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One of the tools I used to fight my way clear from anxiety (now 20 years ago – doesn’t seem possible that so much time has passed) was a program called CHAANGE. I’ve mentioned this program before here in my blog – it is a series of notes and cassette tapes created by two women, Anne Seagrave and Faison Covington, with the assistance of their therapist at the time.

One of the useful pieces I took away from that work was two sheets of statements about our rights as human beings. It was, at least for me at the time, fairly radical (and new) thinking – these rights they were proposing as common to all of us.

I’ve wanted for a long time to take the best of those two lists and talk about them briefly here, primarily because I feel very strongly that they represent what I might call advanced self-care. Self-care, if you recall, is one of the four basic skills I advocate as essential in overcoming anxiety. It is in some respects the platform upon which we can build much, much healthier thinking.

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So here we go – let’s talk about some basic human rights we need to champion in our own lives.

We have the Right to say No

One of the things that struck me as I gained some distance from my long years of chronic anxiety was how willing I had been, during those years, to abandon something as fundamental as my control over my time and energy. More accurately I saw that in some ways I had NEVER LEARNED to check in with myself about whether or not I wanted to say yes or no to someone else’s demands on me…

I had a LOT of fear around saying no. (Sound familiar to you?) My justifications were many. Saying no was selfish. Saying no would hurt or upset other people. Saying no meant I didn’t care about other people. Saying no would stamp me as self-centered, mean, uncaring.

But 90% of that was me explaining away the truth that I was SCARED to say no. I had learned, from family and other sources, that I didn’t have the right to say no. Yeah, that sounds crazy – it is kinda crazy. And it is also one of the things that plagues way too many chronic anxiety fighters. Hell, it plagues lots of people that never slide into the struggle with chronic anxiety.

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I could spend a fair amount of time describing how and why I learned to say no, but if this is one of the things you’re afraid of then you already have your own histories that can explain to you how you got to this place. The point of this section is to argue that we have the RIGHT to say no.

That’s what I said – a right. Every living creature on the planet has a right to draw this basic boundary with the other living creatures around it. Our very mental health and sanity need it. We have to learn to first begin to make contact with what we want, what we think, what we’re willing to do (by itself a whole process that we have to learn – we get very good at hiding those desires and needs even from ourselves if we learn that saying no isn’t something we are free to do) –

And then we have to start practicing actually saying no. That’s going to fire up Flight or Fight. That’s going to sound VERY scary to some of my fellow anxiety fighters. Holy crap, what if we say no and SOMEONE GETS UPSET AT US? That may have been a fear we acquired early and hard in our lives.

Yeah, this self-care/self-respect thing also has the power to rock our worlds. But it is also a GREAT way to address our fears, and a great way to start really listening to ourselves – something too many anxiety fighters are lacking in skill.

And for most of us it will mean some pushback from the other people in our lives – especially the ones that have gotten very comfortable with our lack of ability to say no.

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Of course this doesn’t mean we turn into utter selfish blobs. It means we finally START at least addressing our own boundaries. It really isn’t a sin to say no, thanks, I don’t want to do that, or no, sorry, I don’t have the capacity or energy to do that for you right now.

And it’s amazing, seriously, what starts surfacing when we finally have permission in our own thinking to say yes or no depending on what WE want. It’s like we’ve been waiting our whole lives to listen, really listen to, OURSELVES – to treat ourselves at least as well as we’ve been treating other people, to start respecting ourselves at least as much as we respect other people.

Of course, this means that also have to start being OK with other people saying no as well. 🙂 That by itself is often a whole new gig for us people with no boundaries –we can expect other people to also not have boundaries.

It sounds odd to us, but good fences (i.e., the right to say no) do actually make good neighbors – and wives, and husbands, and sons, and friends, and co-workers…

We have the Right to ask for what we Want

In the last section I mentioned that, in order to be able to say no, we have to practice ourselves in the first place what the heck we want. In truth this is another right that too many of us don’t know we possess. We learn instead that we should ONLY want what other people want – and/or that we should be suspicious of anything we want as bad/selfish/wrong.

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Yikes. What a terrible thing to have a person believe. Why the hell CAN’T we want something? Probably for the same reason that we learned we couldn’t say no. It was risky in our family or situation to have an opinion, have a real desire that opposed or contradicted another’s desire – a parent, a sibling, a spouse, you name it.

But we’re not, I argue, fully healthy or even human if we can’t be straight with ourselves about what WE want.

