Why the approach of getting rid of it backfires
The reason why I believe that trying to get rid of anxiety backfires is because it isn’t something we can get rid of by force. It’s something that we have innocently created for ourselves due to a lack of understanding. I will talk about why knowledge is power and how educating ourselves on what anxiety is, how it works and why it makes us feel the way we do in a little while.
From now on, please don’t spend your waking moments trying to eliminate anxiety. The energy and effort we put into trying to eliminate something that is self-created will bring about more of the same thing. It took me so long to figure this out because I was reading books and implementing programs which all advocated the ‘getting rid of anxiety’ approach.
My feelings were trying to tell me that this was the wrong way to go about things but I kept ignoring them because of what these authors and program creators were telling me.
It wasn’t until I finally got to the point where enough was enough. I was continuously adding more and more stress to an already worn out nervous system which was begging for me to let go and give up the fight of getting rid of it.
If my nervous system could talk in words, it would probably say something like: “Lawrence, please listen to the warning signs (feelings) that you’re experiencing because they are trying to tell you that how you’re approaching the anxiety clearly isn’t working because if it was, then you wouldn’t be stressing yourself out over it. You do realise that I will fix this all myself if you stop trying to interfere and make this all go away, right?.”
This is the message I received through my feelings when I did the opposite of what I had been doing all this time. The more we try to get rid of something, the more we will empower the thing we are trying to get rid of. Remind yourself of this phrase as often as possible because it will help you to get into the “correct” mindset when approaching anxiety.
All the constant researching about my symptoms, going on anxiety forums which created a negative atmosphere due to everyone feeling so hopeless and lost, talking and moaning about how I felt all of the time, trying loads of different therapies and expecting it all to go, trying to block out certain thoughts, distracting myself from certain feelings, looking back into my past and trying to pull the ‘old me’ back out into the present as a way to suppress my anxiety made me feel a hell of a lot worse.
I kept doing all of these things because I didn’t know better. No one came along and told me that all of what I was currently doing was actually keeping me locked up in the chronic anxiety prison.
What worked for me
Educating myself on anxiety
Let’s face it, when we haven’t educated ourselves on what anxiety is, how it works and why it makes us feel the way we do, we have absolutely no idea of what’s happening to us. This is why we are reacting to every bodily sensation and thought with more fear.
This is why we spend so much time trying to get rid of it and escape from how we are feeling. “If only I could get back to my old self” we say to ourselves when we are experiencing inner turmoil without realising that this approach is what actually fuels the anxiety and despair.
When I say educating myself on anxiety, what do I really mean?
I mean understanding how anxiety is created and how our brain and body work together to control and produce it.
Personally, I believe that anxiety is a phobia of the feelings of fear which is produced when we enter the fight/flight response. Fear is a normal bodily reaction to a perceived threat whether that perceived threat is something that is potentially dangerous to our life like a grizzly bear chasing us or a stressful.encounter when an angry driver honks his horn at us.
The feelings of fear we experience in such situations happen automatically. That means without any conscious control on our part. This is when we tense up and go into the fight/flight, when we feel the effects of having adrenaline pumped around our body. This is the fear response or what’s also known as the emergency response. I like to call it our protection mechanism because that’s what it’s essentially trying to do – keep us protected.
Anxiety, however, is when we get into a cycle of fearing the emergency response and all of the bodily symptoms it produces. Without fearing our fight/fight response, we wouldn’t fall into a fear disorder as one of my old mentors says.
It would just be the uncomfortable feelings which are created by this response and without adding any second fear as Claire Weekes calls it, the adrenaline fuelling these bodily sensations would begin to wear off pretty quickly.
Of course, the adrenaline would still linger for a while but no more additional fear would be activated if we didn’t fear the feelings of the adrenaline rush.
It’s important to know what’s going on in the body when experiencing anxiety. Our brain, which cannot tell the difference between a real or an imagined threat sends a signal to our adrenal gland to release adrenaline whenever we perceive a thought or bodily sensation in a fearful manner.
Anxiety is all to do with how we react to the thoughts and bodily sensations that we experience. If we didn’t fearfully interpret our inner state then we wouldn’t experience anxiety. We would just experience the raw fear and the bodily reactions associated with it.
Because our brain cannot tell the difference, the body reacts to a thought as if it were in real danger. Just like when we are in a real life threatening situation, where our bodily systems have been implicated; a racing heart, tense muscles, increased breathing at a rapid rate etc, our body will respond in the same way whenever we perceive a thought or emotion to be threatening.
The thought of course, is completely harmless and unconnected to reality. However, as long as we fearfully interpret our thinking, fear will be the reaction regardless.
Not only is it important to educate ourselves on what anxiety is and what goes on in our mind and body whilst reacting fearfully, It’s also important to educate ourselves on why trying to get rid of anxiety backfires.
Whenever we make it our mission to eradicate our anxiety, we are actually planting the seed to empowering the anxiety. This is where most people (including myself for so many years) make the biggest mistake.
