"It's The Weight Of The World, And It's Nothing At All..."
Updated: Mar 1
I am unabashedly a huge fan of the songwriter Jason Isbell. His thoughtful vulnerability and masculine word choices give his songwriting a relatable quality that I can connect with. Through several decades of songwriting - from “Decoration Day” to “Overseas” and all points in between - he has produced powerful and meaningful lyrics.. His songs are gifts that keep on giving as the listener unpacks them.
I feel like Isbell and I could be from the same rural county. We’re not - he’s from northwestern Alabama and I’m from southeastern Georgia - but we must have had similar experiences growing up in country-fried, southern culture. He describes in his song "Outfit" how his father once asked him, “So you wanna grow up and paint houses like me, with a trailer in my yard til you’re twenty-three?” A trailer on family land was how my parents survived their early 20’s. Many in my extended family did it this way, too. It’s the country way. I can totally relate, and I love it.
I can also relate to having anxiety. Anxiety makes it feel like absolutely everything is wrong all at once. Isbell describes it with poignant expletives, saying “I can’t enjoy a #&% thing.” The brain is set ablaze with worry and over-stimulation and rumination, resulting in mental paralysis, incredible tension, and/or complete overwhelm. The songwriter says it leads him to question “Why am I never where I’m supposed to be?” Anxiety makes us feel constantly out of place, disconnected from the present moment and the task at hand. “I’m wide awake, and I’m in pain.” Anxiety feels like the weight of the world resting between our ears. “It’s the weight of the world, and it’s nothing at all,” writes Isbell.
Read that again. “It’s nothing at all.” It’s nothing at all. Nothing. At. All. It’s a feeling. It’s a worry. It’s a vapor - here for now and quickly fading. Nothing at all. It doesn’t feel like nothing, but it actually is nothing.
Try this: In your mind, right now, think of an emotion that was permanent in your life. Think of a feeling that consistently lasted forever without changing, subsiding or being alleviated. I’ll wait. …
Don’t worry, I can’t think of one either. Emotions are temporary. Feelings aren’t facts. Whatever awfulness we’re feeling at the moment, we won’t always feel that way. We just won’t. No feeling, good or bad, lasts forever. Neither does Anxiety. That’s just the way it is.
(And yes, of course, we may be genetically pre-disposed to anxiety. We may consistently wrestle with its changing tides throughout life, as many people do, myself included. But, the overwhelming intensity of the moment simply won’t last. We can learn to recognize it and respond to it more effectively.)
The field of counseling has experienced much success in the field of anxiety management with the advent of DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. DBT helps people learn to recognize the early signs that we are becoming anxious. We learn to quickly identify the effects of anxiety in our bodies, such as headache, tightness in their neck or shoulders, and stomach problems. These factual observations help us disengage from the anxiety and then respond to it more objectively. If this sounds strange, then let’s use a metaphor to bring it home: Imagine you’re on a beach and you see a large storm quickly approaching from the sea. You climb way up a lighthouse tower to ride out the storm. From the safe vantage point of this height, you watch the waves roll in and then recede, over and over again, until the storm eventually fades out. The waves are the waves of emotion, the storm is the situation causing the emotion, and the tower is the safe distance created by choosing logical observation rather than full participation in the feeling. While you still feel a little threatened, identifying the problematic emotion and observing our emotional responses helps us to gain important distance and perspective.
“It's the weight of the world, and it’s nothing at all.” It’s a wave of neurobiological energy causing a visceral response in my body’s limbic system in response to a trigger… and it’s actually nothing at all. It’s a feeling. An energy. A vapor…Nothing at all.
One thing to keep in mind is that anxiety can be amplified by several factors. ADHD, post-traumatic stress, depression, and several other factors can promote and prolong anxiety symptoms. If you’re going through a complex situation like this, please consider therapy to help you navigate it. You will find it is worth the time and effort to get help and clarity in this area.
If this was helpful, then I’d be willing to bet that counseling would also be helpful. Counseling helps a person untie the mental knots that we all experience. Telling a trusted professional helps us process and accept the most difficult parts of life so that we can grow from them and move past the trouble spots. I encourage you to schedule a session with me or with another qualified counselor soon. You can call me at 770 615 6300 or click www.altmancounseling.com I hope to speak with you soon.