What is the anxiety matrix?
The anxiety matrix is anything that keeps us locked into a state of anxiety. Whatever makes us respond with more anxiety can be classed as part of the anxiety matrix. It’s the walls we’ve unintentionally built around ourselves to keep us stuck in this matrix. Without knowing it, or knowing it but not knowing how to break free from the matrix, we have innocently kept ourselves in this cycle.
What keeps us stuck in the anxiety matrix?
From my own personal experience, there seems to be three main factors that keep us stuck in the anxiety matrix. These three factors are our own ignorance, behaviours and our responses to anxiety.
A lack of understanding
Let me first explain why ignorance keeps us imprisoned inside the anxiety matrix. Ignorance just means lack of knowledge. Don’t look at the word ignorance as something nasty. It isn’t. I’m comfortable to admit that I’m ignorant in a lot of things. I have knowledge in a few things but there’s a lot I don’t know about and that’s completely fine. After all, we are always learning.
Anyway, back to the point…
Ignorance keeps us trapped because when we don’t have the insights and understanding we need to help us deal with our anxiety and panic, it then becomes very easy to make things worse than they need to be. When I lacked understanding of why I suffered and, more importantly, how I could learn to free myself from it, I honestly thought I was doomed to a life of anxiety and panic. Due to the fact that I didn’t know how to deal with panic attacks and anxiety, I responded and behaved in ways which only added more fuel to the fire. I’ll get into more detail about our responses and behaviours in a little while.
This is completely understandable though because out of desperation, we try absolutely everything which is available. Even if initially it sounds ridiculous, we take a shot with the therapy or technique because we don’t really have anything to lose. Pretty much anything is worth a shot when we are in the depths of suffering. The worst that can happen if the therapy, treatment or technique fails other than losing money and time, is we still experience anxiety.
However, without spending money and investing time into different things, we would never know if something was generally life-changing or not. This is why it’s healthy to not beat ourselves up for whatever we’ve experimented with in the past. Have no regrets because this is a learning curve and what we did at the time was needed for us to learn from it.
Focusing on anxiety
Have you ever heard the saying – Whatever you focus on, you feel more of? or Where attention goes, energy flows? It doesn’t matter if you haven’t because I’ll go through it now. This is a well known bit of advice from the ancient wisdom masters, at least that’s where I’ve heard it from before. Basically, the more we give our attention to something, the more energy and reality we give something. This is why focusing on sad stuff makes us feel sad and teary and why focusing on the things we are truly grateful for make us feel good.
This is exactly what happens when we focus on anything to do with anxiety. When we are constantly telling others about our inner world of anxious thoughts and sensations, all this is doing is keeping it in place. It will become our experience because we are focusing on it. Therefore, whatever we focus on, we feel more of. Even now as I help people deal with anxiety and panic attacks, I still sometimes have to take little breaks away from this information because I become so focused and caught up in it. Thankfully, the information I share is based on recovery so it’s not negative and extremely unlikely to trigger more anxiety.
I remember spending so much of my waking hours ruminating over how I felt and was constantly trying to figure out why I felt this way. For some irrational reason, I just assumed I would find the answer to my problems by doing this, but all it really did was amplify my anxious thoughts and sensations.
As you yourself, already know, spending the day dwelling on how we feel and trying to battle the anxiety away is never a good plan. It just leaves us more frustrated, upset and energetically depleted at the end of the day.
What would be more energetically rejuvenating? Getting into the habit of focusing on things which we naturally feel pulled towards, our interests and passions. By doing this, we can replace the counterproductive habits which leave us more anxious and depleted.
Always take into account the wisdom of “whatever we focus on, we feel.” This is always a good reminder to point you back in the right direction.
Instead of talking about how we feel, we could think about the things which we are grateful for in our lives. This can be done by writing a list and adding to it everyday. There’s always something we can be grateful for, no matter how tiny.
We could use this activity of gratitude as a way to pattern interrupt and break the habit of talking about how we feel. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with talking to other’s about our anxiety, just as long as we don’t make it into a constant practice. It’s always healthy and relieving to let people know what we’re going through… it’s never good bottling up inside and trying to hide it from other’s.
On the other hand, by constantly talking about it, we are making it a regular focus and therefore we will feel more anxiety.
Another counterproductive habit of focusing on anxiety is through research. Thanks to the internet, it’s so easy to access an unlimited amount of information, right at our fingertips.
Even though reassurance is massively helpful, there is a lot of misinformation out there only making anxiety sufferers more anxious. It certainly made me more anxious. I would get a certain sensation, panic about it, go online to read about it then panic more about it when I read that a particular sensation or symptom could be a sign of an underlying illness… great!
I instinctively knew that researching about how I felt only made me feel worse but for some reason, I still did it. When we are in that irrational, safety seeking fear mode, we will constantly look for a reason why we feel the way we do. More often than not, we pay the price for coming across information we wish we didn’t read. Even though the information could be completely wrong, we worry that it might be true so we start to panic about it.
Instead of researching about our anxiety and the associated symptoms, why not research into something we’re interested in? Something which doesn’t involve anxiety? This could literally be anything.
