Before I even begin, let me just say that this is one of the more controversial topics that I routinely talk about with therapy clients. The anxiety management technique I’m about to discuss is NOT for everyone. If you don’t feel like it would benefit you, then don’t try it. In fact, maybe nobody should try it. Yeah, let’s go with that. Nobody do this. Don’t try this at home. The stunts you are about to see are done by highly trained professionals who have almost completed their safety training. So proceed at your own risk. This blog is not a toy.
I’m a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld. I’m from the generation who would watch his tv show Thursday evenings and talk about it all day on Friday in our high school. His work has had a tremendous impact on our country’s culture and on the culture of professional comedy, specifically. Mr. Seinfeld has a lesser-known series on Netflix called “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee”, and it’s glorious. In this series, he picks up well known comedians in classic cars and takes them out for coffee. (I know, it’s very Snakes-On-A-Plane, right?) He hosts people like Jay Leno, Ellen Degeneres, Dave Chappelle, Jim Carey, Louis CK, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey… and many many more. In many of the episodes, Jerry points out the similarities that all comics have: They just see the world differently. They are typically less reserved and more able to both see and identify the sheer absurdity of life. And, rather than back down from the absurdity, they’ll comment on it, laugh at it, or even lean in and make a joke out of it.
The show makes the point very clearly that this is just how the comic sees the world. It’s how they’ve been since childhood and it’s not just a hat they put on when it’s time to work. Several of the comics have commented that it is this same slight warping that has caused them to say things that lead to heated controversy or to the loss of gigs through their careers. None of them seem at all willing to trade this worldview, though, and they’ve all learned to embrace the sheer absurdity of life as they see it. Humor has become their chosen means of surviving the curveballs that life so often throws us. But how does this work?
When we choose to see past our anxiety, all the way to the absurdity of life, we can then choose to laugh at it or make a joke about it. By doing so, we are making a choice to first appreciate it and then to take power over the situation. Let’s say you’re going through a very difficult season in your life. Maybe in the span of a few months you’ve encountered loss after loss, change after change. The complexity of this type of situation is absolutely absurd! How can anyone be expected to bare this?? It would completely overwhelm us if we didn’t know how to separate from the emotions of it. Thankfully we can! We can learn to dance in the rain. We can remember that every feeling we’ve ever had - this one included - is temporary. And then we can pause, dig in, and appreciate the complete and utter AbsUrDitY that we are now in! Look at the situation from thirty-thousand feet or maybe imagine watching someone else live this out on TV. Make a joke about it. Laugh at it. Let yourself laugh at it. Make it a deep belly laugh if you can. Anxiety hates a deep belly laugh.
One of my favorite Instagram reels is by motivational speaker Julien Blanc. He breaks down a scene from the TV show “Friends” in which the character Ross is in a bathroom at a party strugging with the tight black leather pants he’s wearing. Blanc explains, “He can’t get them off because they’re too tight, and he starts putting baby powder on them and the powder goes all over the pants, and there’s this whole crazy, stressful scene. If you take that experience through the eyes of Ross, Is it stressful, scary, and heavy? Yes, of course! But if you take it through the eyes of the viewer, as if watching it on tv, do you experience it the same way he does? No! You’re chuckling and laughing. You’re still cringing a bit, and you recognize the emotion (anxiety), but the experience shifts completely. You’re less attached. Same here with your life! [You may ask yourself] ’What if I sing in the Starbucks and people stare?’ Well, zoom out! What if it was Ross singing? Live your life as if you’re also watching yourself in a movie and laugh at it. It changes the experience completely!”
When I was in college, I allowed anxiety to cause me to miss more than a few wonderful moments. I was sociable but always expecting the worst possible outcome in any situation that was outside of my illusion of control. A slightly older classmate spoke directly to my anxiety once in a manner that I will always remember because it wound up changing my life. She just flatly looked at me and said “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” I thought long and hard about that. Images of George Costanza allowing anxiety to make him take himself way way WAY too seriously came to mind. He was always uptight with something to prove to someone or in a conflict that he was absolutely, positively not going to lose. Then opposite George, we had Kramer, an anything-goes freeloader, un-phased by any problem outside of his immediate vicinity. I had to ask myself which one I would be. Is there maybe a middle-path option? Do I have to be one or the other entirely and always? Of course not! I can possess the wisdom to allow myself permission to laugh deeply at the absurdity of life sometimes. I can also possess the drive to push through whatever I need to just push through today - to drop my shoulder and move through whatever challenge I face. But either way, I don’t have to take life 100% seriously all the time. Heck, I can even laugh at myself. After all, when I zoom out on an episode of my life, that crap’s hilarious!
Learning to lean in to the absurdity around you sometimes is a practiced art! It can lead to great freedom for you. As mentioned in the first paragraph, it doesn’t work with all personalities, though. If you’d like to work on some of the stressors in your life, or if you’d like to talk about any number of things not mentioned here, then give me a call! 770 615 6300 We’ll set up an appointment and get to know each other. www.altmancounseling.com