Archery and Anxiety

I have recently taken up archery, something I remember loving as a child and wanting to get back to for a long time. It’s been long enough, though, that it’s basically a new pursuit, which means there is a learning curve. And if you’ve ever tried archery, especially without much detailed instruction, you know that often that learning curve slides right into the intersection of bowstring with forearm.

In my case, it didn’t take long. Just a few days after we started, the string caught me right on the inside of the elbow, just at the top edge of my leather arm guard. (So I was trying to be careful, but…ow.) And then it hit me again, in almost the exact same place. And let me tell you, that tender spot inside the elbow is also one place that happens to bruise spectacularly when it gets hit by the bowstring. It’s a week later now, and it’s still a vivid purple and yellow.

This was motivation, however. With proper form, this kind of impact doesn’t happen, so I quickly learned what I was doing wrong, and how to improve my arm position and alignment. Other problems arose, however, when I tried to put this new understanding into practice.

I couldn’t help but flinch a little. Instead of releasing the arrow smoothly, with all of my focus on the target, part of my mind was worried about my arm, and my draw became more tentative. It wasn’t enough to send the arrow too wide, but it was enough to interfere. And, of course, it took a lot of the enjoyment out of practice and made me less enthusiastic about doing it.

It occurred to me later that this isn’t too different from social anxiety, at least how it often manifests for me. After suffering enough repeated social “failures,” I flinch away from engaging again; I anticipate that it’s going to hurt. So I often avoid social contact, and even when I try, I hold back. I don’t put all of myself into it. But of course, this makes me all the more likely to fail—people can tell that I’m not fully engaged, and maybe that makes me seem uninterested, inauthentic, or even dishonest. The arrow of my intention misses the mark.

It’s hard to get out of that cycle. As I continued to practice my archery, however, I found I was able to regain some confidence as my form improved. But first I had to just accept that each attempt might hurt. If I was doing things right, they wouldn’t—but I wouldn’t be doing things right if I let my fear distract me and keep me from fully committing to each shot. Instead I had to release the fear before I released the arrow.

I don’t hit my arm very often anymore, and I haven’t hit it so painfully again. But I also bought a different arm guard that protects me a little better and gives me more peace of mind as I’m learning. This lets me focus on really improving my form without getting stung by every single mistake.

It would be nice if I could wear some kind of similar gear to protect against social “stings,” but I think a good parallel is being willing to be vulnerable when connecting with other people, but also being aware that some pain can be guarded against. Sometimes that means learning to keep appropriate boundaries, because not all things are safe to reveal to all people. Sometimes it means avoiding people who hurt you through no fault of your own; unlike bowstring slap, social harm isn’t necessarily self-inflicted, and sometimes it’s not your form that is out of line.

But sometimes it’s enough just to notice that I’m preemptively flinching. Then I can take a look at what’s going on and figure out if it’s really warranted. Take this blog post, for example: I wrote the initial draft yesterday, and ever since I’ve been second-guessing whether I really want to put it out there. It’s not like it’s super-personal, but it’s a little personal, and I find myself wondering if I’m exposing myself to criticism by publishing it. (Actually, I wonder that with practically every blog post.) But it doesn’t do me any good to hold back, and if I flinched and second-guessed everything I would never get anything done.

So, with that, I release the arrow.

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9 thoughts on “Archery and Anxiety

  1. It’s funny, that anxiety and how it can run us (me)… I was in the National library, and in order to go in the sign said I’d have to lock up my back pack. I was tired, and was sure I’d loose the key to the locker/ forget the combination/ not ever get back inside the house I’m staying at. I was sure I’d be better off not going in. And the kind man behind the desk talked me down. He said “This is probably the only time you’ll be here, and you don’t want to miss this opportunity… I’ll help you remember. Don’t let being anxious about it stop you”. And he did help. Just having someone else there recognizing what was gong on was helpful… I’ll be putting up some of the photo’s from a Yates exhibit/ Golden Dawn stuff soon, and it was really lovely to see his small notebooks and such.

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  2. Archery! Yeah! 👏🏼👏🏼. And oh yes, the Anxiety Monster 😳 He’s such a dork. Always interfering with everything. You’re so right about revelations, too, and what’s safe to reveal to whom. It can be so darned confusing sometimes! I’ve proverbially shot myself in the foot many many times throughout my life, revealing too much to the wrong person, only to deeply regret it immediately afterward! It’s like “aw shizz, I blew another one”, meaning anything from a social encounter to an entire friendship, either a budding friendship, or (less often) a well-established one (or so I thought) 😳. Just remember that nobody can be all things to all people, and some people will pick anyone apart, simply because they’re disagreeable themselves (which has *nothing* to do with you) 💗💗

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  3. Oh I love archery! I did a lot of it when I was in school and university. I love the intensity of the concentration, the precision. Keep at it! The sting is temporary.

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  4. Brilliant!! Such a great comparison. I can relate as we had Archery in 8th-grade gym class. At the time, the pain was far more distracting than it is now that I’ve aged and grown lots of scar tissue to help protect. In every way, it seems. It’s easy to forget how much I’m now benefiting from all the failed attempts of the past. I love this post so much. Heh. 💜💜

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  5. I just got into archery myself and I love it…I know how you feel though. I would make a couple of mistakes and focused so much on not repeating them that I ended up making others!

    I seemed to also have a fear that when pulling the bowstring back to my mouth that id rip my nose off! 🙂 – Keep at it!

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    1. Cool, thanks for writing! I’ve followed your blog, too; I’ve had a little lull in shooting since my schedule got busy, but I plan on getting out there later today. I’m looking forward to following along with your progress through your course!

      Liked by 1 person

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