What we’re doing here by changing the habit is refocusing our attention away from anything associated with anxiety. By doing this overtime, we will stop the urge research about how we feel. This is another way where we will give our nervous system the chance to desensitise (calm down) and as a consequence, we will start to feel less anxious.
Fighting our anxiety
“I shouldn’t be feeling this way” and/or “How can I stop feeling so bloody anxious all of the time?” were statements and questions I would constantly repeat to myself almost every waking moment of my life. Understandably, it is a natural and normal response to not want to be experiencing emotional pain. After all, who in their right minds wants to be feeling anxious and panicky?
However, what I didn’t realise at the time was that by telling myself that I didn’t want to feel a certain way, I was actually creating inner turmoil with inner state. This is like trying to put out a fire by pouring more fuel onto it or trying to stop the stormy waves of the ocean by trying to pat them down with our hands… massively futile.
The truth is that fighting anxiety is a psychologically exhausting, draining and frustrating experience. I know that what kept me in the cycle for more than necessary was the inability to accept and allow myself to feel anxious. I eventually realised that my body and mind would start to heal if I allowed myself to fully feel and allow the anxiety to be there.
The idea is to not try and change how we feel, it’s not about moving away from our thoughts and feelings but moving with them in the same direction. What this approach does is it allows us to cut of the resistive energy charge which is adding more fuel to the anxiety fire. Or put another way, it is adding another layer of complexity which makes it harder for us to break free from the anxiety matrix.
Trying to escape from our anxiety actually keeps ourselves trapped in it.
Fearing our anxiety
If there was one other thing that kept me in the anxiety cycle (matrix) more than anything, apart from fighting and focusing on it, it would be fearing my anxiety. The more I feared it, the more deeper I fell into the abyss. This is because fear breeds more fear. Pour more fuel onto a fire and you oxygenate the fire. Fear the scary thoughts and uncomfortable sensations and our brain gets the message that we’re in danger and thus the fear response becomes activated once more.
How do we actually overcome the fear of anxiety?
From my experience, I’ve learnt that it comes through reassurance, understanding and actually letting ourselves feel the fear by making it do it’s worst. The reassurance is that no matter how scary, intense and uncomfortable the experience of anxiety and panic feels, no harm is ever being done to us through anxiety and panic. When I truly allowed myself to take this information in and actually trust this, I cried with relief.
The understanding is that fear is designed to keep us safe from danger. For most of my life I viewed fear as the great nemesis, a demonic entity actually trying to make my life hell. As you can imagine, this perception only made me feel more scared, anxious and victimised. it wasn’t until I understood how the fear response worked that I began to see anxiety in a new light. The perception that anxiety and panic is not our enemy but is actually our protector is so empowering and relieving.
I believe we cannot stop fearing panic and anxiety until we truly know that no harm is being done to our minds and bodies. Looking back now, I believed that as each day passed, my body was becoming weaker and weaker due to anxiety. Framing anxiety as an illness only served to intensify my anxiety and panic attacks that much more. The truth was, however, my body wasn’t becoming weaker or negatively effected by anxiety, it was still the same as it had always been.
Many anxiety sufferers (including myself when I suffered) wrongly assume that because of how long they’ve suffered and the severity of their anxiety will cause the body to break down and develop some kind of life-threatening illness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, of course, the body does undergo some physiological changes during anxiety but they’re not harmful. The body will return to a normal level once the you’ve healed yourself from anxiety.
Whenever we behave in a way that supports our anxiety, we are reinforcing the fact that we’re anxious and obviously this breeds more anxiety. More specifically, when we behave in an anxious way, we are casting a vote for the type of person we are.
Carrying out behaviours which keep us in the matrix.
Going on the internet to find out more about anxiety
I’ve mentioned this already but I’ll mention it again because it’s never a bad thing to repeat wise information 🙂
I spent a lot time going online to find out why I was experiencing anxiety and what the symptoms were. Apart from the occasional reassurance, I got many scares from researching which only lead me to feeling more anxious.There’s so much information online and not everything you read will be true, especially when it comes to anxiety and panic. Researching about our anxiety can also lead to anticipatory anxiety, this is when we are feeling on edge and our mind is anticipating to read something that causes us to panic.
The best thing we can do is avoid researching about how we feel because this will only make us feel more anxious. Anything you read about anxiety which makes you feel more anxious clearly cannot be of benefit as anxiety breeds more anxiety. By responding with more fear, we are fuelling it.
The information which you want to focus on is the stuff that actually reassures yourself that you aren’t coming to any harm no matter how intense and uncomfortable the sensations are. Information that actually points in the right direction of healing.
Instead of researching anxiety, why not research a topic you’re interested in. Something that provokes a positive emotional response, or at least something that doesn’t make you respond with more anxiety.
Going to the doctors
Whilst it might seem logical going to the doctors when going through anxiety, most of the time these doctors, unless they haven’t actually experienced what you’re going through, cannot really help you, at least not enough to point you in the right direction towards recovery. I went to the doctors quite a few times during my anxiety and I always came back home feeling confused, frustrated and more lost. I was prescribed medication but I didn’t stay on it for long because they made me feel like a zombie and my parents weren’t a great lover of them.
