Instead of seeing anxiety as the enemy, do the opposite
It comes natural to think that anxiety is our enemy, as if it’s this demonic entity that has taken full possession over our mind and body. After all, we have a very powerful and over-active imagination so it’s quite easy to assume this since we experience some really disturbing and dark thoughts about most things.
The problem is, if we see anxiety as our enemy, it will appear that way in our reality. This isn’t some new age woo-woo talk… it’s just that our perceptions of things colour how we experience life. If we perceive something to be a certain way, we’re more likely to think and act according to the beliefs and perceptions we have.
Whenever I viewed my anxiety as the enemy, it seemed as if life in general had in it for me. As if everyone was out to make my life a living hell. As if anxiety was attacking me and deliberately creating these uncomfortable sensations and scary thoughts to bully me.
Of course, this wasn’t actually what was happening, I just had a really negative perception tied to my anxiety and so it appeared that way in my life.
It’s like anxiety shows us more of what we’re afraid of in order to keep us safe. It holds up a mirror of our fears, showing us the danger, so it can go ahead and keep us protected. But it can never protect us when there is nothing threatening to our existence. Even though it tries it’s best to help us, it actually just makes us more anxious as a result.
However, always keep in mind that – anxiety is not our enemy. It’s our protector. It feels like anxiety is just one big bully, tormenting us with it’s unsettling thoughts and uncomfortable sensations. In reality though, it’s just trying to do it’s job of keeping us safe.
“If anxiety is seen as the enemy, as something to get rid of or something to overcome, then this will only produce more of it. The more you don’t want anxiety, the more you have it. Fighting it only binds you to it.” – Scott Rower, PhD Psych Central
Instead of googling your symptoms, do the opposite
What usually happens when we google our anxiety symptoms? We usually feel more anxiety. This is because our anxious minds are always scanning for danger, so when we read something that says “this lump in the throat could be a symptom of cancer instead of anxiety”, we start to panic that we have cancer.
So, quite naturally, more anxiety is activated and more adrenaline is released into the bloodstream in order to keep us safe from the “lump in the throat could be a symptom of cancer” article. “What if I actually do have cancer?” “Should I get it checked out?” Our anxious mind goes to work preparing for all the possible scenarios in order to mitigate risk.
Sometimes we torment ourselves with these worst-case scenario thoughts even when we’ve been to the doctors and have discovered, through tests, that there is actually nothing wrong with us.
For most people, this is a massive relief, but for some it is not enough because a part of themselves are just not convinced that it can only be anxiety.
My recommendation is to honestly trust your doctor if he/she has diagnosed you with anxiety because they are always normally right with their diagnosis. I’m not saying they’re always right about everything, I’m just saying that when it comes to diagnosing anxiety, they are pretty damn good at it.
So, we go back to our laptops and participate in the habit of research.
Researching ends up becoming an unhealthy obsession because we rarely end up feeling satisfied with our searching. Most of the time, we just end up feeling more anxious than we did before we started typing our symptoms in google.
Not only do we worry about the symptoms we already have, we start to worry about getting other anxiety symptoms that sound just as unpleasant. Our overactive imagination goes into overdrive and creates more of the symptoms we fear experiencing.
Yes, believe it or not, our minds are that powerful that we can actually create more anxiety symptoms out of thin air whilst we’re in a disorder. What we fear is created by our powerful imagination and that manifests as the symptom we fear having because anxiety is completely self-created.
I did it many times myself. I would read something about a certain anxiety symptom and then start to panic about having it myself. “That is awful”, I’d never want to have that.” “What if I end up getting it?” Then I would have a panic attack about potentially experiencing a symptom I so desperately didn’t want to have.
It’s all due to the fear. I would virtually scare myself into having that particular symptom… oh great! Thanks over-active imagination.
If you want to rewire your brain to become unanxious, then one of the behaviours that needs to be broken is the habit of symptom searching. If we don’t break this counterproductive habit, then we’ll keep feeding our brain more anxiety provoking data that will keep us in the cycle.
Instead of talking about your anxiety, do the opposite
If someone didn’t have anxiety, would they spend most of their day talking about how awful they feel? Probably not. In order to return to our unanxious selves, we have to ‘act’ as if all is well, because if we don’t then our anxious brain will keep believing that there’s a tiger in the room.
In this instance, if we talk about our anxiety like it’s a problem, then our brain will think that there really is a problem to be dealt with and so more anxiety will be activated to keep us protected from a danger. With a lack of knowledge, it’s so easy to innocently keep ourselves trapped in the cycle by carrying out behaviours which we think are helping us.
We have to stop doing everything we started to do when we fell into the anxiety cycle. This is the only way that we can recover.
The problem with constantly talking about our anxiety is that we are reminding ourselves of it. We are not letting it go. When we speak to other people about our anxiety, it becomes more important and concrete.
You would think that by constantly getting it off our chest would serve us, but it really doesn’t. It just keeps us zoomed in on our anxiety.
After talking about it, I could almost sense that I was reinforcing the anxiety because I felt more anxious. Then I would start to get anxious about being anxious and keep the cycle going,.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for letting people know what we’re going through because it’s always helpful to get it off our chest. I just don’t think constantly entering into dialogue is going to serve us because it strengthens the anxiety.
I live by the term “whatever we focus on, we empower”, so if we spend time always talking about how anxious we feel, we are feeding the beast.
