The Vicious Cycle of Anxiety
I know it has been awhile since our last blog. I apologize, we are planning to have a new post every week from now on.
It is estimated that around 40 million adults in the United States alone suffer from anxiety disorders. If you are one of these 40 million, you understand how debilitating and annoying anxiety can be.
Part of what makes anxiety so debilitating is the anxiety of feeling anxious. Not only are you suffering anxiety in certain situations, but you become anxious about becoming anxious in these situations. Because of this, you either avoid these situations or numb yourself in these situations. You can numb yourself in many different ways including, but not excluded, to: drugs, alcohol, eating in a disordered way, or hurting yourself.
So how do we break out of this cycle? The first thing to do is to label your anxiety either uncomfortable or terrible. Terrible means end of the world. Now, most of us struggling with anxiety would, almost without reservation, describe our anxieties as terrible (end of the world). However, this is not true. Anxiety is uncomfortable, which to someone suffering from an anxiety disorder seems like an understatement. However, if you label your anxiety as dangerous, terrible, and the end of the world you will remain in the vicious cycle of anxiety. However, if you are able to see anxiety as uncomfortable, inconvenient, and annoying, but not “end of the world” you can start to break yourself out of this cycle.
The next thing you need to do is attend those situations that make you anxious. Many of us know this as exposure therapy. Now, when you first approach these situations your anxiety will still be high. This is because you’ve trained your body to react to these situations as though it is the end of the world. Luckily for us, neuroplasticity allows us to retrain our bodies. Instead of seeing these situations as “end of the world” you can train your body to see them as “uncomfortable” and hopefully eventually “bearable”. This will take some time, but don’t get discouraged. Your brain is strong and it will be well worth the effort.
Now some situations seem unbearable. With these it is best to take smaller steps. Start with something that seems challenging, but not overwhelming. When you experience anxiety remember that this feeling is uncomfortable, but not end of the world. If you feel yourself begin to panic remind yourself that if you end up panicking, it will be inconvenient, but it will only last a moment. It will not be the end of the world.
Some people fear they will act or say something stupid. For example, I used to be afraid to go up to cashiers and would avoid it at all costs; even offering to buy a friend’s food if they would use my card to buy both mine and their orders. I was afraid because I was worried I’d say or do something stupid or weird and they would judge me and make fun of me. After facing my uncomfortable fear, what I realized was not only does this rarely occur, but I also realized I didn’t care if they judged me off one stupid thing I said. Now if I say something that I think may be deemed as stupid, I make fun of myself. Then I don’t care if others are making fun of me. Remember what you would think if someone said something or did something stupid. Chances are you wouldn’t care, so treat yourself with the same kindness.
Applying these techniques will be difficult, but eventually they will become second nature and will help you with these uncomfortable feelings and help you start living your life again.