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(I’ve had some friends and clients feeling the stress of doing this work, and I wanted today to help cheer them on. I originally put this post up at the start of the year, and thought it be might useful to have a mid-year reminder…)

Too many of us anxiety fighters learned a crazy lesson over the years of living in fear: we learned that we were fragile. We’re wrong, but we don’t know we’re wrong. This post is a follow-up to my post HERE on not flinching back from this anxiety work – as well as a discussion of how much agency/strength we have in our lives. HOWEVER it seems or feels to us for the moment…

You might be thinking at the moment hey Erik, I AM fragile. I feel overwhelmed by my life, my stress, my fears and my inadequacies. You might also be saying that there is a lot of evidence that you ARE fragile, and that seems hard to refute from where you’re sitting.

I understand that thinking, that feeling. I thought and felt the same way for decades – really, I thought and felt that way before I even KNEW I did. But I was wrong – and so are you.

We’re not made of glass. We won’t shatter in the face of troubles. We just don’t get it yet. So let’s talk about just how not fragile – and about how TOUGH we actually are. Because it’s time you knew that you’re a fighter, and that you’re tougher than you know.

How did we start thinking this way?

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As much as I talk about the origins of anxiety in this blog I don’t think I have written enough about the early days of our acquiring the foundations of our anxious thinking. Because, you see, we don’t show up anxious. We learn to think anxiously, and that’s where we get in trouble.

There are some folks running around in the world that have a conviction that at least some of us are born anxious. There’s nothing in the research that’s been done to date that says there is any convincing evidence of this, but it can be a tempting theory. One of the reasons it’s tempting is that we don’t remember, most of us, some clear demarcation in our lives when anxiety began.

In fact (speaking both from my own personal experience and my experience working with chronic anxiety fighters) it seems to sneak up on us, to just “come out of nowhere.” It might seem to come in the form of a sudden traumatic moment where we have our first panic attack. It might be simply that we become aware one day of just how frightened and nervous and anxious we feel one overwhelming afternoon.

But most of us don’t really parse out how this got started. It isn’t complex. It started with us learning to see the world through anxious eyes – more specifically, through the lens of anxious thinking. We picked up, to a significant extent, in the way we learned to think from the people around us – family, friends, even school and church can contribute.

There is much more to say on this subject, but the point here is that we understood SO LITTLE of what was going on. This lack of good information/understanding left us floundering when chronic anxiety made its first obvious appearance in our lives.

When that ugly/scary first anxiety experience happened we had Flight or Fight fire up. And man, it scared us. It FELT like something terrible was happening – something too terrible for us to manage. We succumbed to the warnings of Flight or Fight – we ran away. And, because we ran away, Flight or Fight calmed down to some extent.

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That set us up two ways: 1) running away is a good idea, and 2) we couldn’t handle what scared us. In other words We learned early that we were NOT equal to our lives, in some or in many areas – i.e., we learned to think that we couldn’t manage our own lives, that we weren’t smart enough, strong enough, capable enough, you name it.

UGH. Not so useful. But all we knew was we were “safe” from those terrible feelings of panic and anxiety, and so we counted our blessings and tried to forget it.

What we didn’t understand then was we were NOT anxious “out of the blue” We were anxious because we had spent years and years looking at things in our lives as crises – i.e., things that would be too awful to endure if they turned out the way our fears had us thinking about them.

We were trying desperately to avoid offending other people. Or making anyone mad at us. Or failing in our role as wife, mother, daughter, son, husband, dad, friend, co-worker, etc. Or failing in our career. Or not being holy enough. Or in some way treating multiple issues that were only WERE issues as if they were life-and-death crises.

We were trying to follow a LOT of rules, shoulds, must bes, etc. – and it proved overwhelming to us – and so we ran away, not understanding the real reasons we were anxious, and now terrified of this panic and fierce anxiety thing.

And, in running away, we confirmed with ourselves that we were not able to endure all we were supposed to endure/manage/deal with in our lives.

And the Party was just beginning…

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This pattern of thinking and feeling anxiously, then running away and in our running finding some relief from that anxious thinking and feeling, got reinforced every time we ran. We developed the habit of running away – in our minds and in our lives. We could feel our lives getting smaller – but we really didn’t see an alternative.

Not so great for self-confidence and the sense that we can take care of ourselves, yes? We felt unsure of ourselves, fragile, weak and other nice words we might have used to describe how we felt then (and maybe now.)

Worse, we looked at other people and THEY seemed to be managing their lives – what the hell was wrong with us? (Appearances are deceiving, we’re not seeing into their lives or thinking, etc., but again, we didn’t or don’t see that when we’re busy beating ourselves up because we feel so weak/fragile/unable to cope.)

And of course we’ve KEPT backing up, kept running away from what is making us so freakin’ scared.

We may have turned to medication, which can in some cases be a real help/relief to how we FEEL, and even help give our thinking some room to maneuver. But it also, at some level, gave way too many of us further proof that we weren’t strong or capable enough to manage life on our own ability. It made us feel dependent and even more fragile.

(Worse, unless those meds were accompanied by the work necessary to challenge and change those old habits of anxious thinking, nothing really changed about our anxiety. It was still there, still in the background, and that, too, was a gnawing concern for us.)

As the days and months and years rolled on our worlds got smaller, our fears didn’t really go anyplace and we wound up with the conviction that we were NOT capable of dealing with life.

We were wrong

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The therapy people talk about how we create stories about our experience and lives – a narrative of what is our truth, what is real for us. The bad news is that story, that narrative doesn’t necessarily reflect what IS really going on or what we have experienced.

But the good news is that we are free to examine and even change that narrative to something that is closer to the truth. Dang good thing too, because we are much, much more capable than we allow ourselves to think, and we have been much tougher than we have ever believed.

Look at what you HAVE done for a minute. If you’re a chronic anxiety fighter than you have

put up with chronic anxiety and fear for years or decades,

managed to still get along, by hook or crook, even as we told ourselves we couldn’t go on,

have often kept on dealing with anxiety AND feeding and raising kids, holding down a job,

taken care of elderly parents or disabled kids, dealing with other people’s problems, etc.,

have had to endure a terrible amount of negative feedback – intentional or unintentional – from the people in our lives that don’t understand chronic anxiety.

Holy crap. That’s a lot of stuff to manage for people who are supposedly fragile and weak and unable to deal with life. We are much stronger, much tougher than we see, because our stories of failure, weakness, inability cloud our ability to see what we’ve really been able to do. Weak people, fragile people couldn’t do all that I’ve listed here.

