Remember the old Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons?
Wiley E. Coyote tried forever to catch the Roadrunner. Despite his best efforts and all his ingenuity, he never caught the Roadrunner, and in fact often ended up harming himself. Recently I came across Chuck Jones’ rules for the series. They are a great metaphor for anxiety management:
1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going “meep, meep.”
Your anxiety cannot harm you beyond influencing your thoughts and feelings. When you are having a panic attack, it might feel like you are going to die, but it’s not true. Remind yourself that your anxiety can only “meep, meep” at you—annoying, but not life-threatening.
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products. Trains and trucks were the exception from time to time.
Focus on your own self-efficacy and ability to manage your anxious feelings. Struggle with social anxiety? It’s unlikely that everyone is staring at you, but feeling like that’s true can cause you to be self-conscious and awkward. Tell yourself “No outside force can harm me—If I manage my anxiety, I will be okay.”
3. The Coyote could stop anytime — if he were not a fanatic.
Examine your own commitment to your anxiety. Give yourself permission to stop feeling anxious. Instead of thinking “I am an anxious person,” try thinking “I’ve been anxious in the past, but I’m working towards changing that.”
4. No dialogue ever, except “meep, meep” and yowling in pain.
Ever get trapped in the loop of anxious thoughts and feelings of panic? When our dialogue is restricted to “This bad thing is going to happen,” and “OMG, that is painful and terrifying,” it’s hard to get any movement on anxiety. Allow other thoughts and feelings to enter this dialogue: “I can do this, it’s going to be okay,” and you start to have a choice other than yowling in pain.
5. The Road Runner must stay on the road — for no other reason than that he’s a roadrunner.
Deal with one worry at a time, and notice boundaries. Anxiety becomes overwhelming when we are thinking of all the things that could go wrong at once. Recognize that you have the ability to keep your anxiety restricted to one area at a time, and to prevent your anxiety from one thing from spilling over into something else.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters — the southwest American desert.
Notice what environmental stressors make your anxiety worse—are you always nervous in class? Or when you are at a party? Brainstorm ways to change your thoughts and feelings about this environment to reduce anxiety. For example, if you are always stressed in the classroom, but never stressed on the baseball diamond, bring those same feelings of relaxation into the classroom!
7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
Figure out the core negative thought related to your anxiety, and reject thoughts associated with this thought. Everything from Acme is doomed to fail. Thoughts that tie into the idea “I’m worthless,” will always make you more anxious. Give yourself permission to reject these thoughts and find more helpful cognitions.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.
Depression and anxiety go hand and hand. Your depressed feelings and thoughts can make you anxious, and vice versa. The good news is that interventions that work for anxiety can also work for depression.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
Yes, it is embarrassing when you fall and trip in front of a room full of people, but it is not deadly. A moment’s embarrassment isn’t a big deal, but hiding in your room because that moment feels too painful can be. Remind yourself that your anxiety can’t harm you if you experience it and let it pass.
10. The audience’s sympathy must remain with the Coyote.
Be kind to yourself! When you trip and fall, most people are thinking “Oh no! Is he okay?” as opposed to “Look at that idiot!” And the people who are thinking that are being jerks anyway! Be your own best friend.
11. The Coyote is not allowed to catch or eat the Road Runner.
It’s unrealistic to expect to live a life without any anxious moments, but you can learn to manage your anxiety. You may not be able to stop feeling anxious, but you can reduce the “meep meep” to a minor irritation instead of becoming debilitated.
Want to learn strategies to manage your anxiety? Come to the UCC’s free Anxiety Management Workshops. Thursdays, 12:30 pm-1:30pm, at the Student Success Center (MA 112). The workshops focus on skill-building as opposed to self-disclosure and no preregistration is necessary. For more info, go to http://bit.ly/loynoworries, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.