Whilst avoiding situations serves as a help in the short-term, it definitely isn’t the answer long-term. What happens when we avoid certain situations is that we put them in the same box as our anxiety. We associate certain places or events with our anxiety when the truth is they have absolutely nothing to do with it.
This can be hard to see/comprehend at first (it definitely was for me) but the truth, in my opinion, is that we don’t avoid situations because of the situations, we avoid them due the fear of feeling anxious or panicky in them situations. This is why understanding is crucial when it comes to overcoming anxiety. The anxiety isn’t out there in situations, places or people, it’s in us.
Whilst I don’t agree with jumping straight into the deep end of the swimming pool before re-learning to swim (exposure therapy), it’s helpful and confidence boosting to slowly reintroduce ourselves to the places and things we’ve been avoiding. The more we can do this, the more our brains will get the message that this place or situation is safe and then it can remove it from the “anxiety provoking” box. When I say slowly, I really mean it.
Taking our time with baby steps builds confidence and momentum. Start as small as you possibly can, because with time and a natural raising of your confidence, you will feel more able and comfortable to go that extra mile.
Having the inability to say no to people and things we really do want to say no to.
On the other hand, it’s also very important that we say no to people or to things which we don’t want to be involved in. Saying yes for the sake of it, is likely to backfire later and cause more anxiety because we are not staying true to ourselves.
If your friends already know you’re experiencing anxiety, they should understand your situation and have empathy for you. Tell them that you don’t feel up to it right now but you’ll do it another time. If it’s something that you wouldn’t do anyway, just be brutally honest by telling them that it’s not for you.
Looking back now, I remember saying yes a lot of the time because I was too anxious to say no. It wasn’t because I was afraid of how they would respond, it more the case I was afraid of how I would react. I knew that I would react with more anxiety and because at the time I feared how I felt, I would give in to the anxiety and say yes when I really wanted to say no.
Even though saying NO might make you feel temporarily on edge in the moment of saying it, you will feel much better off in the long run due to actually being honest and having the confidence to say what you actually wanted. Give yourself a pat on the back every time you have the courage to say no to the things you don’t want to do. You deserve it after all.
Negatively responding to our setbacks
Let’s face it – setbacks are not pleasant. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves by pretending they are. However, perceiving setbacks in a negative light is never going to help us move on from them. If anything, it keeps us stuck in the matrix of anxiety. Here’s the reassurance that really helped me to make peace with setbacks. They are totally normal, natural and expected during anxiety and panic. See my article on setbacks.
Through focusing our attention away from anxiety onto things which bring us fulfilment and enjoyment.
As I mentioned not too long ago, focusing on our anxiety is what keeps us trapped in the matrix. What makes a lot of sense is to focus on the things we enjoy doing in order to allow our attention to be pulled away from the anxiety. Constant practice of this will mean we will give ourselves a break from focusing on anxiety – it will take our mind off of the thoughts. This, in time, will allow our nervous system to heal and become less anxious.
A quick tip that I recommend to everyone when suffering from anxiety.
Don’t look to overcome your anxiety by doing the things you’re interested in. Have no agenda tied in to them. What happens when we try to feel better through doing things is that we are putting too much pressure on ourselves and too much expectation on a particular activity to make ourselves feel better. Also, the activity no longer becomes enjoyable but a means to an end. In other words in feels forceful and becomes chore-like.
Have no expectations and just do the things you enjoy without the intention to feel better. The likely hood is you’ll actually feel better by not trying to feel better but just by engaging your mind in the things you enjoy doing. As long as you don’t have the intention to feel better.
The reason why holding onto the idea of feeling better is counterproductive is because it’s like saying right now I am feeling anxious, but I don’t want to feel anxious. I cannot accept and allow the anxiety to be there so I will try and escape it through activity and distraction. Even though this sounds right, it’s actually counterproductive because what we’re really doing is creating inner resistance which will keep the anxiety in place.
The productive mindset to adopt when engaging our brain in the things we enjoy doing is to let go of the need to feel better. Having no expectations and just being present with whatever it is we’re doing.
The counterproductive mindset is created by trying to run away from how we feel when doing activities. This is the common approach people have when they are trying to move away from an unpleasant feeling state or disturbed thinking. They turn to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, excessive shopping, porn and anything else that gives them temporary relief.
I used to rely on alcohol to make myself feel better, if only I could escape from the torment of my mind and the unpleasant anxiety sensations for just a short time then I would be okay. While I did feel better for a little while, it only made matters worse in the long run. Not only do you get the negative side effects like a stinking hangover, you also put way too much expectations on something to make you feel better.
This is when people start turning to stronger substances like addictive and powerful drugs to feel “better.” Once they hit a level where they are no longer “positively” effected by the drug, they need another hit, this time by something a lot stronger. Thankfully, I never went down this route.
I hope this gives you a clear picture of what keeps us entangled in the matrix of anxiety and what you can start doing to pull yourself out of it. Thank you 🙂