I was supposed to start a discussion of the role of therapy in dealing with anxiety, but I decided this past week that there are several topics I want to get to first before I do that discussion. Please bear with me…

A couple of posts ago I talked about something I call hyper-vigilance. I applied this idea to something that we who wrestle with anxiety can start doing around our Flight or Fight responses – at least the ones that freak us out/scare us. We can start worrying about the next occurrence of those responses – in essence be anxious about feeling anxious.

This isn’t exactly a winning strategy for dealing with/unplugging anxiety… yet most of us have at one point or another fallen into this trap. It can become a terrible energy suck, not to mention making it even easier to just keep running from those anxious responses in the first place.

The thing we NEED to do is begin to discount the responses – start seeing them for their real worth, i.e., not much other than that they are telling us that we are scaring ourselves in our thinking.

It Doesn’t, Sadly, Stop at Feelings…

I want to extend that notion of hyper-vigilance to another issue – how we can find ourselves worrying about the next time we start scaring ourselves with our thinking. This is pretty insidious. The other term I have used for this idea is anticipatory anxiety, which I wrote about earlier in the year.

Why write about this again? Because, as I said above, it is one of the primary reasons we DON’T face into the work of deconstructing our anxiety. Fear Mastery is all about taking our anxiety on (with useful tools) and stopping anxiety from ruling (or even just diminishing) our lives.

But there’s this little problem with that goal – none of us are especially eager to seek out feeling anxious, even if we believe that deliberately taking on our anxiety will help set us free from anxiety. It is bad enough when our anxiety overwhelms us or derails our day without us making it happen on purpose. Why go looking for that?

Of course you already know the answer. The way out is through, and your thinking will continue to drive anxiety until you challenge it and clean it up the thinking that is causing it in the first place.

A Very Effective Closed System

Isn’t it maddening? Anxiety makes us want to run away from the thing that is scaring us (real danger or the fear that our thinking fires up), but the most effective way (maybe the only way) to stop anxiety from making us crazy is to turn and face it down. Anxiety as a set of responses is very effective at keeping us from dealing with our anxiety –

Unless we get a little more conscious of the cycle we’re trapped in and make some deliberate efforts to shake things up. And that’s the primary reason I’m writing this post: our mission is to get conscious about our anxiety, get clear on what is making us anxious, and consciously work to pull it apart.

Whether we are dancing away from the potential of Flight or Fight responses that make us uncomfortable (physical or emotional) or we’re shying back from the fears in our thinking, the one thing we’re NOT doing is engaging in the work of getting free of anxiety.

I believe this is at the heart of why so many people who deal with anxiety find it so hard to start, let alone continue on, with the work of breaking the power of fear and anxiety in their lives.

So What’s The Answer, Smarty-Pants?

The thing we need to do is stop running away. We need to relax our hyper-vigilant watching for potential anxiety moments (physical, emotional or mental) and instead let them come!

That doesn’t mean that we should be trying to do this work 24/7 (more about that in my next blog post.) It does mean that we need to drop our guard somewhat, and lean into the work.

Let’s do specific recommendations:

1) Start the deliberate practice of the 4 skills I just finished blogging about here. Start with Skill 1 – identifying where in your thinking you are (or have historically) converted a problem into a crisis. Just this work is a strong beginning to the pulling apart of the thinking that makes you anxious.

Do that with a journal, or a tape recorder, or whatever you like. Just give it 5-10 minutes to start. Practice, even briefly, not running away. Stick with one to start. One is plenty, especially at the start of this work.

Maybe you are worrying that you’re going to wind up alone for the rest of your life. Relationships just don’t seem to work out for you. You’ve taken a problem (long-term relationships) and turned it into a crisis in your thinking – you’ve talked yourself into believing that you’ll ALWAYS be single, that your life will be empty, that you will never find happiness… etc.

Being alone – a problem. It is when we turn it into a crisis in our thinking (by moving up into the future in our thinking, instead of being here in present), we start to seriously generate anxiety.

Expect some push back from your Comfort Zone as you start to identify your crisis thinking.. Expect Flight or Fight to fire right up. Those responses make my next recommendation useful –

2) Practice discounting your Flight or Fight Responses. Anxiety make you nauseous? I hate that too. But it doesn’t mean ANYTHING. Heart start racing when you begin to get fearful? That sucks. But it doesn’t mean ANYTHING – except that, of course, you’re scared. Doesn’t mean doom is on the horizon, doesn’t mean you’re heading into eternal darkness (although it might FEEL that way.)

Practice having that conversation with yourself. Practice, just briefly, not running away from those sensations. The discomfort may pretty intense. That’s OK. YOU ARE IN NO DANGER.

3) Expect this to take some time. You won’t do it all in one mighty push. More about that in my next blog post. But it is important to say this several times – you really can’t build Rome in a day, and you can’t unpack your anxious thinking in one session.

Anxiety will be mastered when we turn to face the things that frighten us. Each of us has the power to do that, however beaten, tired, defeated and weary we fell. And the first step is to stop running.