In my last post I started listing out the reasons we get held up in our work to shake loose from anxious thinking. I went through the two biggest – running from our fears of Flight or Fight sensations and feelings, and not doing the hard but necessary work of identifying and “unpacking” our anxious thinking.

I’m going to list out what in my experience are the other stumbling blocks we can trip up on in this journey out of anxiety as a lifestyle. The next is

3) Insisting that something is physically wrong when we haven’t really challenged our anxious thinking

Ugh! How many of us, desperate to find a way to get some relief from how scared and trapped we feel, search hard and long for some clear medical reason for our anxiety? It isn’t a foolish thing to do. We are feeling in our bodies all these strange and terrifying sensations. Our bodies seem out of control! Real, physical things are rocking our worlds, disrupting our lives – it seems logical to find physical causes for these events.

The problem is that we (way too often, once we start this quest) find ourselves back at the doctor’s office or emergency room again and again and again… and usually just making ourselves more frustrated and anxious at what we find… which is nothing. We get our blood pressure checked, they examine our hearts, they take blood samples, they ask us questions, and then we get told that there isn’t anything wrong.

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Isn’t that comforting? No. Because we’re STILL having these physical things cascade through our bodies – hearts racing, breath labored and shallow, nausea doubling us over, etc. There HAS to be something physical wrong, right?

No. Actually there doesn’t have to be anything physical askew with us. This can be explained in terms of Flight or Fight responding to our fearful thinking. That’s big news for some us. And that’s hard news for some of us as well. It’s hard sometimes because we really don’t want to face down the thinking that scares us. And it’s hard news because we can harbor a hope that some pill or some treatment will make all of this fear and worry STOP.

Maybe someday. But not right now. Right now the work is unpacking that anxious thinking and coming to understand what’s happening in our bodies is simply reactive to that thinking.

I’m NOT saying that we shouldn’t go see a doctor if we’re having physical sensations or changes that scare us! By all means see the doc. It is WAY, way better to have that examination and assessment (and the accompanying solid information it can provide us about our physical health) than it is to not know.

The mission isn’t to avoid the doctor. The mission is to, once we have that “hey, we can’t find anything wrong with you physically” to then get down to the work of sorting out our anxious thinking.

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And, of course, there is a group of us that is both afraid to see the doctor AND afraid of what’s happening to us in our bodies – the proverbial rock and the hard place. Well, let’s be clear – there’s no rock or hard place – just anxious thinking that’s got us boxed in the corner for the moment. ALL of that is about addressing the fearful thinking that is hobbling us.

Our fears want us to just sit down, not move and wait for the anxiety to go away. It isn’t going to happen. Sooner or later we have to get up and make a move towards one or another Comfort Zone wall in our fears if we’re going to break the hold of anxiety in our lives.

Here’s another reason we can find ourselves not making progress in our work –

4) Refusing to Accept Discomfort as Part of the Journey

As anxiety fighters we learn way too early and too well to NOT be very kind to ourselves. We can engage very quickly in pretty self-abusive self-talk about how weak we are, how stupid we are, how much we suck, etc. So I address this next topic with some nervousness. I am NOT accusing any of us of being weak or stupid.

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I AM saying that it is very tempting to step back, and keep stepping back, from being uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is really a poor description. We step back from being scared out of our wits, at least at the start. Then at some point we keep flinching back from the memories of that fear whenever we get a twinge, an unexpected Flight or Fight sensation, a fearful thought…

And before you know it we’re (too often) sitting in our house, afraid to go out – or even just one room of our house. We’re avoiding even getting close to being uncomfortable for fear of waking the sleeping tiger of our fears. We hate being trapped and shut down – but we hate even more the notion that we’re going to have to deal with that fear again.

Part of the problem stems from our sheer ignorance when our anxiety first made itself apparent to us. We had our first bad spate of chronic anxious worrying, or our first panic attack, or our first conscious descent into depression, and it scared us. What the hell was going on, we wondered?

It is completely natural to flinch back from scary things. That kept our forebears alive in the face of some serious danger. But we’re NOT in physical danger when we’re fighting anxiety. We have to begin the very uncomfortable but absolutely necessary work of looking our fear in the eye and learning that it can’t hurt us, however much it scares us.

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We have to, essentially, get comfortable with some discomfort on the way to our freedom. Easy to say – hard to start – but still essential. We don’t have to do this all at once. We need to take it in steps, in small pieces at first, and slowly start to change our thinking about being uncomfortable, even very uncomfortable now and again.