We need to understand that we are much stronger, much more able than we have been understanding about ourselves, and we need to learn to exploit that strength, use it to can help us climb out of anxious thinking and build new habits of thought.

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Pardon my French, but we have been telling ourselves a bullshit story, and it’s time we got honest about what we can do in this fight to beat anxiety.

Time for a New and More Honest story

So much of this comes down to FEELING. We don’t FEEL like we’re strong enough. We don’t FEEL like we can take care of ourselves. We don’t FEEL like we’ll ever get free of anxiety.

That makes sense. Flight or Fight is a strong mechanism, designed to get us moving in the face of real, actual danger. (How often do I say THAT in this blog?) But we are much more than Flight or Fight. And we are much more than our feelings.

Because our feelings are only a weathervane for our thoughts. If the wind picks up we don’t attempt to manage the wind by gluing the weathervane in one direction, do we? No. The weathervane just indicates what the wind is doing. Our feelings just indicate what our thoughts are doing.

Which means we need to review and rewrite this story of weakness and fragility. Here are some starting points:
We have endured anxious for years and years. If we have the strength to do that we have the strength to turn and face it down, deal with it and change our thinking.

We have endured the symptoms of anxious thinking – Flight or Fight’s sensations and feelings – for years and years. We have the capacity to face down those sensations and feelings and stop letting them scare us so much.

We have raised kids, managed houses and marriages, dealt with other people’s problems, suffered loss and grief and still pressed on, however much we told ourselves that we couldn’t manage all of that. If we can do that stuff we have the ability, energy and endurance to face down anxiety.

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We REALLY want to live a healthy, happy life. That by itself is a great focus to drive towards, even when our fears insist that there is no way, we can never have that, etc. This redirecting of our thinking to what we DO want is exactly the kind of practice we need to begin to develop the ability to redirect our thinking and take control of our thinking.

One last thing: as I’ve said elsewhere in this blog anxiety fighters are STUBBORN. Holy crap we are stubborn. We have tenacity and stubbornness in abundance. (You know it’s true.) Let’s come out of the closet as stubborn people and use that stubbornness to go get what we want – a different story about our thinking, our fears and our lives.

Not Sure what to Do Next?

1) Consider writing out both your current story, all that fear and junk in your head, and writing out the actual things you’ve had to move through, manage and deal with. Get help from family and friends if you find yourself unsure about the second story details – you’ll be surprised at what you hear. 🙂

2) Read “Compassion and Self-Hate” by T.I. Rubin (cheap on Amazon.) Read JUST the Compassion part (the second half of the book) FIRST – and begin to see how you are both telling yourself a faulty story AND see some examples of what a more healthy, more realistic story would look like.

3) Hit me here at the blog. I’ll be happy to help you start clarifying the real story of your ability and strength.

We are much, much stronger and more capable than we are being honest about with ourselves. Time to claim our real strength and ability…

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You know who’s brilliant at looking backwards in time? Anxiety fighters. We are remarkable in our ability to get lost in grief, regret and pointless review of earlier days, earlier self-perceived failings and mistakes and not “getting it right.”

We who battle anxiety by definition are lost in the future too much of the time, no doubt. That’s the heart and soul of anxiety. But we can get lost in the future by getting consumed by the past and what did or didn’t happen. (What? How does that work? Stay with me – I’ll explain myself in a bit.)

To wage this battle against anxiety effectively we have to do something that always makes me laugh (and shake my head, remembering my own long history of doing this regret thing) when I hear my friend Sam say the following truth: “We have to give up hope for a better past.”

That’s the mission of today’s blog post: getting our heads out of the past is essential to getting free of anxiety. We can’t fight anxiety in the future OR the past (although, in truth, it is always and only EVER about the future.) We can only fight it here in the present.

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Looking over our Shoulder all the Time gives you a Stiff Neck…

One of the gifts of being human is that we remember stuff. We remember our names, where we live, what we did 4 weeks ago that was fun, why we shouldn’t touch a hot stove, cool stuff like that. It is sometimes great that we remember things.

Remembering things is essential to learning. There have been people who have taken brain injuries of one kind or another who literally cannot remember anything long enough to retain it – and as a result they cannot learn. Remembering is good because it can lead to learning. (Note that I said CAN – other things come into play, which we’ll get to in a minute – but it doesn’t have to drive learning.)

On the other hand one of the big challenges of being human is that we remember stuff – stuff we would rather not remember. We remember mistakes, failings, angry conversations, hurts, abuses, dangerous situations, scary situations. If we are not careful we can get lost in remembering, over and over.

We can get stuck in the past. This can in turn feed issues like lingering regret, on-going grief, sustained anger, the fear of loss, and yes, anxiety. We can get stuck in a feedback loop of, at least in part, our own creating. We review the past, we pore over our mistakes and stumbles, we do mea culpa (or rage against the injustice, or whatever we’re thinking about the past), and that in turn makes us feel all the feelings I just listed – and we start the merry-go-round up again.

All of this getting stuck in the past can be summarized by saying we are scared of what that past means for our future. We are scared of what it meant then, no doubt – but more importantly we’re scared of what it means for the future. Yeah – the future.

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All anxiety is about avoiding danger – real, or imagined. If we think that something in our past means something for our future, and that thing is scary, then we’re going to start treating it as a crisis.

Examples of how we can let the Past Scare us about the Future

Let’s say we went through, in the past, a really crappy relationship. We fell for the wrong person, or that person went off the rails, or whatever the problem was the relationship ended badly. We were pretty hurt, pretty damaged by the whole experience.

More importantly, it scared us. We were left doubting our ability to DO relationship in healthy ways. We began to speculate, using those two, terrible words: what if. What if I’m unable to have a healthy relationship? What if it is ME that makes it so hard? What if I just can’t find someone who I can make a life with EVER?

It feels like we’re stuck in the past. And we are. But we’re not really worrying about the past. We’re worrying about the future. And in our worry we’re treating that hypothetical, always-alone, never-find-love-again as a crisis – and that of course is firing up Flight or Fight, which feeds the anxiety and creates a wonderful feedback loop…

And presto, we’re anxious.

Or let’s say we suffered some terrible trauma in our earlier days. Maybe it was a bad car accident. Maybe somebody attacked us physically. Maybe we were physically abused. Maybe we got sick, or had a scary hospital experience. (Ugh. All terrible things to have to endure.) No question that anybody would have to do some recovering and healing from such experiences.

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It feels like we’re pinned by those bad experiences. We keep reliving them, or running away from them, or both. But there’s a problem with that thinking: the event is already behind us. Regardless of the trauma experienced, regardless of what happened, it is DONE.

