A Facebook friend asked for my thoughts on an article he had read on the subject of anxiety.
First, let me tell you a couple of things I have learned from working with people who suffer from anxiety.
First, nobody believes much in their own recovery. Anxiety isn’t seen as a jacket we put on because there’s a bitter wind, it is felt like skin we wear throughout the days, and so its shedding is not credible in our own minds. I have seen people begin to emerge and describe how they are waiting for the anxiety to pounce from behind the next dark corner. Guess what? This very fear is the perfect flint that anxiety needs to spark up. Anxiety is not, whatever you might think, outside of you. It is in you. It is you, and so when you regard yourself as, for example, having an outgoing personality, you are sticking a thumb in the eye of your own anxiety.
Second, the way to combat anxiety is counter-intuitive, i.e. don’t combat it. When you fight it power is invested, but when you lay down your sword it has nothing to feed from. Like the best fighter it uses your own rage and force against you. If you are half decent at a game like tennis try playing against someone who pats the ball over the net gently. Its a nightmare because you can’t use any of their power, you have to muster your own. Anxiety doesn’t have any of its own, it’s all yours.
Now, in specific response to the points made in the article (link at the bottom).
The first statement is a nod to one of anxiety’s weapons, solitude. The writer says that outgoing anxious people feel anxiety most intensely. Oh really? How would he/she know this? Anxiety is terrible for everyone and you are not alone.
There is an extrovert/introvert scale which we all sit somewhere along but nobody is wholly introvert or extrovert, we have parts of both in us just the same way we have male and female psyche. You don’t need to feel anxiety just because you feel like swinging from the light fittings one minute and curling into a corner with a book the next. This is OK people.
The temptation to find a problem where none exists is not just a hobby for the anxious mind. We are driven by a natural negativity bias and therefore think that what can go wrong probably will. Anxious people are in search of more certainty than it is possible to find (there isn’t any anyway) and it’s self perpetuating. If you feel you need something and can’t find it then it naturally becomes more desired.
Anxiety is so scary because it says something terrible is coming but it won’t tell you what. Perversely a good technique is to really allow yourself to explore “what if?” Let your emotional brain let rip but then ask yourself two supplementary questions which anxious people generally avoid. First, what hard evidence do you have to illustrate that your fears WILL happen? Second, what is the MOST LIKELY outcome. This is a way of allowing your rational thinking mind (there is nothing wrong with this part of you by the way) to have its say too.
Anxious people find it hard to let people in because they fear hurt. Anxious people, somewhere in their background, have decided that they aren’t “enough” and so they think that when they let people in those people will see who they really are and bang on the door to be let out. So, the strategy is, keep everyone away and, although we’ll feel miserable, at least we won’t get hurt. The problem is that you’re hurting anyway.
I recently worked with a guy having just these issues about overthinking what people thought of him after a night out. I pointed out that he was shining the torch in the wrong direction. It matters not a jot what other people think because the real issue was what he was thinking about himself. Other people are mirrors here and it is our self image that is damaging us.
We’re in crossover territory here. Procrastination has many a mistress. In anxiety terms it might be that we fear any social interaction because we fear the judgement we imagine from others (see my last point). If we stop ourselves from doing things which we need to do, want to do or are good for us it is saying something about the way we value ourselves. That’s the bottom line, and if we value ourselves poorly we will get anxious because we don’t want to lack value.
Of course its hard. You don’t think you’re worthy of love. But of course, you are.
Anxious people are often insecure in relationships because they don’t imagine that they can be loved and so they tend to test and push and until the person that loved them perfectly well starts to get hacked off with their constant insecurities about being loved and, hey presto, the anxious mind has created a self fulfilling prophecy which serves only to cement the anxiety. It’s as perfect as a perfect storm can get. Of course small gestures are important because we doubt we deserve them.
This a whole other post but in simple terms anxiety can be a total pain in the night because we are stating clearly that we wish our mind to be silent. Whenever you chase something down it runs further away and sleep is a passive process, so by definition you cannot try and sleep, you have to just sleep. I know this is easier said than done.
We come to fear sleep, we see ourselves as poor sleepers and this just makes the whole thing worse. Letting go of the need to sleep is the fastest way back to sleep because telling ourselves “I must sleep” just releases adrenalin in bucket loads and nobody is sleeping when there’s a rave in your mind.
Try this. Every evening a few hours before bed write down a few things you felt went well in your day, what disappointed you, what are you looking forward to tomorrow or feeling anxious about. Then close the book and, when the thoughts come back in the night, you can turn a weary eye to anxiety and say. “we already worried about that, come to bed”
Obviously I favour professional help to overcome anxiety but no plumber is going to tell you its better to put in your own bathroom so that’s fair enough. However, much progress can be made by resisting the urge to push so hard against anxiety and give it what it wants, attention. In ending I will share a little metaphor I really enjoyed from a book I read recently. Written by a woman who has had great success despite suffering with a crippling anxiety for most of her life she described how when going on a road trip she used to try and leave anxiety at home only to find that she had crept into the car anyway to make a right fuss. Changing her strategy she relented and started to let anxiety come along but told her that she had to sit quietly and, on no account, would she be able to drive. This is the point with a anxiety, when you allow it to sit with you it can start to feel less bothersome and it really can disappear. It’s the demand that it disappear which makes it all the more apparent.