tom advised.


And I did.


So much so, that, years later, when Mags and I started writing our first Anxiety Sisters book, I had our cartoonist draw my mind monsters for me:

One Anxiety Sister I was chatting with the other day referred to her panic as “Ruby.”


“I call her that so I can be very direct when I tell her to get lost!”


“Can you see what she looks like?” I inquired.


“Absolutely! She’s deep red and very loud.”


Another told me she actually says aloud “You’re not the boss of me!” during a panic attack.


If we treat our anxiety as a living thing, if we can yell at it or send it to its room, we take away its power—we regain control.


What does your anxiety look like?

13 thoughts on “Anxiety Management Technique: Naming Your Monsters

  1. I never thought to do that but it sounds like a good idea. The worry for me is that I know what my monsters look like. They are people that I know and try so hard to love. How can I turn that anxiety to a monster. Gonna be hard but I’ll try. Thanks so much for the idea. I think it will help to get my mind off of them just trying to find the right monster that fits.

    1. Hi Gwen,
      One thing you can think about is the quality in the specific person that is your monster….you can name it that quality (or even a curse word). Of course, this is just one idea of many for dealing with anxiety. Try it on and see what works for you.

  2. My anxiety is dark gray and swishy with lots of wrinkles. It’s male and just hangs over me. It stabs me without moving, without knives or claws.
    His name escapes me but I’ll work on that. I can see how that would be beneficial. All I can think of right now is Doom.

  3. Thanks for sharing

    I think my anxiety is more voices than faces. They are telling me the things I should me doing. I am working with my therapist with the should of things. She tells me not to think about the shoulds. I am trying Anxiety is a day by day think ants sometimes for me minute by minute. So glad I have found the Anxiety Sisters

    1. Hi Connie–

      You are absolutely right: anxiety is a day by day (sometimes moment by moment) disorder. It sounds like you have a good therapist to help you navigate your anxiety voices (by the way, lots of Anxiety Sisters we have interviewed said their anxiety is a voice). We are so glad you found us!

      Abs & Mags

      1. Connie,
        Just reading this over, I am also a “should sister”. Whenever I think/hear/remember “should” is automatically makes me want to do the opposite (this is especially true with food but other things as well). I am trying to replace the should with “I choose” if indeed it is something I want for myself or “I’ll think about it” if I am getting the should from someone else….I’m not quite there….yet. We are all works in progress.

  4. It seems like my Anxiey monsters telling what I should do how and why I should do things. I am working with this should thing and making some progress. She tells me to forget the shoulds. Thsnks for sharing about naming our anxiety. I am so glad I found Anxiety Sisters. It is so good to know others deal with the same things I do.

  5. I have OCD which is a doubting kind of illness. I had terrible long lasting all day panic attacks. It was hell on earth but through therapy I don’t have them. Only occasionally. I doubted myself so badly.

    1. Hi,
      Your description of OCD as a doubting kind of illness makes so much sense! Anxiety disorders are also such a future fearing illness and we don’t believe that we will be safe in the future. Wonderful that you found a therapist to help you so much…that is inspirational for a lot of people really suffering right now.
      Mags and Abs

  6. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one to name my anxiety! I have a question: does your anxiety refer to you as “you” or “I”? After I found out I had anxiety, I realized most of my anxiety thoughts were said as “I can’t believe you did that!” rather than “I can’t believe I did that!” A lot of comics I’ve seen about anxiety also involve anxiety saying “you” (which is possibly where I got it from), but I can’t tell if that’s just an attempt to connect the anxiety to the reader. So I was wondering if other people’s anxiety thoughts use “you” or “I.” (I’m sorry if the question reads kinda funny. I’m writing this at 3 am so wording is tricky).

    1. The “you” in anxiety makes a lot of sense. When we name our anxiety (our mind monsters) we are making it the other…something outside of us. Of course, it is a part of us but those feelings tend to speak loudest and take over. Making it the other puts it a bit outside us and allows us to speak back to it “you can speak to me but I may not necessarily listen.” mags and abs

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