I am not, in a thousand years, trying to say that we should “just get over it” or pretend somehow that it didn’t happen. Far from it. I’m saying that in the normal course of mental, physical and emotional healing we would normally grieve, process and then move on.

But when we start making it a crisis that we hang onto we are really worrying about the future. And that’s where we get in trouble. Having a bad experience in the PAST doesn’t mean that we’re forever chained to that past!

Were we emotionally and mentally hit (and scarred) by that experience? That’s not a small thing. I’m not saying that we didn’t experience trauma. But it is what we DO with that trauma moving forward that is crucial to breaking anxiety’s hold. Something that is done is DONE. It is only a burden to us if we carry it forward.

And the way we carry it forward is being afraid of it as if it was going to happen again. We don’t have to be conscious of that fear/assumption to have it rule (and ruin) our lives in the present. We can simply flinch away from the terrible memories, feelings, experiences to have them wreak havoc in our current life.

I’m not claiming that this is easy work. Any “what if?” thought can grow to giant proportions if we feed it over time.

So what do we DO about past trauma that is making a mess of our present?

My first recommendation is to find a good therapist. I’m not talking about an MD here. I’m talking about someone who is trained to deal with trauma and even PTSD. Yes, past trauma, even for people that have never been to war or caught in a firefight can be labeled PTSD.

It is in fact my argument that PTSD is just a very extreme form of what if thinking linked to a past traumatic event that we’re projecting into our future. Therapy, effective therapy, is often vital to that work. Get somebody who will both listen to you and help you see that the past is in fact the past, whatever happened – and that your mission moving forward is to get into the present, working to build the kind of life you want.

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My second recommendation is to get clean on precisely what you are what if thinking about. Depending on the intensity of the issue (a bad accident or hospital experience, for example, or a physical assault) it might be better to identify those what if assumptions WITH a therapist.

It is also however work that may be possible to do with journaling, a coach or a close friend/family member that we can drop our shields with and do some working through about. All anxiety comes down to what if thinking (anxiety that isn’t induced by, say, 4 café grandes from Starbucks.) Certainly doing both can only advance our cause.

My third recommendation (and related to number two) is to get clear what our expectations were and are about our life – what SHOULD have happened, what we SHOULD have experienced, what we SHOULD be able to do, etc. We can get stuck in what if thinking in part when we are holding onto old expectations, old rules, old assumptions about how life should or shouldn’t work…

This is emotional and difficult work. It will, for a while, ramp up Flight or Fight in our bodies and feelings. It will ruffle our feathers and make us scratchy as hell. We won’t do it all at once. We will flinch back some more and get mad and sad and frustrated.

But letting go of the past is one of the most healthy things we can do for ourselves, and especially a past that we are carrying with us into our present. The past is done, however much we regret it, however much we were hurt in it.

Today is today. And the future, as long as we’re here, stretches before us. Isn’t it time to stop paying rent on the past?

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In my last post I started a conversation about a question that is usually top of mind for those of us who are in the fight to break anxiety’s hold in our lives – how long will it take me to get free of this crap? In that post I listed out two crucial pieces – basic thinking skills needed and getting good information about how anxiety works, and what works in overcoming anxiety.

With this post I’ll discuss two more pieces, then finally answer the question. (No, I’m not trying to tease you – some answers are longer than others…)

Regular Practice

Ugh. Practice. I’m reminded of my days as a piano student (back when I thought piano was a grand waste of time – sigh.) I HATED practice. I didn’t see the point, I got bored, it was hard… you know the story.

Except as I got older I realized that to get some things I wanted I HAD to get comfortable with the notion of practice. Maybe most kids develop a crappy understanding of practice, but, I begin to believe (here in middle age) that it isn’t so much about practice as a thing. I think it is more about the fear of failure.

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Practice needs to be understood as inexperience working towards experience, and from experience to better and better performance. As I mentioned at the start of this blog post we’re really not clear on the truth that some things we need take TIME – time and consistent effort.

Even the word “consistent” is too fraught with the feeling of failure to use with some people. Consistent is perfect practice (what the heck would that mean anyway?) as in doing the exact same amount of time, the exact same way, every day. Practice is learning, experimenting, trying this and trying that, as well as giving yourself time to get better, slowly, over time.

Practice is NOT trying it for 3 days, or two weeks, or for 2 minutes a day for 6 months. Practice is NOT moving from triumph to triumph, consistently improving skill in noticeable ways every time we do practice.

So what IS practice? Practice IS leaning into the work in a steady, regular way. Practice is a mix of staying clear on our goal, doing the work, staying clear on WHAT we need to practice and expecting every day to be what it is – more effective, less effective, but all of it building upon itself, making us slowly better over time.

Let’s get more specific. Practice looks something like this:

1) Regular sessions reviewing our what if thinking (on paper, on a laptop, on our phone, someplace where we can keep a real, consistent record of our unpacking work) and in that reviewing getting more and more skillful at seeing our “crises” as problems.

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That might be 10-15 minutes, twice a day, three times a day. Maybe before breakfast, after lunch, after dinner. Get a schedule that works for you.

2) Have clear goals and keep working those goals, with those goals centered largely on two things: actual, physical practice confronting your old crisis thinking and replacing it with a problem orientation in the real world – not just on paper, as important as that is – and actively engaging your life.

If your goal is to get to the corner alone then do that, while you’re staying clear on how getting to the corner isn’t a crisis, whatever your what if fears are shouting at you. It’s reminding yourself that the corner is, for the moment, a problem, and you have ways to manage that problem.

You might do this work 3 or 4 or 5 times in a day. I would really encourage you to come back home and record what happened, how your thinking worked this time, what you can do better, where you’re still holding yourself up. Keep a record!

3) Are you doing good self-care? How’s that sleep thing for you? What are you putting in your face in the way of food? Where are those boundaries you keep wanting to draw?

4) Practicing patience – with yourself more than anyone else. Seeing the work as being practice across time, rather than one heroic effort.

So – the speed of our results in breaking anxiety’s hold will depend on the effort we make to practice.

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Expecting a Learning Curve – including the Bumps that come with any Learning Curve

OK. We’ve tackled good thinking skills, good information and practice. ALL of that will lead, naturally, to a learning curve. Although, maybe, I should be called a learning hiking path. 🙂 Over difficult and easy terrain both! Sometimes the path seems unclear or overgrown. Sometimes we hear scary noises in the bushes. And sometimes we get sunburned, and really tired, and grumpy, and we just want a hot shower and a comfortable bed.