That’s going to take time, and practice, and probably some encouragement and support from other people – a good therapist, a support group nearby or online, good information about anxiety and some solid self-care. And speaking of self-care – well, that’s another thing that can get in the way of us doing this work – or rather

5) Refusing to do Consistent Self-Care

Ah, the subject of self-care. Most of us KNOW that we have a need to take decent care of ourselves, yes? 🙂 But sadly we who battle anxiety are not usually skillful self-carers…

Self-care provides the foundation that we need to tackle this work of breaking anxiety’s hold. It isn’t terribly complicated, but it does run afoul of our fears. In some respects dealing with anxiety is to have to confront some of the ways we avoid our anxiety and sabotage our self-care at the same time.

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There are several issues to sustaining decent basic self-care. The first is how we can find various ways to medicate our fears with things like food, lots of TV in bed, alcohol, etc. (See my blog post HERE on medication and anxiety.) Our medicating often gets in the way of our self-care.

As I’ve said before in this blog my family’s preferred medication of choice is FOOD. We are part of the Carbohydrate Clan – we like our breads, cookies, brownies, the occasional giant piece of Safeway cake, etc. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong per se with any of these tasty treats. It is using them as a way to distract and divert our anxiety that becomes a problem when it comes to self-care –

To be clear distraction and diversion of obsessive anxious thinking is a very useful tool. We just don’t want it to get in the way of our work to get free of chronic anxiety.

(And of course it isn’t actually self-care to be eating significantly more calories than our bodies actually need in a day. I know, it’s bad form to discuss the W word – weight – but self-care includes some awareness of what’s useful to us. Don’t turn this discussion into another way to abuse yourself mentally and emotionally around all your “failures” – that’s anxiety talking. See this as a frank discussion of where each of us need to look clearly at our efforts – or lack thereof – in the direction of self-care.)

What this means is that we don’t want to HIDE behind our distractions/diversions. Using them to break up the obsessive thinking habits we’ve developed – that’s brilliant. Running from our anxious ruminating – that’s not so useful. That could be food, or loads of TV/DVD watching when we need to get up and engage our lives, or endless hours of video games, or whatever our medication of choice happens to be…

And some medications are significantly more destructive in the short-term than others. Over-eating to comfort ourselves isn’t a great idea – but we’re not destroying our livers and wreaking havoc on our thinking the way we can if we’re medicating for anxiety with chronic alcohol or drug medicating. Same thing if we’re blowing tons of cash with gambling or online shopping.

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Let’s review good self-care at its most basic:

Sleep – essential. Some of us have more challenges than others around this – but to the extent we can at the present moment we need to take sleep seriously. Some things that help are setting a regular time for bed (to the extent we can), slowing down before bed, practicing getting away from staring a TV down as you fall asleep (seems to mess up sleep cycles and restful sleep), and getting quiet and dark for sleep (again, as much as we can given our situation and our current progress in our anxiety work.)

There is some great advice on the web around healthy sleeping habits. Don’t get lost in finding PERFECT sleep skills/habits – just see where you can make improvements for yourself.

Nutrition – notice I didn’t say “food.” Nutrition is the real food game. Getting good food (some veggies, some protein, not too many carbs, a little healthy fat) is fueling the body for the work we’re doing. Don’t need to become a monk or only drink wheatgrass juice – just some basic healthy eating and not eating too much.

Again this isn’t terribly complicated. Find some basic information on your height, weight and nutritional needs on a daily basis on the web and then STOP. Basics, basics, basics.

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Movement – notice I didn’t say “exercise”! We’re talking 25-30 minutes of walking if you can manage that at the moment physically. Or some time in a pool swimming. Heck, jog or even run if you’re up to that. Dance around the living room for 15-20 minutes to your favorite pop stars (or rockers.) Walk the dang dog (and he or she will thank you for it.) GET OUTSIDE (unless you live above the Arctic Circle.)

MOVE. Don’t sit and ruminate over all your fears. Your fears are generating Flight or Fight responses, and that means adrenaline. USE that adrenaline for something and do yourself some good.

There is a remarkable connection between movement and healthy thinking. We didn’t develop on couches. We developed out in nature, and we were in motion while we were doing it. We need to engage our bodies to the extent we can if we want to help ourselves think more clearly and strongly and cleanly.

A lack of self-care can be a serious hobble on our efforts to break the hold of anxious thinking. All we really have to do is take care of the basics…

So What’s Stopping YOU in Your Work?

I’ve spent the last two blog posts reviewing the things/behaviors that get in the way of us doing the good, hard and necessary work of overcoming the grip of anxiety in our lives. I would love to hear your thoughts on these last two blog posts, as well as your challenges and efforts to move past them in your work.

Let’s figure out where we’re stuck and get unstuck, shall we?

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