Get a bird on your shoulder: a better way to manage anxiety

Yup, a bird. An imaginary one, but still.

Lately, I summoned one on my left shoulder. Of course we can’t see him. But he’s there.

I chose a miniature shoebill stork, not the usual gray, but white. His feathers are always a mess. I fondly call him Birdie.

And no, I’m not writing this from an institution.

The bird fits well because I’ve often referred to anxiety as quite the challenging bird. After all, it makes strange, scary noises and then it sings a familiar tune that puts everything in perspective. And then just when you think it’s tame and manageable, it gets all jumpy and misbehaves, in good times and bad, because both good and bad stress trigger the same response in our bodies.

Challenging things are not to be avoided and anxiety is no exception. The more you avoid it, the worse it gets. The more you try to fix it, the more it resists. The only way to manage and overcome it is to make friends.

Yes, start and maintain a conversation. Get to know it. Understand the relationship, and then transform that relationship into a healthy version.

Because anxiety is not there to make lives miserable, as it so well succeeds at first. It’s there to protect. To prevent exposure to things that it imagines could hurt us. To cover up deeper fears and feelings we want to avoid at all cost. It’s rigorous and devoted, and follows a well established pattern of instructions and imagery it knows no other way of interpreting than as deadly dangerous.

So then, what better way to make friends than give it a form. And what better form than a bird! Although if you prefer another creature, by all means summon that.

If you’ve struggled with anxiety gone wild in your life, you know that eventually, learning to allow vulnerability, lightheartedness and humor are essential to the healing journey. (And let’s be fair, these past few years of the pandemic, and the current economic issues, along with the tragedy in the Ukraine, are more than we’re built to psychologically withstand.)

When you start to unravel the misunderstandings behind your anxiety, whether they arise from deeply upsetting traumas or triggered by either terrible news and current experiences or even wonderful events happening in your life, you will start to smile and see the logic in all the mess.

The bird helps. It doesn’t replace therapy and it’s not an instant healer. But it helps a lot.

Its confusion and quirkiness, its adorableness and stubborn moments will of course reflect your own. Over time, it will start to feel more confident, safe and have less and less of a need to throw a tantrum. As will you.

Your own symptoms will start to subside, until one day, you will almost miraculously forget about the anxiety, because your habits and patterns will have changed. Because there will be no more misunderstandings, and everything that needed to be talked about would have been talked about.

At this time, Birdie and I have pretty regular conversations about happiness anxiety. Yes, there is such a thing. And he was in a state until I shared a quote:

“I realized that I was not infrequently nagged by the feeling that if something really great happened in my life there was going to be some kind of cosmic counterbalance in the form of something really bad happening in my life.”

We were both quite relieved we’re not the only ones freaked out by good stress too. And Birdie reminded me how wrong I was years ago to roll my eyes in disbelief and annoyance when I first learned about the concept.

On occasion, when triggers show up, or overthinking takes over, I turn to this imaginary bird with ruffled white feathers and point out we’re not surrounded by a host of hungry tigers and about to be eaten. We laugh and breathe and then I go get a snack.

You can do the same with the bird on your shoulder, or whatever other critter you choose. Just imagine how instead of paralyzing fear you can transform your experience into a comical conversation that is actually a great source of authentic healing.

But enough of all this, you get the point. My most important takeaway from my own struggles to manage anxiety in my life is that after taking the time to feel the fear, freak out, and get your bearings, the best (and fastest) way to move forward is to make anxiety your friend and re-forge that connection with relevant information, patience, compassion, and humor.

And now for some resources I found very helpful.

For some very helpful videos and even exercises based on CBT, check out Barbara Heffernan on YouTube. The Anxiety Guy is also great. As are Sadhguru, Marisa Peer, and Insight Timer for meditation and breath work.

Do read the article linked below if you’re dealing with happiness anxiety. It’s an excellent write-up and explains a lot.

Be well.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. I remember my girlfriend’s mom had a parrot. I was terrified of the bird but he tried to always get my attention. Even tot he point where one day I was having a beer with my girlfriend’s Dad and the bird flies towards me.
    Me being terrified of this parrot, fell back; tripped over my stool(I was sitting on) and lost the can of beer all over myself.
    Everyone started laughing;including myself and to no surprise, the parrot (Echo) as well. Over time though, the bird got attached to me and always hung out on my shoulder.
    He would talk to me, know when I was feeling down in the dumps and most times, he was hilarious.
    So I agree with the article, these birds have a way of cheering us up. I suffered from anxiety and depression then too and let’s just say; Echo had a way of cheering me up.
    I went from being afaird of birds of any kind; to now seeing they have more personality than some people I know. Birds,animals, etc. can teach us people a lot about emotions and empathy it seems.


    1. jb says:

      Thanks for sharing! My suggestion is about an imaginary bird but a real one could work! 😊 My real animals are fur babies, not feathered…and yes, they’re pretty special, they sense when something is off and definitely take care of us at all times.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true 👍
        It’s people like you who make me enjoy reading articles like these on WordPress. So unique, authentic and inspiring.
        Take care 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. jb says:

          Awww thank you!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. You are most welcome 🙏 ☺


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