Yeah, I like hiking trail better than curve. Learning is rarely straight-forward. We have plateaus, slow places, even back-tracking in a learning curve – a lot like hiking. (For my post on plateaus and stalls in our work to overcome anxiety go HERE.)

So what? That’s part of learning. It doesn’t signal failure and if anything it says that we ARE learning.

And – you guessed it – the speed of our getting clear of crappy, anxious thinking will depend in part on our patience and fortitude in the face of the learning curve/hiking trail.

My partner Bob likes to hike. He hikes pretty much every weekend. He likes to hike at a particular park about an hour from our house, up among the redwood trees. The park he hikes in has a couple of easy trails – maybe half a mile or a mile total, mostly flat, very easy to follow. The rest of the park has a variety of trails, some of them miles in length and going over some impressive terrain.

Guess what he notices? Most people who visit this beautiful park stay on the easiest trail, do the shortest walk, and miss 8/10’s of what is available in this location – including the most beautiful views and the most glorious stands of redwood trees. Those people really never see the park – they mostly see the parking lot. 🙂 The good stuff takes a little work.

We can’t get free of anxiety if we won’t make the hike. Learning Curves are rarely nice, linear, steadily-improving experiences. In the case of rewriting our anxious thinking it will involve experiences like this:

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We face down a fearful thought and it overwhelms us the first two, five, ten, twenty times we try.

We have a burst of Flight or Fight reactions “come out of nowhere” (not the case, it’s always a thought, but it feels like it’s out of nowhere)

We have a day when we seem to forget everything we’ve been learning – we’re tired, we’re distracted, we just feel overwhelmed

We get angry and frustrated! We go to a corner and pout, or break some dishes, or just say screw it, I’ll never get this, I suck, etc.

All of that is natural and normal. This is part of being in a learning curve. Don’t forget how eager anxiety thinking is to get you to GIVE UP – after all, why is this so damn hard anyway? – and besides, it’s hopeless for you no matter what you do. 🙂 Recognize any of that crap?

Learning a new skill takes TIME. Learning a small handful of skills (which is what you’re doing) will take longer still. It’s OK. It’s better than OK. These are skills that will be with you the rest of your life.

So how long WILL IT TAKE?

I’m sorry (but only a little) to report that there is no clean, simple answer to this, at least chronologically. That’s true for any attempt to acquire new skills. I’ve seen people see substantial relief in just a couple of months. I’ve seen people take years. I’ve seen people start this work, stop, start again, stop – but they eventually get there.

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And, hardest of all, I’ve seen people never really wade in, never really start this work. I’m not putting anyone down. I fought this process tooth and claw. But we can’t get anyplace if we don’t get started, despite how we feel, despite how much we wish it was easier, less scary, etc.

Permit me to argue that it will take the time it takes. A better question to ask ourselves is what’s getting in my way in this work? Where can I lean in, face down the next obstacle, get better at being uncomfortable so I can get where I want to go?

Another good question to ask is how easily do I give up? Anxiety is SO GOOD at teaching us to just surrender, just stop trying, when things get scary and difficult. As I mentioned in my last post we live in a time when we expect things to happen FAST – as in RIGHT NOW – not realizing that some things, some processes, some changes take time.

Finally, it will take less time than it’s taking if we’re avoiding if we just get down to it. 🙂

There are few things we’d like to get rid of faster than the habit of anxious thinking. It only makes sense. We are sick of the torment, the flinching back from our lives and the utter drain from our souls in the daily battle with anxiety.

In addition we live in an age when we have come to expect things to move along pretty quickly. We’re not accustomed to having to wait for much these days. Microwaves, online shopping, quick weight-loss programs and 1 billion channels of television make it easy to expect to get what we want NOW.

There is a class of desires, however, that can only come with solid basic thinking skills, good information, regular practice, a learning curve and the bumps that come during that learning curve – in other words, when we are building new skills. Want to, for example, learn to play the banjo? (I think you’re a lunatic if you do, but hey, some people really LIKE a good banjo.)

You’re going to have to practice. And you can’t really practice until you have some basic idea what the hell you’re doing in the first place. That practicing is going to take time. You’re going to learn some things well, and other things not so well – you’ll learn them wrong, make mistakes, and have to go back and learn them differently.

And no, you won’t be able to play “Smokey Mountain Breakdown” in 10 days. Or even 20. It’s going to take some time to master the ancient art of banjo playing. Now this is where the metaphor of learning a musical instrument stops being comparable to overcoming anxiety, because it doesn’t have to take near as much time to break the hold of anxiety as it does to learn to play the banjo. More about that later in this post.

Let’s apply this thinking to the work of breaking free of chronic anxiety –

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Solid, basic Thinking Skills

Thinking is a skill. I know, that sounds crazy. Can’t everybody just think, the way they just breathe? No. Thanks for asking. Thinking is actually a fairly complex set of skills. Most of us learn some (but not all) of those skills in two ways: watching/modeling other people and formal training.

This just in: most of us don’t get the full complement of useful thinking skills from either of these sources. I’m not, by the way, trashing your esteemed parents or your K-12 teachers. I am, however, accusing ALL of us of missing vital components in good, adept thinking. What are those skills?

1) Questioning our assumptions/being careful of assuming we know the final word.
2) Running good experiments – i.e., trying things out and giving them the time and attention they need to really tell us if we’re finding results or not.
3) Noticing and being aware of our bias – i.e., being wary of gathering information /vetting information with the intent of only already proving our current thinking, rather than letting what we’re learning tell us what it is trying to tell us.

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It can be useful to ask yourself which skills are you good at, and which ones do you need to strengthen?

These skills are doubly important for anxiety fighters who want OFF the merry-go-round of anxious thinking. Anxiety makes it so easy to just throw up our hands, assume that we’re screwed. It takes us extra effort to keep working to keep our thinking as clear as we can in the face of that tendency.

There’s another issue anxiety brings on: when we’re in Flight or Fight it’s harder (not impossible, but harder) to keep our thinking clear. That, by itself, is a small skill – and one that only comes with practice and time.

So – the speed that you’ll finish this work will depend in part on how effectively you’re doing your thinking. This is work ANYONE can do – but it has to be done. We can’t take short-cuts and we can’t skimp on doing at least some careful thinking.

Good Information

For the love of all that’s holy there is a LOT of bad information and thinking about the nature of anxiety, as well as what we can do about it, floating around out there. Take this pill. Do this breathing technique. Assume that you’re screwed – you’re just an “anxious person.” And a lot more besides…

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Lots of anxiety fighters float from theory to theory, teacher to teacher, book to book, technique to technique, flailing for the thing that will give them relief FAST. Sure we do. We’re not bad people for doing that – but we are often not doing much to help our efforts to break anxiety’s hold if we’re doing this.

