Before I get into the main topic of this article, let me just explain that anxiety is not inherently a tormentative entity. It’s not out to get us and plotting to drive us to the point of insanity.
The whole point of fear is to keep us in alert mode so we can stand a better chance at survival when faced with a life threatening situation. Anxiety, is a phobia of the fight/flight response but the same protective mechanism gets activated when we are fearing the fear response. Fear and anxiety is all about protection.
It only feels that anxiety is a tormentor in our experience when our relationship with it is dysfunctional. More accurately, we are tormenting ourselves by perceiving and responding to anxiety in a counter-productive way. This is usually brought about because of a lack of knowledge on what turns anxiety into our tormentor.
So, without further ado, let’s get into it…
There are 4 main reasons (in my opinion) why anxiety appears to be tormenting us.
Reason #1 – Expecting it to leave
One of the biggest reasons why anxiety appears to be tormenting us is when we expect it leave. When we constantly look over our shoulder and wait for it to clear off. If you don’t know already, I’m here to tell you that this attitude is what is keeping the anxiety in place.
The reason why expecting anxiety to go when we get annoyed with it, argue with it, try to get back to a better state when we are feeling anxious is because whatever we resist creates the opposite effect of what we desire.
The truth is, underneath all of the anxiety, we are innately well. This is our birthright, this is our natural state at birth. This means that we are designed to always return to that state when we stop doing the things which I’ve outlined in this post.
However, because we don’t know this, we think that it’s something we have to bring about ourselves. We think that we have to wrestle our way back to mental and emotional wellness.
Wanting our anxiety to go is a completely normal and expected. It’s a perfectly justifiable reaction because it’s hardwired into humans to resist and fight off any feelings of discomfort.
However, from personal experience, desperately wanting the anxiety to go, telling myself that I shouldn’t be thinking and feeling this way is what adds so much more fuel to the fire of anxiety.
As Paul David, the author of At Last a Life says, the more we try to escape from the quicksand of anxiety, the more it pulls us in deeper.
This is such a vicious cycle which again is brought about my a lack of education on why this approach is counterproductive and through habit. It’s habitual because if we have spent most of our time trying to escape from anxiety, it’s definitely become a deeply embedded pathway in our brain.
So, not only is it an instinctive response to tense up and fight against any uncomfortable emotion/sensation, it’s also become habitual.
It can take a long time before the neural pathway of trying to escape from anxiety (resistance) is replaced by the new neural pathway of acceptance, a willingness to experience the anxiety without getting upset by it and demanding that it should leave.
If you know me well enough my now, then you’ll know that I swear by the counter-intuitive approach. Funnily enough, when I read about this counterintuitive approach and adopted the attitude, I started to feel a deep sense of peace even in the midst of feeling/being nervously aroused. A change in relationship/perspective is such an important part of the healing process.
The paradox is this: when you want it to leave, it will most probably end up staying. When you don’t mind it being there without fighting and fearing it, then it will leave on it’s own terms. There’s nothing we have to do is help our anxiety to leave because anything we try to do just gives it more power over us.
Trying to make anxiety go away and expecting it to leave is the mistake that all sufferers make. Paraphrasing a quote – It’s in search for the exist of anxiety that convinces our protection mechanism (fight/flight response) that a danger is real.
When we keep checking in to see if our anxiety has cleared off, what we are essentially doing is calling it back in because we are searching for it. And this searching behaviour/approach is what tells the subconscious protection mechanism that a danger is present in our environment. This means only one thing – the activation of more fear in order to keep us safe.
As you can see, healing from chronic anxiety is like an art. It takes a particular skill set and approach to make this a reality. It all comes from a deep understanding which is that we can heal with the right knowledge and approach to anxiety.
Reason #2 – Fearing it’s presence
Adding second fear is probably the biggest reason why anxiety seems to torment us. When we fear anxiety, it gets a lot more intense and feels a lot more uncomfortable, so it’s no surprise that it appears to be tormenting.
The truth is, however, fear cannot possibly torment us because that’s not what it’s set up to do. It’s set up to protect us. However, adding that extra level of fear does make the anxiety seem hellish.
Let’s be clear about this, fear is not a pleasant feeling. It’s horrendous, especially when it reaches the peace of a panic attack. A lot of people, including myself, have said that you almost feel like you are going to die when in high anxiety mode.
Even though we jump to the worst case scenario, there’s a reason why we feel so terrible. The reason being is that fear is our inbuilt alarm system and every alarm system sounds unpleasant.
The car alarm, the school alarm, the central alarm system of a house, even the online alarm I used on my laptop just now made an intrusive noise which made my heart jump. That’s the whole point. To alert us.
When it comes to fear, it’s supposed to wake us up in the heat of the moment during a dangerous encounter so we can take quick action.
The only reason why we would fear our anxiety is because we have negative beliefs in that it could be harmful to our health.
This is why we panic and think “OMG, what if I pass out or have a heart attack?” “What if I end up in the A & E room?” Of course, if we haven’t been educated on our thoughts, it’s all too easy to be bluffed by them and fear the worst.
So, because the whole point of fear is to keep us safe, more adrenaline will be pumped into our bloodstream and around the body in order to prepare us for the worst. With this release of adrenaline comes the uncomfortable experience of bodily symptoms which are the result this adrenaline release.
Again, without educating ourselves on the bodily symptoms, it’s all too easy to fear the worst. “Omg, what on earth is this horrible feeling?” This sharp pain down the side of my left arm could be a heart attack because I’ve heard people have attacks when they get this sharp pain down the same side, oh no!.”
