Can we really prove to our brain that the false fear is not a danger?
We most certainly can. It’s simple, but it’s not easy because it takes a lot of patience and perseverance on our part. What I mean by this is that whilst we can learn about why we don’t need to fear our thoughts and physical sensations, our brain still needs to get the proof that we are not in danger.
Understanding will always be the most important thing when it comes to healing from chronic anxiety. However, a change in relationship is what will show our brain that we are safe even though we are having all these scary thoughts and uncomfortable sensations through the body.
When I say a change in relationship, I mean responding to our thoughts and physical sensations in a way that doesn’t trigger more fear and allows our initial experience of fear to wither and die down.
Again, this isn’t something that just happens overnight because we’ve made it into a habit to react in a fearful manner. The trick is to catch yourself when you are reacting in fear and then reminding yourself why reacting in fear fuels the fire of anxiety.
Please don’t try to force a state of calm where you are not reacting in fear to your thoughts and physical sensations because this just another form of resistance and whatever we resist, persists. Just notice how you are responding to your anxiety and then pattern interrupt by reminding yourself that fighting and fearing your thoughts and sensations isn’t necessary.
The most important thing to understand
I’ve mentioned this a lot recently in my articles but I’ve done it for good reason because it is very important to understand. The brain resides in our skulls. It has no connection to the outside world. Well, it does but only through the connection between the brain and the senses. Even then, we don’t just take in raw data from the external world and process it as it is.
It becomes filtered through our own perception.
“We don’t directly experience any kind of external reality, rather we take in sensory information from the world around us and our own internal kaleidoscope uses it to create a picture that we then call “the way life is.”
This is how it is that every person who ever walked the earth had his or her own unique version of reality.” – Amy Johnson
It’s just a false alarm!
I know it’s uncomfortable and overwhelming when we feel the feelings of fear, when we feel the nervous energy pulsating intensely through our body. However, there is nothing to be afraid of because 1) it’s never going to harm you and 2) it’s just a false alarm.
You see, anxiety likes to treat everything as if you were always in an emergency situation. This is why we always feel impatient, irritable and restless. We always feel like we need to move and do something.
This is another important thing to understand because it’s all about moving quickly and taking action when it comes to experiencing anxiety.
The whole purpose of the fight/flight response which is just a massive surge of nervous energy tuned up to a higher level, is to get us to take action, whether that’s fighting the cave troll (using something mythical for a change) or fleeing from it.
So when we are not in real danger but anxiety is telling us through restlessness and impatience to move, what should we do? Nothing, absolutely nothing. There’s nothing we should do because acting on this intense surge of nervous energy reinforces the belief to our subconscious mind that the anxiety we are experiencing is appropriate. That activating anxiety was the right thing to do because we’ve acted on it.
Now, during chronic anxiety where there isn’t a genuine danger in the external world, our reactions and behaviours are something that the brain is watching because it needs to know whether or not the anxiety is suitable for our current situation.
So, if we carry out avoidance behaviours (running from something), then it will deem this level of anxiety is appropriate because of they way we are behaving. “Well they ran away or feared how they are feeling, so there must of been a danger.”
It’s the same with our reactions as it is with our behaviours.If we fear our anxious state and all of the bodily symptoms it produces, then we are telling our brain that the anxiety we are experiencing is appropriate when it really isn’t.
This is why we consciously know that there is nothing to be anxious over, but our brain doesn’t because it’s getting the message through our fearful reactions and avoidance based behaviours that there is something to be afraid of.
Please don’t buy into this false alarm any longer. It’s just a misfiring of an inbuilt mechanism that is trying to protect us from danger.
An attitude that worked for me
The only thing that helped me to end my fear of the anxiety was to invite it in and ask for more of what I was running away from. In the end, what got through to me the most was realising that I had to fully face the feelings and thoughts which were scaring me.
Intuitive approaches rarely work well for counter-intuitive issues so what’s really needed is a counter-intuitive approach.
This is another way that shows our brain that the anxiety does not represent a danger. Fair enough, we will probably feel afraid, but we can certainly overcome the fear of being afraid. Afraid of feeling afraid is what tells our brain that the anxiety we are experiencing is monster.
So, instead of not allowing myself to feel my anxiety, I went towards it by asking for more. This approach was a turning point for me because I got to see that what I was experiencing wasn’t actually that bad, and certainly wasn’t harmless. If we want to prove to our brain that we are safe, we need to face what we’ve been hiding from, suppressing or distracting ourselves from.
These approaches might work in the very short term, but all they’re doing is giving off the impression that what we are experiencing is something that needs to be taken extremely seriously. Feeling afraid is normal so don’t beat yourself for feeling this way.
Let yourself feel afraid. Whatever it is you feel, a racing heart, sweating, dizziness, the feeling that you are on the verge of passing out, chest pain, racing thoughts – go towards these symptoms as much you can. Right in that moment of asking for more and fully moving into the anxiety, you probably feel more afraid than you ever have in your life, but you know from past experiences that nothing bad can from this.
Prove to the part of the brain responsible for activating and regulating the emergency response (fight/flight) that you are completely safe even in the midst of these uncomfortable and almost unbearable symptoms. I say almost unbearable because you can bear them. You are incredibly strong to have put up with these feelings and thoughts for so long. But now, you don’t need to struggle with this anymore.
You don’t need to fight off your anxiety or run away anymore. You need to run towards it. As Barry Mcdonagh, the author of DARE says, become the hunter, not the huntered. If we are always running away from our anxiety, then it will chase us because it thinks it’s doing it’s job of protecting us. We are innocently sending it the wrong signals when we are not willing to turn around and run towards the feelings that we feel afraid of.
The more we walk into the anxiety and panic, the more we will see that there really isn’t anything terrible waiting to happen on the other side. This is how we shatter the illusion of fear. After all, anxiety and panic is just one big bluff. It’s a vicious cycle of pretending there’s an emergency when there really isn’t.
The only way we can stop this misfiring of the fight or flight response is by changing our relationship with it. No longer try to stop it as this creates internal friction and more nervous arousal.
Get comfortable with the nervous arousal. This won’t come easy at first because it might not be something you are used to. Be patient with yourself and persevere with this approach.
When you feel the huge surge of nervous energy arising within you, don’t turn away from it as this helps it grow into a bigger wave. Ask for more. Tell yourself that you are excited by this wave of adrenaline. Do whatever it takes to move in the same direction as the anxiety and/or panic.
I know it’s uncomfortable and intense, but allow it to wash over you like you allow the water from a shower to wash over you.
One of the most common fears people have with this approach is being worse off for asking for more. This simply isn’t true because it sends a completely different message to the part of the brain responsible for the fear response.
The message it receives is one of empowerment and fearlessness. It understands that because we are not running away from it or trying to fight it, then there isn’t anything to be afraid of.
This is how we can prove to our brain that the thoughts and physical sensations of anxiety and panic are completely harmless.
If you found this article helpful, please feel free to share it with others who might benefit from reading it. I would appreciate that very much.
Also, if you have any questions then please reach out to me.
Until next time.