In some earlier posts this fall I spent some time covering the basics of fighting anxiety as I see the work. In the next couple of posts I’m going to spend a little time discussing what gets in the way of doing that work, and some suggestions for what we can do about those obstacles.

As you read through these barriers to getting free from anxiety let me encourage you to avoid using these as weapons of self-abuse. Anxiety is one of the most insidious mind games we can play with ourselves. By its very nature it is something that leads us AWAY from the work to get free of it. Everyone who fights anxiety, and I mean everyone, is reluctant to wade into and keep wading into that work. It’s uncomfortable, it’s often scary, it’s exhausting – we just don’t wanna…

So please – cut yourself some slack if you see yourself in one or more of these pitfalls. You are always free to start climbing out again… but it’s more useful if we’re kind to ourselves, patient and even

Alright, here goes –

1) Continuing to Run from Flight or Fight Feelings & Sensations

I have been writing this blog for almost 5 years now. I have been doing anxiety coaching for longer than that. And (as some of my readers can attest to) I have been working with an amazing group of people on Facebook in a sort of group coaching situation around this material for over a year. I can say with a lot of confidence that this first reason to run is probably right up at the top of the list of the reasons people get stalled in this work.

Ostrich

It is SO easy to do. While not everyone that falls into the vortex of chronic anxiety and depression winds up terrified of one more Flight or Fight sensations or feelings, a huge number of us do – and we wind up letting those scary sensations and feelings wall us away, increasingly, from life and the world.

I have labored in this blog to clarify what Flight or Fight really is – a highly effective means of dealing with real, life-or-death crises that isn’t nearly so useful when it comes to what makes us anxious – problems or issues transmuted into crisis thinking. This amazing emergency response system is just trying to do its job – get us away from danger.

Because when we’re ramped up with anxiety we FEEL like we’re in danger – and that’s all Flight or Fight needs. So it powers up, gets us ready to go, dumps adrenaline into our bloodstreams, makes us hyper-aware of our surroundings, speeds up our heart and breathing, shuts down digestion, starts pulling blood in from the extremities – doing all the things it would do if we were being attacked by a pack of hungry wolves…

But we’re NOT being attacked. We’re scaring ourselves in our thinking, and in so doing we’re firing up Flight or Fight.

We have to turn and face down those sensations. Too many of us, not understanding what was happening, scared ourselves silly with fearful reacting to the reactions of Flight or Fight – and we’ve been running scared ever since. We’ve trained ourselves, without intending to, that those sensations and emotions are just too scary, just too real-feeling to face down – and so we get stuck, or worse still keep retreating from the world, trying to get away from how we feel –

Avoidance 3

And anxiety continues to rule our lives. We have to rethink our assumptions about Flight or Fight and how it affects us. We have to turn into the wind, metaphorically, and stay turned long enough to wade through our anxious reactions to Flight or Fight.

It isn’t enough to just endure Flight or Fight’s storm in our bodies and emotions. No, we have to, at the same time, challenge our thinking about it – identify where we have scared ourselves with those sensations and feelings, and CHANGE THAT STORY OR STORIES. Takes time. It is damn uncomfortable to boot. But it is absolutely essential if we want out of anxiety.

I have blog posts HERE and HERE to help you further in this work. And you can always hit me here at the blog if you want to discuss your specific fears. But sooner or later, if we want out, we have to face this tedious crap and move through it.

Next up –

2) Avoiding the “Unpacking” of the Thinking that Made us Anxious in the First Place

Anxiety does not come out of nowhere. It invariably begins in our thinking. Those Flight or Fight sensations I mentioned in the last section? They had to start with thinking that made us anxious first. There really is a chicken-and-egg sequence in this work.

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Where are we turning issues, problems, challenges in our lives into crises in our thinking? This is the heart of the work. We can do therapy, take medications that alleviate some or all of those Flight or Fight reactions (or that help lift the gloom and create some distance from the scary thinking, at least for a while), we can exercise, meditate, work three jobs or seek the cure for cancer – but until we unpack our anxious thinking nothing fundamentally will change about our anxiety.

This is usually a very uncomfortable process! By definition if we had been comfortable identifying and facing down the thinking that made us anxious we most likely wouldn’t be fighting anxiety right now. 🙂 Nope, instead we ran away from that thinking – if we were ever very conscious of that thinking to begin with – and now we reflexively, unconsciously flinch away if we even get close to it…

And, of course, if we get close, Flight or Fight fires up – ugh! We don’t want to do this work! Make it all just go away! I know I said that, and I’ve heard a lot of other people say that.

The bad news is it won’t just go away. We have to identify it and change it – change our crisis thinking to what it really needs to be – problem thinking. It’s uncomfortable, even damn uncomfortable, but that doesn’t change the need to do it.

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The good news is that it is literally the lynch-pin of all this anxiety that plagues us – and in doing this work we can break free, well and truly, from a life crippled by anxiety. It is a steady, often slow, often frustrating and scratchy process, but it is the way out.

Are you doing this unpacking work? I have blog posts HERE and HERE that discuss this work in greater detail/give examples. As I mention in these posts it is often very useful to enlist the help of a good therapist. But whatever you do, it must be DONE…

Those Are the Biggies…

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When it comes to avoidance the two temptations I’ve listed in this blog post are probably the heavy hitters for most of us. That’s OK. It is in the nature of being anxious to want to avoid the stuff that scares us. We don’t need to use these as two more weapons to beat ourselves up with – but we do need to see them clearly and take action on them.

In my next post I’ll move through the rest of the reasons we delay in making this work happen for ourselves. In the meantime, how is the work going for YOU?