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Star Wars and Anxiety

Star Wars and Anxiety

Written by David Kellner

With the resurgence of the Star Wars empire (after a somewhat uninspiring prequel series), I am drawn to consider my first experience with the epic, intergalactic world. I was 8 years old, when my father took my brother and I to see the Return of the Jedi at our local elementary school some years after its release. I remember the wonder of the promised world of Ewoks (tenacious little teddy bears for those that have no frame of reference) and Wookiees (non-verbal bipeds with short tempers) and being totally absorbed in the sounds and colors of the big screen.

The movie was nothing short of enrapturing - until the moment that Darth Vader (the preeminent antagonist) appeared on the screen. In that scene, fear consumed me as his mechanical breathe and infamously slotted helmet overcast the seats in the theater. My heart began to race and my muscles constricted as Darth Vader ordered into action his plans for the demise of the Rebel Force.

I noted in that moment my response to the fear that gripped me - to turn away from the screen and bury my face in my dad's shoulder. On first pass, this seems to be an inconsequential response to what was an understandably disconcerting moment for a child. However, on further inspection, I find it holds a meaningful insight in dealing with life and all of it intensities and anxieties.

My fear, or my anxiety, was fueled or dissuaded depending on the object of my attention. As long as my ears were tuned to the rhythmic breathing of Darth Vader and my eyes followed his swaying cape, my fear was solicited. But, if I turned my focus and attention to what was closer within and around me, namely my dads' shoulder, the fear subsided.

The visceral response I noticed is a preparation on the body's part to react to danger. My body responds to the object of my focus. If my senses are tuned to Darth Vader, the unequivocal response of the body is to prepare to run. (We will talk further about this in later posts.) But, if I bring my attention to what immediately surrounds me - the scratchiness of my dad's flannel shirt, the softness of the cushioned seat beneath me, the smell of popcorn from outside the theatre - then I ground myself in the safety of the moment. For in reality, I am not in danger. It only feels like I am.

For those that suffer from anxiety and worry (which, by my estimation, is all of us), this is good news. So often, we feel that there is no control over our anxiety, that we are simply puppets cast in its tragic play. However, we DO have control over anxiety, as we exert control over our focus and attention.

Anxieties are sourced in the uncertainty of the future, the imagined responses of others or memories from painful or traumatic experiences. All of theses sources are beyond the scope of a moment, and when they garner our attention, they only increase our worry or fear. In those moments where we are threatened by anxiety, we can draw our attention to what is present within the moment. What do you see, hear, taste, touch and feel? For in turning our attention in these places, we offer comfort to ourselves and ground ourselves in the truth of the moment, where we are not under threat or duress.

We will talk more about how to create this kind of mindfulness for yourself in future posts, but for now, embrace the power you have to turn your focus, to claim the object of your attention.

Published: December 19, 2016