We need to ask questions in our search for good information, good resources. Is this person someone who has actually dealt with anxiety – lived the dream, as it were? Do they seem to actually understand what it means to wrestle with anxiety over time? Have they seen good results from the tools and techniques and framework they are advocating?

Good information (and vetting/evaluating that information) isn’t as easy as looking at someone’s credentials or title. Yes, doctors and therapists are in theory supposed to be great resources for getting information about anxiety. Sadly there are too many doctors or therapists who don’t even stop to take a full history of our experience, or listen to our specific experiences. They hear the word “anxiety” and they are already reaching for a prescription pad or recommending desensitization exercises.

Part of the problem is they don’t really understand anxiety and how it works – conceptually or personally. Don’t get me wrong – meds and desensitization exercises both have a place in this work! But they can’t by themselves get us free of anxiety. They have to be applied with a strong, solid understanding of how anxiety works and how those tools can best serve that understanding for us.

We can’t just defer to doctors – much as that would be great or easy to do. We can’t just see one or two therapists and then assume that we’re screwed because they couldn’t help us effectively.

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Maybe the best summary of this point is this: are we gathering information, looking at it carefully, looking at who is saying it and asking the questions we need to ask? Or are we assuming that someone claims to have a way to manage and overcome anxiety MUST know what they’re talking about, then getting frustrated by our lack of progress?

(And, btw, I hope you’re doing this exact process with ME and ANYONE who says they have something useful to say about anxiety.)

Not all information is equal! At this point in the blog post I’m hearing some of you say (in my head) “man, this seems like a lot of work. Isn’t this tough enough already without having to do this careful research?” Well, in some respects it is a serious hassle. It would be brilliant if we didn’t have to work this hard.

On the other hand it is what it is. We don’t always get to pick our battles – but, once we’ve identified that we have a battle to fight, it is up to us to get the best information we can, mostly so we can do the best thinking and work we can do to win that battle.

So – our speed at overcoming anxiety will depend in part on the quality of information we’re using to deal with anxiety.

I haven’t finished Answering the Question yet…

In fact I’m only half-way! I’ll finish next post. In the meantime consider how this applies to YOU, dear anxiety fighter, as you ponder how long this work will take for you. Are you seeing the nature of the fight clearly, i.e., thinking about it clearly? Or is your theory of anxiety getting in the way? (See my post HERE about dysfunctional ways to see anxiety, just to double-check.)

And what about the information you’re operating from? Who are you using as your source material for dealing with anxiety? Can you apply what you’re learning? Are there tools you can use effectively?

Anxiety is a thinking issue. (How often do you read THAT here?) If we’re not doing good thinking and using good information we’re just getting in our own way.

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Video

With today’s writing I’ve created 255 blog posts about overcoming anxiety. I’ve put a lot of words on “paper” about how anxiety works and what we can do about it.

I have realized in the last few weeks that, in the middle of all that writing (and lots more writing at a Facebook Group I’ve had the good fortune to participate in over the last 3-1/2 years, and lots of conversations with those Facebook friends and my anxiety coaching clients) it is easy for me to lose sight of the basic nature of this work.

Today I want to review those basics, reset the stage, clarify precisely what overcoming anxiety looks like and how we get there. Here are the basics: What if thinking (problem to crisis thinking, the thing that makes us anxious in the first place), the reactions of Flight or Fight to that what if thinking that come to scare us so badly, unpacking that thinking back into problem thinking, and functional self-care.

Making Crises out of Problems – the heart and soul of Anxiety

I suspect you’ve heard stories about people that are afraid of what seems to you to be silly things – rabbit’s feet, or clowns, or moths, or having the peas touch the carrots. You say to yourself “how could a clown scare anybody?” (Of course it is possible those fears don’t seem silly at all to you – maybe one of those things scares YOU.)

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A better question to ask ourselves is WHY anything scares anyone when it isn’t actually an immediate, physical danger. In a sense we could say that when we are presented with real, immediate, physical danger we’re not being scared at all. We are simply reacting to that danger. If I’m being attacked by an angry polar bear I’m not being simply scared – I’m dealing with a life-or-death issue RIGHT NOW.

But if I’m afraid of a rabbit’s foot or a clown then I’m being scared – without actually being in danger of being hurt in this present moment. This is anxiety, pure and simple.

How does it work? That’s simple too. To have something make us anxious we have to anticipate a bad, dangerous thing happening to us, sometime in the future. That’s it. That’s all we have to do. Some anxiety thinkers call this what if thinking, and it’s a perfectly descriptive phrase in my opinion.

Let’s say this a different way: to be anxious we have to have a thought, or multiple thoughts, about something that isn’t actually dangerous in the here and now, but which we’re anticipating BEING dangerous in the future. That’s what if thinking.

There are a couple of things that make this SEEM more complicated. One is the truth that we don’t have to be conscious of what if thoughts to have them scare us. Often we are completely unaware of the anxious thought that is rocking our worlds (or, more likely anxious thoughts, plural.)

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That doesn’t mean we can’t BECOME aware of those thoughts, with some effort and practice – but we sure as heck don’t have consciously think a scary thought for that thought to freak us out. Lots of our thinking is habitual thinking. And habitual thinking is rarely conscious thinking.

Another issue that makes this seem more complicated than it is concerns the safety mechanism that we humans have to deal with REAL danger – the Flight or Fight Response. When it goes to Red Alert it makes things FEEL like we’re in real danger –

How did we get here? Why do we do this? We learned to do this. This is a much longer conversation (you can see more HERE if you like) but for the purposes of this conversation anxiety starts and grows here – in the learned, habitual pattern of treating one more issues as a crisis.

Flight or Fight – the second part of the Equation of Anxiety

When we have an anxious thought – when we anticipate danger in the future, do this what if thinking thing – then we activate Flight or Fight. Everyone knows Flight or Fight – that rush of adrenaline, the burst of nervous energy, the natural mechanism that evolved to help us get to safety, one way or another, in the face of real, physical danger.

A host of things happen to us physically and emotionally when Flight or Fight goes to work, but the crucial thing to understand what it is attempting to do: get us ready to RUN – RIGHT NOW. Running is always better than fighting in the natural world, because running, if successful, gets us to safety AND avoids the risk of injury that might impede survival later. We only fight if we are cornered.

