**WARNING: If you have not finished reading the entire trilogy of The Hunger Games, this post may contain mild spoilers for the books. You have been warned!
My friends like to laugh at my love for the book series “The Hunger Games” written by Suzanne Collins. I’m the one who always finds a way to repeatedly bring the books up in seemingly non-related topics of conversation, attends the movies on opening night in themed attire, and puts a framed THG quote in my baby daughter’s room. It could be a little borderline obsessive, but the truth is that these books mean a lot to me for many reasons; the most surprising of which may just be the fact that I learned a new coping technique for my lifelong struggle with anxiety on the pages of these books.
If you’re familiar with the story at all, you’ll recall how beloved leading man Peeta Mellark is captured by the evil Capitol at the end of the second novel, “Catching Fire.” Much of the first part of the final book, “Mockingjay” is spent with Peeta still in captivity and our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, anticipating his rescue and reunion with her. When word reaches her that he’s finally been rescued and is returned, she runs to him anticipating a sweet reunion, only to find herself choked by a Peeta who is not the same man who was taken from her.
It turns out that Peeta was “hijacked.” Basically, he was given a combination of hallucinatory influences and torture until he was programmed to kill Katniss, the girl he has loved his whole life. It was definitely one of the book’s biggest shock moments. The reader was left wondering if Peeta would ever be the same. Would Katniss and her team be able to help Peeta remember his love for Katniss and find peace?
The key to Peeta’s recovery comes in the form of an extremely clever game crafted by members of Katniss’ squadron called “Real or Not Real.” The game is simple: Peeta tells them a memory he has, and they tell him if it actually happened, or if it is something that the Capitol has programmed him to believe. By going through this process, he is slowly able to recall the truth, even though it’s said in the epilogue that he still occasionally has moments of struggle, even many years later.
When I’m in the midst of an anxiety attack or a moment where worry threatens to overtake me, I have to play “real or not real.” Let me tell you a personal example how this works for me: I often get very anxious about my life as a mother. I’ll hear things in my head like “You’re a terrible mother” or “Your kids deserve better.” When I apply real or not real to this situation, it plays out like this: “What is real?” Well, I definitely make mistakes, but I love my kids unconditionally, and they know it. They are warm, fed, and provided for. I go out of my way to make life fun for them. I may not be the best, but I’m doing okay.
See how that works? A lot of times my feelings get “hijacked” and I wind up believing lies about myself or others. But when I sort through what is really real and what is just anxiety trying to magnify itself and minimize the less dramatic truth, I find I am a lot calmer and less anxiety-prone.
It’s important to note that the Capitol was smart in the memories they chose to distort for Peeta. There were elements of truth in them that they were able to twist to their advantage. Our fears are like that. They are often things that have a small particle of truth (i.e. something that sets us off initially) that the fear chooses to magnify and manipulate until it has become something else entirely. It’s so important to go through the real or not real in our minds with the things we are struggling with, because often we can feel as if we are in the right when really our fears have led us so far from the initial issue.
The next time you’re feeling anxious, ask yourself: real or not real? Remember, just because something seems or feels real, doesn’t mean it is real. Be sure to separate out the lies from the reality. By doing so, you may just be able to dramatically impact the amount of anxiety you encounter from now on. Now that is something to REALly get excited about!