Why do I identify so much with the character “Anxiety” from “Inside Out 2”

Discover why so many people identify with the character “Anxiety” in “Inside Out 2” and learn how this portrayal fosters empathy and understanding for mental health struggles.

Why do I identify so much with the character “Anxiety” from “Inside Out 2”

I’m not especially malicious or intimidating, so I didn’t expect to be the villain in Pixar’s new children’s movie, “Inside Out 2.” But it turns out that the film’s antagonist is the personification of Anxiety (voiced by Maya Hawke). And while I wouldn’t say I’m the personification of anxiety, if you looked inside my head, at the dashboard of my emotions, anxiety would be in control more than I’d like to admit.

Many people who live with a lot of anxiety would agree that anxiety is not very fun. But I don’t think it’s a villainous emotion. As such, I appreciate the way “Inside Out 2” gives its anxious antagonist some heart and some positive characteristics amidst her frenetic trembling.

But I’m getting ahead of myself (one of the things that happens when you have anxiety). So, to backtrack a bit: The first “Inside Out,” released in 2015, introduced us to Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl who just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley’s actions are controlled by her five emotions: Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Joy (Amy Poehler) has almost everything under control, but throughout the film she learns that she can’t be happy all the time: Sadness (Phyllis Smith) also plays an important role in Riley’s life.

In “Inside Out 2,” Riley (Kensington Tallman) is now 13 years old and, with the onset of puberty, experiencing a new set of uncomfortable emotions: boredom, shame, envy, nostalgia and, of course, anxiety. The new group sends Riley’s old emotions to the back of her mind and then tries to guide Riley through hockey camp in the lead-up to freshman year. The results are, like adolescence itself, a disaster.

Despite my wife’s insistence, I have not gone to the doctor for my anxiety and therefore do not have an official diagnosis. However, many of Riley’s experiences with anxiety sound familiar to me.

Among the things that are familiar to me is the fact that anxiety is not all bad. Director Kelsey Mann and screenwriters Meg LeFauve and Dave Holstein understand that anxiety can serve a useful function, as part of its role is to imagine setbacks and plan possible ways to overcome them. As a freelance writer, without a boss to set my schedule, anxiety keeps me in touch with new editors to make sure I have enough work and neurotically checking my calendar to make sure I meet deadlines. (This item was delivered on time. Thank you, anxiety!)

The bad thing is when you can’t turn off the anxiety and you end up jumping out of bed at 3 in the morning to check that you haven’t forgotten to send an email… and then, while you’re awake, you could write the essay you have to deliver the next day… and maybe start that other composition… and then it’s 9 in the morning and you haven’t slept and your wife asks you if you are very, very sure that you don’t want to talk to the doctor about anxiolytics .

Following this vein (though without the spousal comments), Riley imagines herself failing miserably at hockey in a series of scenarios. She then gets up at an ungodly hour to practice on the ice because her big, toothy, orange-mouthed anxiety bounces off her head like a carrot-colored hurricane.

But anxiety isn’t the only thing keeping Riley from sleeping. Anxiety is the antagonist of “Inside Out 2” because it separates Riley from her deeper self. Before the onset of anxiety, Riley was confident, kind, devoted to her friends, and generally a good person.

But anxiety changes all that. Suddenly, Riley is filled with self-doubt and loses her main moral imperatives. She turns her back on her friends to join the popular group. She no longer feels good about herself, she doesn’t know who she is. That makes it unpredictable, unpleasant and even, to some extent, dangerous. “Inside Out 2” is a kind movie, so no one is seriously hurt, but there are hints that Riley’s anxiety causes her to lose control of herself on the ice in ways that could hurt others.

In fact, psychologists have found links between anxiety and aggression in adolescents. Although I (for better or worse) am no longer a teenager, I know that when I’m very anxious I can get nervous (I’m not always fun to be around when I’m driving). When stress makes you tense, you can pull the rubber band in any direction and hit anyone. It’s not ideal.

At the same time, anxiety and aggression do not always go together. At least in my experience, anxiety is usually a form of attention. When I’m anxious, it’s often because I worry about my loved ones. As most parents know, nothing makes you as anxious as a threat to your child.

Riley is not a mother. But her emotions are another story. They are parts of her. But they are also part of her caretakers. Joy, especially, is a mother figure, and she expresses that motherhood through what looks a lot like anxiety: she worries whenever Riley forms unhappy memories, and tries to encourage her to forget and repress them. The film makes it clear that this is not the ideal coping strategy.

Anxiety prevents Riley from giving her best. But at the same time (and this is the way anxiety isn’t a villain), Anxiety really cares about Riley, just like anxious parents care about her kids. And her perhaps obsessive attention and investment gives him some insights that Alegría doesn’t have. Worrying about the worst consequences can help you avoid some of them. Sometimes it is necessary to live with fear, misery and self-loathing so as not to be completely unprepared when they appear unexpectedly, as they almost certainly will.

I wouldn’t say I love my anxiety; I’d rather not have had a minor nervous breakdown while writing this, for example, if only because I would have liked to go to bed earlier. On the other side of the emotional console, however, I feel like anxiety also kept me writing until the end.

Likewise, Riley overcomes her anxiety and accepts that it is a part of her. She is anxious, but not anxious about feeling anxious. Sometimes that’s the best thing to do with a bad feeling. And sometimes, instead, the bad feeling isn’t so bad after all.

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