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That host of things includes a dry mouth, sweating, dizziness, various heart reactions like skipping and racing, shallow breathing, tingling and numbness, nausea, flushed skin, terror, rage, embarrassment, despair, hopelessness and depression. This is a longer conversation (see my post HERE on this topic) but the bottom line is that most of these sensations and feelings are just Flight or Fight gearing us up to run (or fight if we must) – and the rest are the result of anxiety being sustained for long periods of time without relief – and us becoming convinced that nothing can change for us.

We very easily get caught in a loop that has us believing that there MUST be something terribly wrong with us – after all, why would our bodies react and feel this way if there wasn’t? The answer is that we’re shouting OH MY GOSH I’M IN DANGER – and our body, obligingly, is standing to alert again and again, trying to help us get to safety.

The only problem is that we’re not in real, immediate danger. There’s nothing to run from. Which means Flight or Fight gets us all dressed up without nowhere to go. We’re coursing with energy, seething with adrenaline – but there’s nothing really to do with it.

There’s one more aggravating factor with Flight or Fight reacting to our anxious, fearful thinking. We start doing what if thinking about Flight or Fight! We start asking questions like what if this never stops, what if this means I’m crazy, what if I have a brain tumor… and so in a sense we set up a second level of what if fearful thinking, based on our Flight or Fight reactions, which originally began in response to our earlier what if thinking about stuff in the future. Ugh!

What if thinking activating Flight or Fight – this is anxiety. So what do we DO about it?

Unpacking – Cleaning up our Thinking so we stop Scaring ourselves

Anxiety is based on us taking an issue, problem or situation and blowing up that issue or problem into crisis in our thinking. To get free of chronic anxiety we have to convert that crisis in our thinking back into what it really is – an issue, problem or situation.

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Please don’t think that I don’t understand that it FEELS like a hell of a lot more serious than “just” a problem or issue when we’re in the grip of anxiety. I get it, down in my bones. I spent the majority of two decades running hard from my own anxiety. I was in the grip of terror both over what I was afraid might happen to me (my original what if thinking) and I was scared to death about what Flight or Fight might mean for me (in my case, I was going to go crazy.)

How do we escape this merry-go-round of thinking and reacting? We have to clean up our thinking. We have to stop running, turn around and look our what if thinking in the eye.

We have to do that because we’re treating problems or issues as crises – which means we’re both scaring ourselves silly AND not dealing effectively with the issue or problem. I’m not saying it might not be a BIG problem. I’m saying that if you’re not immediately at risk for death or serious injury then it is not a crisis – and will be MUCH better managed if you will start treating it as a problem. (Not to mention that you won’t be scaring yourself silly over it.)

(See my post HERE on what it means to treat a problem as a problem.)

This is intense, often challenging work. This takes energy, time, patience and a willingness to be, sometimes, damn uncomfortable. Of course that’s the case. We’ve learned to run from our fears – now we’re facing them and seeing them for WHAT THEY ACTUALLY ARE.

That requires the fourth component of mastering anxiety – good self-care.

Self-Care

I have lots to say HERE about the basics of good self-care, but it all comes down to providing yourself with the energy and reserves to do this work as effectively as possible. It isn’t complicated – but it is essential.

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It looks like this:

Some sort of regular physical movement (yes, the dreaded exercise)
Eating decently (not perfectly, but decently)
Getting the best sleep you can
Making your needs at LEAST as important as the people around you – i.e., learning to draw healthy boundaries

This is more challenging than it might first appear for most anxiety fighters. Anxiety is such an energy suck over time. It tempts us to inactivity and motionless – “freezing” in place. It often leads to various forms of self-medication – including eating junk and overeating. It can wreak havoc on sleep – after all, we’re very busy trying to solve problems as if they were life-and-death crises – how the hell are we supposed to sleep?

And perhaps most insidious of all is what 99% of anxiety fighters learned to do – put everyone else’s needs ahead of our own. We don’t know how to draw healthy boundaries in our life. We don’t know how to ask for (and, in some cases, insist on) what we need, even if someone else might be annoyed or a little put out by us getting what we need.

This is by itself a set of skills and we won’t get there overnight. But even baby steps in this direction can make a significant difference in our ability to take on and unpack our fearful what if thinking. Walking every day can be a game changer. Cutting out the extra dessert we think we need to stay rational can have an immediate impact on how we feel (and sleep.) Slowing down at night, setting a regular bedtime, reading or practicing breathing exercises before bedtime, these things can begin to improve the quality of our sleeptime.

Think of this as the most basic self-support we c an do to have the energy and focus we need to take on and break the hold of anxiety.

Simple isn’t the same thing as Easy – but this is work any of us can do

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This is, in a nutshell, how we get anxious, and what we can do about anxiety. We can (and usually do) make it more complicated, unfortunately. 🙂 We fight to avoid the sensations and emotions that Flight or Fight generate – they’ve scared us for so long we have a hard time letting them come and practicing seeing them for what they are.

We fall back into the habit of treating this or that problem as a great hairy crisis. Sure we do – we’ve been doing it a long time. We continue to take crappy care of ourselves – including not treating ourselves with respect when it comes to our limits and boundaries. Sure we do. It’s scary to draw boundaries when you’re fighting chronic anxiety.

But the work is the work. The way out is the way out. It is work any of us can do. It isn’t like falling off a log easy – but it is completely within our reach.

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Do you love yourself? Does that question sound weird or self-absorbed to you? What do you think of when you think of self-love? Shakespeare, that Master of the Words, had a great quote for this topic: “self-love, my lord, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.”

Self-love doesn’t mean being selfish. Self-love doesn’t mean you’re always staring in the mirror telling yourself how good-looking or amazing you are. Self-love means rediscovering (for most of us, anyway) the real need we have to care for, respect and honor who we are, in multiple ways.

Self-love utterly vital in this work of breaking the habit of chronic anxiety and depression. Every creature on the planet has a healthy interest in self-care – except for us wacky humans. We’re the only species that seems to go out of its way to NOT do good self-care, love ourselves the way we need to be loved.

Self-love isn’t for the wimpy. Self-love isn’t a book of affirmations and a long weekend in Aruba (although those things could be excellent ways to practice some self-love.) Self-love isn’t eating a box of Chips Ahoy or drinking 11 glasses of wine. Self-love is true compassion and gentleness towards ourselves – treasuring our true humanity.

And yes, I said our true humanity. We are human. We are not perfect, we are not limitless, we can’t always be at the top of our game. We will be up and we will be down. We will have successes and failures and more successes. We will have different abilities to “do our best” from day to day. Understanding this is also self-love.