More fear and more panic. The anxiety renews itself through our adding second fear. If we didn’t fear our anxiety, then our intense nervous energy in our body will start to dissipate.
When I stopped fearing my panic/anxiety through educating myself on them and then adopting the approach that rewires the brain with a different message, the symptoms started to become so much more easier to tolerate.
They were not charged with this shock wave of fear anymore which meant that they wouldn’t be as uncomfortable and scary. What we are doing when we are fearing the feelings of fear is we’re essentially adding another layer of fear on top of our initial layer, so it’s no wonder why it feels almost unbearable.
The trick is to no longer add any second fear to the current feelings of fear. It’s important to point out that we cannot stop ourselves from feeling the feelings of being afraid because that’s what fear is.
However, what we can do is refrain from adding second fear to the feelings of being afraid. Don’t try to stop yourself from feeling afraid because you are supposed to feel afraid, that’s the whole point of fear. Anxiety is when we fear the feeling of being afraid.
This is how we fall into a “disorder” because as I’ve said many times, the brain cannot tell the difference between a real and an imagined threat so it just thinks that there must be a real danger when all that’s happening is we are afraid of the way anxiety makes us feel.
The brain doesn’t know that we’re afraid of the anxiety itself, it just thinks that because we are reacting fearfully, we must be in real danger, so it activates more adrenaline to keep us safe. Basically, the fight/flight response is having a battle with itself thanks to how we are responding to the initial thoughts, feelings and symptoms of anxiety.
As you can see, the way to break free from this fear adding more fear cycle is to stop fearing the anxiety and all of the uncomfortable sensations is produces. Once we stop fearing it, then no longer does it imprison us.
We were the ones that created this prison and kept ourselves locked inside of it. Of course, this is not an overnight thing so it will take patience and time as we’ve wired our brain to respond this way. It will take a little bit of unlearning to do on our part but it’s definitely achievable.
Reason #3 – Seeing our thoughts and feelings as truth
This one is a tough one to crack. However, when we educate ourselves on what our anxiety is including all the thoughts and sensations that come with it, then the veil starts to lift.
When we truly believe that we are dying from anxiety and panic, we can’t even hope to overcome our fear of fear because I truly believe that the biggest fear we have during anxiety, the one that looms large over every other fear is the fear of something terrible happening to us as a result of anxiety and panic.
This is why knowledge really is power. When I understood what my thoughts were, I no longer saw them as truth.
When I understood that my bodily symptoms were nothing more than nervous energy manifesting in my body as side effects of being in the fight/flight response, I stopped taking them a lot less seriously than before. What I saw as the truth was just an illusion.
Thoughts are never connected to reality because they are just thoughts. They are no different from having a nightmare. Once we wake up from the nightmare and realise that’s not real, we lose our fear of the nightmare.
Whilst our heart might be racing, hands sweating and feelings of nervous arousal pulsating through our body, these symptoms automatically start to lose their power and intensity when we see the truth behind this nightmare.
This is no different from anxious thoughts. Of course, when we fear anxious thoughts, then having a strong emotional reaction in the body is inevitable because this is how our mind and body is set up.
Whatever we perceive as a threat, even if it’s an imaginary threat, our body will respond as if it were a real threat. When we wake up to the fact that our thoughts do not represent the truth and are just a product of the imagination, then we are essentially brushing off the nightmare.
We don’t have to do anything about our feelings which are triggered from perceiving our thoughts as truth, except accept them for what they are and allow them to be until they dissipate.
Again, nothing about this is a quick fix because there really is no such thing. Everything takes time to learn. Repetition of the right approach and the right understanding is key in everything, especially when it comes to healing from chronic anxiety.
Reason #4 – Playing the victim role
Playing the victim role is something I did for many years when suffering from chronic anxiety. It’s one of the most common traits of a chronic anxiety sufferer. If we are religious, we may blame it on god.
“God did this. I must have done something dreadfully wrong in my previous life which is why I’m suffering so badly now.” If we’re not the religious type, then we may just think that life is treating us really terrible. As if it’s picking on us.
Does anything good come from playing the victim? Of course not. So then, why do we play it? Because our irrational mind thinks that something good can come from it. This sounds insane which it is because it’s coming from the irrational part of our minds.
Playing the victim is one of the most disempowering things we can do to ourselves as it breeds an inner environment of hopelessness and misery. We have to put this role in the bin if we want to empower ourselves. Life isn’t doing this to us. There’s not an evil spirit possessing us and making our lives a living hell for entertainments sake.
We have created this anxiety condition ourselves through panicking over an initial fearful thought and bodily sensation that arises due to our fearful reaction to the thought. We also keep the fire of anxiety going through a lack of understanding of what’s really going on and how to approach the anxiety.
Nobody or no thing is doing this to us. Not that bully who picked on us throughout our childhood, not the mean boss, not the relationship break up, family member getting seriously sick, pet dying or whatever else we put the blame on.
These things are obviously horrible events, there’s no denying that. However, whilst they can act as the trigger, they certainly do not have the power to create the state of continuous chronic anxiety.
The only thing that has this power is ourselves. We’ve put ourselves there through our own lack of knowledge and responding to our thoughts, feelings and symptoms in a way which perpetuates it. This might not sit well with you, but ultimately, we are the cause and the perpetuation of our chronic anxiety.
This is really good news. Why? Because if we are the cause and perpetuation of it, we can heal ourselves. The power is in our hands and it always has been.
If you found this article insightful and interesting, then feel free to share it with others who you feel would benefit from this approach.
Thank you 😊
Until next time