So, I recommend breaking this habit. Instead of talking about how anxious you feel, why not talk about something entirely different. Preferably something non-anxiety related. Even if it’s something as benign and as simple as the weather. This is going to be tough to start off with, but the more you practice this, the easier it will be and the stronger you’ll become. You’ll start to develop an inner strength.
Practising this and doing it often will build a new habit, a healthy unanxious habit that starves the anxiety of the food it needs through constant fixation.
Instead of going on anxiety-related forums, do the opposite
Whilst it can feel nice and reassuring to find out that we are not alone due to the hundreds, if not thousands of other members on the forum, it can become quite a toxic environment.
When all we do is read up on how anxious other people are feeling, how hopeless they feel, it certainly does rub off on us. This is not a helpful environment to be in because, again, it is just getting us to focus on anxiety.
We feed back information through our senses, so if all we are doing is talking about our anxiety, researching symptoms and going on forums where everything is about anxiety, then is it any wonder why we feel more anxious? All we are doing is feeding back anxiety provoking information to an already anxious brain.
I’m not saying that all forums are bad, because they are not. There is such a thing called ‘recovery based’ forums and although you might not find them by typing in this term on google, they are certainly out there.
One of them I recommend is a forum by a guy called WonderBro who’s a Youtuber that has a Facebook community full of helpful and caring people who will not trigger off more anxiety in you. They will help you to put your anxiety to bed.
Instead of going on the forums which only serve to keep you in the anxiety cycle, go on forums which are non-anxiety related. You know, the things you’re interested in.
Whether that’s fishing forums, health & fitness, cooking, films, books, sports, or whatever it is that you like. Just give the things you enjoy more of our attention instead of fuelling the fire of anxiety by going on these toxic forums.
Breaking the habit of anxiety fixation is so important. When you focus on healthier things, you will be sending back a different type of message to the subconscious.
One of my old anxiety mentors, Charles Linden, say’s that by focusing on stuff which is non-anxiety related, we will be sending back “safety data” to our subconscious. The amygdala will get the message that there’s no reason to keep the fight/flight response on because the information it’s receiving is not anxiety provoking.
If we keep doing this, we will be replacing the anxious habit with an unanxious one. We will allow the process of desensitisation to kick in as we will be allowing our nerves the chance to wind down. More anxious information is only going to cause overload and confusion to an already anxious mind.
Instead of spending your day dwelling on your anxiety, do the opposite
I can only go by my experience here and what really kept me stuck in the cycle was spending my day focusing on my anxious thoughts and sensations. Apart from fearing and resisting our anxiety and panic, there is nothing more counterproductive than fixating on it.
I used to wake up and do the same thing every single morning. Check if I still had anxiety. The moment I checked was the moment it came flooding back in again.
Unfortunately and frustratingly, checking in was a habit I did almost instantly upon waking up.
Whilst some might disagree, I believe the reason we keep checking in to see if the anxiety is still there is because we are fighting against it. We want it gone, so we constantly check to see if it has ‘buggered’ off yet. Paradoxically, by doing this we are only reinforcing the anxiety.
Once we get into this mindset, this carries on throughout the day because I believe that how we start our mornings influences the rest of our day. We entertain these thoughts and feelings. We do our best to correct them.
But, by reasoning with them, by trying to put them right, we are still sending a message to our brain that they must be important, and whatever we deem as important will get more of our attention, and whatever has more of our attention becomes empowered.
We get to the end of yet another day feeling no more better than we did before we became caught up in our minds. We feel frustrated because we have spent another day beating ourselves up and arguing with our anxiety.
The next day is more or less a repeat of all the other’s.
We believe the answer to recovering from anxiety must lie in pushing away all of the negative thoughts and feelings. If only I can get my mind right, then I will get over this” was what I used to say to myself and other’s.
“If only I can work out why I’m suffering and what caused it, will I be able to finally let go and move on with my life.” Little did I know that I was actually fuelling the anxiety by doing this. I thought I was moving closer to recovery when in actual fact I was moving further and further away.
All I really needed to do was leave my anxious thoughts and sensations alone whilst redirecting my attention elsewhere. I didn’t need to work anything out. I didn’t need to dig into my past and wonder what might have caused it. I didn’t need to reason and/or argue with my anxiety.
None of this was going to move me any closer to healing.
When I learnt that recovery from anxiety lies in the complete opposite of what I had been doing, everything started to change. Not instantly, but slowly over time.
Recovery happened in layers. Each day, my understanding grew and grew, letting go made perfect sense. Changing my focus just seemed so obvious. Whilst I had a lot of days where I slipped back into old habits, I knew what I had to keep doing to starve anxiety of the food it needed.
I believed that if I kept following the advice I’ve written here, then I would finally be able to move on from it. I didn’t care how long it would take. I was just determined to make this a reality.
I think this is everything. At least it is until something else pops up. These are the main things that helped me return to wellness. As you can see, the majority of things are about stopping things which are innocently keeping us caught up in the cycle.
It’s not about doing, it’s not about forcing. It’s about stopping the things which are feeding anxiety subconsciously and behaving as if we are already anxiety free.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s going to be hard to start with. There will be days when you’ll want to research, talk about how anxious you feel when it feels unbearable. Days when you’ll get caught up in the habit of arguing with anxiety and fighting against it, times when going on forums to read about other people’s suffering seems the best thing to do, but always remind yourself that by carrying out these behaviours, you’re only empowering the anxiety.
Most importantly, remind yourself that by breaking these habits, you’ll be sending will the right message to the subconscious.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I tried my best to get down everything which truly helped me.
In time, we will feel at home again without that fear lingering over us.
Until next time