Self-Compassion for Anxiety

April 15th is right around the corner, and that makes it a season of anxiety for lots of folks. For that reason, today I'm sharing a self-compassionate perspective on how to relate to your experience when life feels overwhelming.

Do you know the story of Chicken Little (also known as Chicken Licken or Henny Penny)? It’s a folk tale with many variations. Traditionally, the action begins when an acorn falls on Chicken Little’s head, and he immediately beings squawking, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” This one piece of evidence has convinced him that the world is coming to an end, and he then proceeds to spread the word to all the other animals.

Have you got your own inner Chicken Little? I’m going to take a guess that if you’re reading this, you probably do. The inner Chicken Little is an aspect of yourself that’s very anxious, and hyper-vigilant ~ constantly looking for evidence that everything's falling apart. The inner critic can show up this way; you send out an email with a word misspelled, or you forget someone’s name at an inconvenient time, and some version of “The sky is falling!” becomes a relentless refrain inside of you.

It’s natural to feel profoundly impatient and frustrated with your inner Chicken Little, because usually you feel like you’re at its mercy: when it’s activated, it tends to dominate your experience, and it creates its own kind of trance. At the same time, there’s typically a part of you that knows that the sky isn’t falling, but you can’t stop yourself from feeling like it is. That’s the bind.

Where you do have a choice is in how you relate to the Chicken Little part of yourself. And maybe it would help to know that it most likely came into being as a way to help you navigate a very difficult time in your life, maybe a time when you were very small, and you didn’t have enough experience to know the difference between an acorn and the end of the world. Chicken Little’s response was likely the wisest one possible for you at that time, and it helped you survive. In fact, this is a secret about the inner critic, too. Most likely it developed as a survival strategy: a very effective one back then.

So, the next time you notice that your inner Chicken Little is present, see how it is to acknowledge its presence and say to yourself, “I know you’re very afraid”, “Chicken Little Buddha” or “Wise Chicken Little.” See if you can accept that it's here, and that it has intense feelings. Recognize that it’s trying to help you, but that its means aren’t so skillful. In doing that, you can practice breaking its trance and freeing yourself to relate to the situation at hand with more clarity and pragmatism.