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Today’s post begins a series about self-love, it’s evil twin self-have, and some discussion about why the hell we ever wind up NOT loving ourselves in the first place. Today’s post is more about laying the groundwork for a larger conversation – we have a lot of ground to cover…

We start out loving ourselves

We don’t get born into the world not knowing how to love ourselves. We already know how. We are born self-loving, and we have to learn to not treat ourselves with love and compassion.

Isn’t that strange news? And troubling? It’s true. We are born with a healthy self-interest and a tendency to take care of ourselves. It just makes sense. Any creature on Earth that shows up naturally not showing a healthy self-care is going to have some challenges…

Think about babies. You know, new humans, the tiny ones who can’t do much except make silly noises and wave their arms and legs around, looking cute as heck? Are babies self-loving? You bet! If they are happy they amuse themselves (and often us in the process.) They smile, they stick their foot in their mouths, they look around at the world –

And when they are not happy that isn’t a secret either! They cry if they’re hungry or if they need a new diaper or if they get too tired.

Think about your pet for a second – your cat or dog or horse. They don’t have any problem drawing a boundary or expressing a need, right? Just try taking away their food or petting them too roughly – you’ll know in a hurry if it isn’t working for them. 🙂

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And it’s the same for people too. Well, it’s the same for people UNTIL they start learning about getting along with other people in the world… I’ll go there in a minute. To review: we are born self-caring, self-loving. We are naturally compelled to do self-care. We have to LEARN to not do it.

The Monkeywrench in the Works

We get into trouble when we begin navigating human relationships in our world (what we might call the socialization process – learning to get along with other people.) To live in the world we have to learn some give-and-take, some capacity for negotiating how our world works in relation to those other people.

Part of that learning to get along is learning when we can have our way, do what we want, and when we have to allow for other people’s wants and needs. Nothing strange or terribly difficult about this, at least in theory.

Here’s the thing: too many of us, in that learning process, develop a habit of seriously shutting down what we want in favor of what other people want. You might be thinking at this point hey, what’s wrong with putting other people first? Isn’t that moral, or Christian, or kind, or something like that?

The problem isn’t the putting other people first – although that also gets terribly out of hand, and we’ll get to that later. The problem is learning that SELF-CARE IS WRONG. The problem lies in coming to dismiss, discount and shut down the natural impulse to treat ourselves at LEAST as well as we’re treating other people.

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How do we get there? We get there because we (and those who teach us how to get along with other people, how to live in the world) confuse what we want with wanting it as good or bad.

An Example based on Chocolate Cake

Suppose you want some chocolate cake. Let’s say further that you’re 5 years old. Your visions of heaven include an infinite supply of chocolate cake, and Dad just brought some home. Sadly you also have a 7-year-old sister, and SHE wants some chocolate cake too.

(I’m stealing this example, with some changes, from Issac Rubin’s book “Compassion and Self-Hate”, along with most of the basic thinking of this blog post. It’s a great book – I REALLY encourage you to read it.)

Dad says, in this example, hey, you, you can have half the cake. You’re seriously experiencing Nirvana as you happily gobble your half, and as you’re approaching the last bite you say impulsively “hey, Dad, can I have the rest of the cake?”

Of course you do! What crazy person DOESN’T want the rest of the cake? There is nothing wrong with wanting more. It’s an utterly natural reaction to the yumminess of chocolate cake. Here’s the question: what does Dad do when we ask for more?

Dad has two roads he can travel in this scenario, and what we learn to think about the impulse to want more cake will depend heavily on which one he takes. The first response would sound something like this:

“Hey, I can understand wanting more cake. Only a lunatic wouldn’t want more cake. The problem is that your sister also gets some of the cake, and that’s why I divided it in half. You’ve had your half, and now your sister gets her half.”

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This is that whole socialization thing I mentioned earlier in this post. This is us learning to live with other people in the world. The beauty of this particular answer is that it affirms that we are healthy, normal and natural to want more cake.

If only most parents DID respond this way… because the other road Dad can take sounds like this: “what? You selfish little person! It’s wrong to want more cake! You should think of your sister! How can you be so thoughtless! Can you imagine how hurt she’d feel if she didn’t get some cake? What’s wrong with you anyway???!!!”

Yikes. THIS is also socialization – but the message is very, very different, and the beginning of learning that there is something fundamentally wrong with us wanting to want, need, desire what we want. We begin to second-guess ourselves, distrust what we want, or even what we are…

And of course we have no idea what’s happening to us – just like the people who are telling us that what we are, what we want is wrong had no idea when THEY were told the same thing.

What Starts to Happen

If this only happened once in a while it might not be such a big deal. But way, way too many of us grow up hearing that fundamental parts of ourselves are damaged, wrong, bad – and we, like the little sponges we are, absorb that message as Gospel.

We become fiercely self-critical as those external voices become internal voices. We become our own parent (sound familiar to anyone?), relentlessly correcting ourselves, relentlessly criticizing ourselves for being such terrible people…

There are a LOT of ways this can shake out. The points to take away from this blog post are

1) We are born self-loving, self-caring – like everything else that lives on Earth
2) We have to LEARN to override that self-caring, self-loving nature.
3) We learn that from people who themselves learned that – and internalized that thinking

None of this is, as I’ve said, an indictment of those people who raised us. They were doing the best they knew how. But sometimes the best we know how is still not useful.

Self-criticism, self-punishment, self-hatred is very, very fertile soil for anxious thinking and living. In my next post I will review some of the ways that a lack of self-love can wreak havoc in our lives, as well as some beginning ways to counteract self-hatred – and begin to return to the self-caring creatures we were born to be.

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I wrote a post back in August about the Surrender Reflex (HERE). In it I talked about how we get TRAINED by anxiety into giving up. It’s a terrible training, but one that we can reverse and kick out of our lives.

Today’s post is a follow-up to that August post. I am going to talk about how that trained giving up that anxiety sets us up for takes shape – i.e., the ways we explain to ourselves why it’s OK to give up.

News flash: giving up takes us nowhere. Nowhere. It is SO tempting, so alluring to just throw in the towel and say things like “I’m never going to get free of anxiety” or “this is too hard for me.” But none of those things are true and none of those things are useful.

Let’s start the list:

It’s Hard

Hey, this is hard work. I’m not going to contest that. Hell yes this is hard work. It’s tedious, it’s exhausting, it often sucks and it would be nice if someone could just make this stop. I’ve heard all these things and I SAID all these things myself when I was slogging through this work.

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But it is easy to make hard a reason to give up. Anything new we learn will challenge us. Any new set of skills will require some sweat and toil. Certainly changing the habit patterns of anxious thinking is harder than learning to ride a bike or play the guitar.