The same energy we use in trying to eliminate anxiety is used against us from our very doing. This is law of paradoxical intention. The more we try to stop thinking certain thoughts, the more awareness we bring to them.
The more we try to suppress our feelings, the more we suffer as a consequence. If suppression worked, then we would of all healed ourselves years ago but it clearly only makes matters worse.
Claire Weekes lays out the process of recovery perfectly.
Letting time pass
Facing is when we stop running away from our anxiety because when we run away, it chases us. Not because it’s out to get us, but because it’s trying to keep us safe so it will always be on our guard when we run away from it.
The brain switches on learning mode when fear is activated inside of our body. This is because it wants to know whether or not this activation of fear is even necessary, so it watches how we react and behave. If we tense up and mentally run away from the thoughts and sensations that arise, then it sees that the fear is obviously appropriate due to how we are reacting.
Not only this, but because it really does have our best interests at hear (a protection mechanism) it activates even more anxiety because we are asking for more through the way we are responding to it.
This is why we are innocently keeping ourselves locked into the cycle of anxiety when we try to get rid of it. It’s sending the wrong message to our brain.
Accepting is when we give up the fight. It means we put down our weapons of reason, an argumentative attitude, complaint, anger and frustration and hold up the white flag of surrender.
Most people perceive surrender as a sign of weakness but this is certainly not the case. This is not the surrender of resigning our lives to permanent anxiety. This surrender is the ultimate empowerment. It’s when we understand that fighting the anxiety, pulling the internal rope with it in a battle of inner tug-of-war is what’s keeping us stuck in this vicious cycle.
It’s when we learn that not trying to push our anxiety away and just letting it come without looking over our shoulder and waiting for it to leave is what contributes to the recovery process. If accepting is a psychological surrender to drop the control and resistance to our anxiety, then floating is a physiological surrender (acceptance) to our anxiety.
It’s when we let go of the tenseness we hold in our body by sagging as Claire Weekes called it. Letting everything sag has a positive effect on our nervous system. When we are all tensed up, this sends a message to our nervous system that we are preparing for danger. So, unclench your jaw, drop your shoulders, untangle your legs if one is crossed over the other, don’t try to control your breathing, let nature take care of everything for you because this is what it’s designed to do.
The more control we try to assert on ourselves, the more worked up and anxious we’re more likely to feel.
Floating is very similar to acceptance. Allowing ourselves to float on the stormy waves rather than struggle against them which is futile. We move up and down over the undulations and we let the waves of anxiety take us wherever they wish without adding second fear and resistance.
Nothing bad can ever happen as a result of being in a highly anxious state, so we can prove this to ourselves once and for all by floating and letting time pass which is something I’m going to cover now.
Letting time pass is obviously very important to the healing process. When I say healing process, I don’t mean to say that we have an illness that we are healing from. It’s not an illness. It’s a natural response to a perceived danger which has become stuck in a cycle thanks to our lack of understanding and reacting to it in a way that perpetuates it.
Can you see how different this approach is to what we’d normally do when experiencing anxiety and panic? Can you see why trying to eliminate it actually creates the opposite result of what we so desperately desire?
When we use force and willpower, we become more tense and becoming more tense sends a signal to our brain that we are nervously aroused and the brain decodes this as “danger, this body needs protecting!.”
There is nothing we truly need protecting from. It’s all an illusion. Sure, the bodily symptoms are real, that cannot be denied. However, just because they are real, doesn’t mean they are connected to reality and are a threat to our lives.
They are the same physical reactions which we would experience during the fight/flight response when in the presence of a real danger, but because there isn’t a danger, they are the symptoms of a false signal. A misfiring of the protection mechanism.
Anxiety is our fear of this misfiring protection mechanism. If we didn’t fear it, then it wouldn’t ever develop into a disorder. The adrenaline would dissipate and we’d just forget about it because through our acceptance and focusing on the things in our normal daily routines, we’d brush it off.
Letting time pass is one of the most important things a chronic-anxiety sufferer can learn because the brain has to go through a process of unlearning certain reactions and behaviours to this misfiring fight/flight response.
The mind and body have become sensitised and tired. In order to desensitise, the application of the knowledge I’ve shared above plus the passage of time are the keys to healing.
During my journey, I was very impatient and expected immediate results for a while. As you can imagine, this didn’t work out well for me.
I was so used to trying programs and therapies which promised instant results and because of this, I was conditioned to expect the quick fix and so I had to unlearn this conditioning which took quite a lot of time.
However, once I became patient and adopted the long term mindset, things began to work out smoothly for me. It felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.
Eventually, I managed to let go of recovery altogether. Stupid and crazy you might think, but this actually helped me a lot. I didn’t even entertain the idea of it anymore because I knew that I would start to feel impatient again.
Ironically, when I dropped my focus on recovery and just applied the knowledge, recovery found it’s way to me in it’s own time.
I trust that you have found this post useful in some way. As I usually say, if this post can help just one person, then I am truly grateful for that.
Until next time