Welcome to a 2 part article series where I share what has helped me recover from anxiety over the long run. I had to do the opposite of everything I was currently doing in order to break free from the anxiety loop.
I hope this helps…
Instead of fighting anxiety, do the opposite.
This took me most of my life to fully stop doing. I spent so much wasted time and energy trying to battle with my anxiety. I thought that in order to “overcome” it, I had to spend my time reasoning with it, arguing with it and trying to stop myself from feeling it.
I was also telling myself that I had to feel better, that I had to feel no anxiety and if only I could force myself into a positive state, then I would feel more like my old self again. The more I tried this, the more this “perfect” state of mind alluded me.
All these behaviours did was just pull me deeper into the disorder. The more we fight something, the more energy we give to it. Through fighting the clouds of anxiety, we darken the clouds and strengthen the storm.
Paradoxically, by giving up the fight, we restore more energy because it’s not so invested in trying to win an unwinnable battle – the fight with anxiety.
If only I could speak to every single person who is currently resisting their anxiety (not allowing themselves to fully feel it), then I would help them to see why fighting against anxiety creates more inner conflict.
We just assume that we need to fight things to achieve an inner state of peace. This is because we are wired to fight off anything that feels uncomfortable. Because anxiety feels so uncomfortable and seems like we’re in danger, then of course, we fight against it.
Put down your weapons, give up the fight and surrender. Whilst this might sound like weakness if you were watching a war movie, it’ actually one of the most empowering things a human being who is suffering from anxiety can do.
Giving up the fight with anxiety always stands the test of time. It isn’t a fad that will fizzle out in time. I started to give up the fight with my anxiety about 5 years ago and it has never failed me.
Acceptance and surrender is now a life skill that helps me out tremendously whenever I find myself picking up the weapons again.
Instead of labelling anxiety as bad, do the opposite
It’s perfectly normal to assume anxiety as a bad thing because it feels so awful. There’s no fun in suffering from anxiety. However labelling anxiety makes anxiety even more “stickier” and uncomfortable because labels colour our perceptions and perceptions (how we see things) can have an impact on the way we feel.
Whilst I’m not saying that we should label anxiety as a magical thing that feels amazing because this would be delusional. I’m saying that anxiety isn’t inherently bad for one reason. It’s designed to keep us safe from danger.
If a man with a knife is confronting us, you can bet that our heart beats 100 miles per hour and our legs and chest muscles tense up to prepare us for running away from this perceived danger.
There’s nothing bad about this, is there? So, let’s do not do our protector a disservice by calling it bad. Let’s instead label it as a protection mechanism. A handy tool that kicks into to help us in the face of danger.
No longer call it bad, terrible, a nightmare because these words are negative and will attach negative connotations to our minds.
Another thing that helped me was to just see anxiety as energy passing through the body. Not good, not bad, just a protective sort of energy flowing through my body.
Just see how it feels when you no longer attach these negative labels to anxiety. This might not make that much of a difference, but it will still help. The language we speak does have a powerful effect on us without even realising it. It’s like we’re programming ourselves with the words we use, so choose them wisely.
Instead of fearing anxiety, do the opposite
Although this is easier said than done, you do not need to fear your anxiety. The reason being is because it is completely harmless no matter how “awful” it currently feels. It’s only natural to fear something that feels so BIG and scary but we only fear anxiety because of a lack of knowledge.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie
Without knowing why we’re experiencing anxiety and how the fear response works, then it’s nearly impossible to break free.
As I’ve already mentioned, I like to label anxiety and a panic attack as a protection mechanism and that’s because it practically is. It’s a bodily response to a perceived danger or stressor. Remember this – the only purpose of fear is to keep us alive.
Knowing about the fear response is important because it helps to see why we’re digging ourselves into an unnecessary hole when we’re fearing it.
We experience anxiety because we have misinterpreted the fear response as a danger rather than just being an alarm system. When we fear our uncomfortable bodily sensations that the fear response produces, more anxiety is activated because the whole point of it is to keep us safe.
The reason more anxiety is activated when we fear our anxiety, is because we are telling our brain that the sensations and thoughts we experience are the danger. So, naturally, the bodies inbuilt protection/defence mechanism will kick into to save us.
The only reason we fear anxiety is because we believe the sensations are harmful. We fear the way we feel and this strengthens the cycle. BUT the sensations we experience are anything but harmful. If they were harmful, me, you and anyone else who has ever suffered from anxiety and panic would be dead by now.
Instead of avoiding things, do the opposite
Whenever we avoid anything, we are sending a message to our brain that whatever it is we’re avoiding must equate to danger. So, when we avoid the phone, we are telling our brain that the phone means danger.
When we avoid answering the door, we are telling the brain that not answering the door is safe, whilst answering it is dangerous. Remember, the brain cannot tell the difference between reality and fiction. It cannot tell the difference between a real danger and an imagined one.
If we respond to a external stimuli with fear, it will do what it normally does. Demand the autonomic system to activate more anxiety. The most important thing to understand is that the external things of this world (unless they are a threat to our life) are not the cause of our anxiety. Our fearful interpretation of them is.
The lady who is afraid of going on the bus in case she has a panic attack, isn’t actually afraid of the bus. She thinks she is, but she’s really not. If we go a bit deeper, we find that she has had an attack on the bus before and has now made the connection in her mind that being on the bus and feeling anxious is the same thing.
In reality, the bus has no power to make her anxious. She has the power to make herself anxious through her own fear of panicking on the bus. The bus is just an inanimate object. It doesn’t have the ability to spark up an emotional response in someone.
This simple misunderstanding is why people avoid certain situations. So, in order to send back the correct information to the brain, in order to prove to our brain that we’re safe, we have to send back the correct message. We do this by no longer avoiding things.
If we carry on avoiding things, the brain will believe there’s a danger because it cannot tell the difference between an imagined threat and a real one.
I’m not saying that you should just go out and do all the things you used to do straight away, especially if you have chronic anxiety and you cannot leave the house. Just start not avoiding the little things like answering phone calls, opening the door to strangers who knock etc. Because every time you avoid answering the phone or opening the door, you are giving anxiety more life.
It’s about taking baby steps so you can get to the point where you no longer feel you have to avoid certain things.
This is part 1 of a 2 part article. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.
I hope this article has made sense to you.
Until next time