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What I Do When Anxiety Infects My Favorite Relaxation Tool  

I was on my belly, my cheeks snug against the massage table’s doughnut pillow, my muscles getting nudged this way and that, when the gal doing the magic asked this question. 

Jean was short, shorter than me even. Round cheeks and a stocky build, conservative shoes and black clothes. Maybe fifty years old. Just minutes earlier, when I arrived at the quaint, creaky little massage studio desperate for relief both from my two toddler children and a bad case of winter cabin fever, she greeted me with a soft smile that made me want to curl up inside it and stay. 

But once the massage started, I was distressed to learn her sweet-smiling mouth could get audible. And I wasn’t counting on a massage with words.

“Where you go, you know, in your mind?” She repeated, drawing out the final word.

Stumbling, I said, “I… I don’t have a place I go. You mean like visualization?” 

“Yes, yes. You must have a place you go. A place that brings you peace.”

Jean was like what would happen if Miyagi and Yoda could somehow produce a stout, magic-fingered, middle-aged Chinese woman.

She went on to say that I was holding a lot of negative energy and, “Why you do this to yourself? Why you so stressed? This energy… it not good.” 

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Unlike Yoda, Jean didn’t hide her exasperation with her student. And I couldn’t help but notice that there was a new sound: between broad sweeps of pressure across my back, her hands would pause off of my skin in what sounded like an intermission to flap them out while grunt-hissing under her breath, “Ooo. Eee. Tsss. Not good, not good at all.” I could only presume, with my head still facing the floor, that Jean was shaking out all that bad energy transmitted to her hands through me

I guess I was making her 55 minutes particularly difficult.

“Find a place you go. Everyone needs a place to go in their mind. Find somewhere you go.”

If it weren’t for the warm, motherly vibe Jean gave off and a deep wisdom I was pretty sure I wasn’t in the sort of shape to ignore, I would have been off-put by her unrestrained scolding, voodoo flapping, and absolute disregard for the fact that we were basically fully strangers. 

Naturally, I went back to Jean six hundred twenty-two times more. 

And here I am today using the same place I came up with the day I first met her. My place looks like this: I go to the waves. I see myself from above, lying on a bright red raft… the red contrasting against magnificent blue-green sea. It’s a gentle lull, what these waves offer. I have sunglasses on and my arms behind my neck. And not a thing on all sides of my red raft except endless water. 

I go to this place mostly when I am lying in bed at night, churning on. When no amount of eyes closed or deep breathing or pillow puffing will settle down the conveyer belt of thoughts lined up like UPS boxes in December, endless. I remember my red raft and let the waves do the rest.

What Jean never taught me was what to do with this:

One night I was particularly in bad shape: stressed, worked up, the movie of my mind on fast-forward, heart beating fast. I just could not calm down. So, in bed on my back, I plopped on my mental raft. I worked real hard to get there, nudging myself to smell the smells, see the flecks of gray in the feather coat of the seagulls flying overhead, hear the squeak of the plastic when I repositioned on my inflated surface. 

Finally, I was there. 

Within a couple seconds of finding it, though, the scene changed. Instead of my clear skies, clouds holding menacing blackness rolled in. Instead of an occasional sweet dolphin visit, creatures of another kind greeted me with their teethy, wanting presence, circling closer and closer around my flimsy flotation device. And my rocking waves disappeared, in their place white-capped intimidation, what could take a ship down. 

My fear had busted through into my safe place. Even my imagination, my own creativity, was alive with it. 

And then I remembered something that a different teacher had recently imparted, something that had been echoing in me the previous days, weeks: “Always take the position of the hero.” 

I tried manifesting this, lying there in the midst of my mind’s raging lightning storm, deep-sea enemies, and threatening water. I found myself rising from my raft, standing erect on it. Despite the pelty rain and whippy wind, I couldn’t help but notice that my wavy hair was long and bodacious, parting on either side of my fierce face. Where’d my leisure swimsuit go? Not sure. All I knew was that now I sported a metallic breastplate no shark teeth could muss up. My balance was assisted by the trident in my hand, and I’m pretty sure a couple times the lightning bolts came down to a clap on the spear’s middle point, just so I could show the sky that electricity couldn’t get me, either. 

Still with fear nipping around all the edges of my safe place, and still with my physical-bed-body tightly tense and its heart racing, I noticed — eyes closed — that my lips pursed ever so slightly. 

By golly, I was smirking at my scene. 

Just when I believed myself to be rendered defenseless, my favorite visualization tool infected, I stumbled upon a way to make my safe-place-gone-dangerous work again for me: 

I tossed in a dash of absurd. 

Heroes always do. 

Because that’s what fear does, too. 

If fear will use ridiculousness to keep me balled up shaking on my flimsy raft, my hero will use ridiculousness to stand up cloaked in movie star fairy tale cheesiness, complete with a mythological prop. 

A hero’s safe place, that which cannot be overcome, lies in her ability to turn fear on its head with a tool called wild absurdity. 

And a smirk.

Jean, I think, would be amused. If she were to put her hands on me today, I hope my muscles would tell her stories of a salty hero, a hero who shows up in most any storm with an untouchable, barely-detectable, absurd little grin. 

What I Do When Anxiety Infects My Favorite Relaxation Tool  

Tricia Arthur

Tricia Arthur lives in Denver, Colorado with her family, which includes a husband, four kids, and a guinea pig named Frank the Tank. Her writing has been featured on Scarymommy, the guest blog for ADDitude Magazine, and her own personal blog, When she is not running, reading, writing, meditating, or schlepping around her brood, she is working to improve how she manages her ADHD neuroatypicality and mental health and that of her unique kids.

APA Reference
Arthur, T. (2019). What I Do When Anxiety Infects My Favorite Relaxation Tool  . Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 15 Oct 2019 (Originally: 15 Oct 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 15 Oct 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.