And certainly Flight or Fight doesn’t make it any easier. This work demands that we learn new thinking skills and face down the crap we’re getting in our body and feelings. That work won’t come easy, and we will fight that work. Change is hard!

But so what? Do we want lives that are free of chronic anxiety or not? Hard is a quality, not an impassible barrier. It’s hard being pregnant and giving birth (or at least so I’m told – I’ve never had a baby and baby, that seems MUCH harder than overcoming anxiety, at least as far as this boy is concerned.) 🙂

Hard gets a bad rap. Hard makes us stronger. Hard means that we have to lean in and really dig for this work. Hard makes us smarter. Hard is largely based in the NEWNESS of this work for us – the often alien way this is making us rethink our thinking, the task of actually changing and challenging thinking (which most of us never learned to do, and which seems freaky and alien.)

Hard – but not impossible. Hard – but totally within reach. And it definitely gets easier and faster AS we learn to treat problems as problems, and as we learn to stop making Flight or Fight reactions into a crisis.

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It’s Lonely Work

Holy crap, yes, this is lonely work. I’m not going to fight you there. It seems like nobody really understands what we’re going through. People look at us like we’re mutants, they get impatient with our fears, they get frustrated when we won’t do what they want to do or when we just want to stay home and hide under the covers.

Yeah it’s often lonely. And? Does that mean we shouldn’t do this work, or that it isn’t worth doing? Of course not. Lonely is a quality, not an impassable barrier.

Of course we’re not truly alone. Not these days. There are lots of people talking to each other in places like Facebook and other online communities who are there to support us in our fight against anxiety. We can find people to talk to, people who understand and have been where we are in this fight.

(I would offer a suggestion that we, as we find and get involved in such groups, be leery of lots and lots of discussions about symptoms of Flight or Fight reactions, or how terrible the day is, beyond some focused sympathy and getting good information about the commonality of this fight for all of us. It can get easy to get lost in too much comparing of miseries – and that isn’t going to help us. It can in fact add to our anxiety, and we sure as hell don’t need THAT when we’re breaking the habit of anxious thinking.)

That isn’t counting the therapists, doctors and coaches who actually get this work and are there to help us as well. We can and should avail ourselves of that help as much as we can! (See my post HERE for more about finding a therapist.) And we’re of course usually not utterly alone even within our own communities and families.

It might mean having to get clean with people we care about – explaining to them, making them listen, teaching them how they can support and help you. Yeah, that might be challenging. But then we’ve developed a nasty habit of running away from the things that scare us – and that hasn’t worked out so well, right?

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I’m not strong enough

Forgive this next word, but, well, bullshit. If you’re here, on the planet, and you’re still breathing, you’re strong enough to do this work. No, you’re not the Man (or Woman) of Steel that you’d like to be, but you have the strength you need.

Hey, you’ve been anxious for years and decades, and you’re still here, yes? You’ve had terrible panic attacks or fought chronic unrelieved anxiety or fought ongoing depression (or all three) and you’re still breathing the air, yes? Then you’re strong enough to do this work.

When we say we’re not strong enough we’re really saying we don’t FEEL strong enough – and right away we’re talking the results of our anxious thinking, not any accurate measure of our actual strength. Don’t fool yourself that you’re not strong enough.

It is SO tempting to default to how we feel! Holy crap! But feeling not strong enough is just that – a feeling. Anxiety fighters are usually blind to their own strength. Any of us can do this work – if we begin to develop the habit of not letting feelings and sensations decide for us what we can and can’t do.

Other people don’t have to fight so hard

OK – it can feel that way. It can sure as hell look that way. People seem to breeze through the world, smiles on their faces, clothes clean, heads held high – it looks SO much easier for them.

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Except we have no idea what they’re dealing with in their lives – do we? This judging of other people’s lives and challenges based on how they LOOK – it’s a classic behavior of anxiety fighters. It’s an easy, nasty and useless habit to fall into if we’re not careful.

EVERYBODY has challenges. EVERYBODY is missing pieces of the puzzle and is having to make their way. So they have perfect teeth? So they get to ride around in Porches? So what? You don’t know what battles they are engaged in, there in the marches of the night, by themselves, with no-one to impress and no image to maintain.

And speaking of images, most of us anxiety fighters are doing a damn fine job of portraying a life of calm and zen peacefulness to the people around us. Most folks in our lives have no idea the battles we are engaged in, EVEN WHEN WE TELL THEM. They may hear it – but they don’t really GET IT until they have to deal with it themselves.

Kvetching about other people having it easier than us won’t take is anyplace. Doesn’t mean we can’t once in a while mutter to ourselves about how WE’D like to have a Porsche or perfect teeth – but we are then better served to get on with where WE are, not where someone else appears to be…

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It’s unfair

Damn right it’s unfair. Nobody should have to fight this fight. Just like nobody should have to fight cancer, or diabetes, or high blood pressure, or get in a car accident, or ever lose a child, or be poor, or deal with political debates. 🙂

So what? Fairness conversations are best left to the sports and the courtroom. Life is what it is, for each of us. Getting lost in debating the fairness of our situations when it comes to issues like anxiety or physical challenges is largely a waste of time and will produce little that is useful for us.

By all means draw boundaries. Fairness is part of living in the human community. Don’t be a doormat. But if you really think anxiety is unfair then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Wade in, attack the thinking that scares you, unlearn your learned flinching back from Flight or Fight, and CHANGE YOUR CRISIS TO PROBLEM THINKING.

Then you won’t care nearly so much if it’s fair or not. 🙂 By all means, get mad. Get frustrated that you feel weak. Be sad for yourself. Cover yourself in sackcloth and ashes. 🙂 It’s LEGAL! We fighters of anxiety are so quick to beat ourselves up for “being weak” or other unkind things we think about ourselves. This is hard work! Pity parties are part of the journey and we’re not losers if we succumb to frustration and fury over the struggle some days.

The problem isn’t getting upset or feeling sorry for ourselves. The problem is not taking action despite feeling that way.

Avoiding the thinking that makes us surrender

I hope that today’s list of ways we talk ourselves out of doing the necessary work to overcome anxiety is useful to you. This kind of thinking derailed me for way too long in my own fight, and I hope this discussion helps you lessens your own tendencies to get lost in less-than-useful thinking.

We are strong – stronger than we know, even with as hard as this work can feel. We are not freaks living with weird problems. Yes, it’s lonely work – but we’re not really alone. Yes, we are dealing with an unfair burden – but we can deal with it and get RID of that burden.

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