This has a lot of potential to shake our foundations. We can and sometimes do build a story about ourselves as selfless, other-centered, not really caring about the small stuff. Some of that might be true. But some of it is decidedly NOT true. Nobody walking the planet is without opinion, desire or need, and healthy, in-their-skin adults need to be able to identify, if only for themselves, what they truly want and don’t want, need and don’t need, deeply desire and really don’t care about.

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And as I mentioned when it came to saying no, being honest about what we want and then actually asking for it can generate fierce anxious responses. It can also generate pushback from the people that are used to us always saying “it doesn’t matter – let’s do/eat/go to whatever you want.”

We’re best to start with baby steps. What do YOU really want for lunch? Is THIS the movie YOU wanted to see? Prefer to spend the afternoon cleaning the bathroom? It’s amazing what we find ourselves feeling and doing when we have the self-developed privilege of speaking up about on what want.

Let’s not forget that this right also comes with the truth that we need to allow other people to say what they want. Healthy living is largely a matter of negotiation. That doesn’t mean that if something deeply matters to us that we can’t wrestle for it and champion our cause! 🙂 It does mean that we need to get comfortable with other people wanting what they want, and sometimes living with the tension of the differences between you and them. That’s human – and healthy – too.

How’s THAT for a couple of Rights?

In case I haven’t made it clear so far in this post we have some very basic, human rights in our lives. We have the right to say no, and we have the right to ask for what we want. In case I haven’t made this clear either summoning the courage and the conviction to actually make these rights real in our lives is not always easy. Others may find it uncomfortable (and let you know loudly how terrible, selfish, inconsiderate it is of you to insist on those rights) –

And you yourself will probably kick up quite a fuss as you walk into this largely-unfamiliar territory that is self-care/self-respect.

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After my last two posts on anxious thinking really being fossilized childish thinking I thought it might be useful to review the basics of treating problems AS problems. So many of us don’t ever get a good primer on something that might seem as intuitive as problem-solving –

But in fact we LEARN to treat problems as problems. And we learn to do it skillfully as well. So here goes – my discussion from 7/16/13 on the basic elements of problem-solving, or put another way, what we should be doing with the issues in our life (including our fears) since unless they are about to bite our heads off (literally!) they are NOT crises – just problems. Maybe serious problems – every very serious problems – but still problems.

And we’ll solve them best by treating them AS problems…

This blog spends a lot of time talking about not treating problems/issues/challenges in our lives as crises. And if you read this blog at all I’m pretty sure you have a good idea about what the definition of a crisis is to our brains and bodies – the threat of immediate physical danger that will likely result in injury or death.

That at least is the definition of a crisis as evolution defined it for us – the kind of thing that Flight or Fight evolved to deal with in the natural world. But how does that compare in detail to what a PROBLEM is – i.e., what most of us are afraid of and escalate to a crisis in our thinking? (And which is the primary cause of the fight with anxiety.)

My mission today is to lay out a clear definition and set of steps for what a problem looks like, in hopes of showing just how different it is from a crisis –

What Solving a Problem Looks Like

I wish someone had defined how a problem is actually managed and how we normally go about solving it a long time ago. It could have been stinkin’ useful at some points in my checkered past…

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Here’s a start: a problem is anything that isn’t a crisis. Not so helpful? 🙂 Think of it this way: a crisis, a real-world crisis, does NOT allow time for anything but instant action, and what thinking we do we do in crisis mode – i.e., rapid assessment of danger, plotting routes of escape (or plans of attack if we must fight), whatever it takes to end the crisis NOW and get away from danger. This is usually taking place in seconds or at most minutes.

Problems, on the other hand, are anything else – any other issue, concern, challenge, etc. that isn’t going to hurt or kill us this second, but which present some need for us to resolve at some point. Problems are, relative to real-world crises, issues that will take time and thinking to resolve. It might BE a crisis in 10 minutes, or next week, or next year, if we don’t take action now, but right now it is still only a problem.

That of course doesn’t mean that we can’t or don’t go about solving problems as crises – as I said earlier that’s the very heart of our fight with anxiety. That also however doesn’t mean that solving problems like crises is usually very effective, or even effective at all.

Let’s get specific about what solving a problem looks like operationally –

The Classic Steps to Problem-Solving

1. Identify the Problem. What is the challenge/issue/concern, precisely? What will not solving the problem potentially do to us? What WILL solving the problem look like?

2) What are some potential solutions to this problem? Which seem more or less likely to be helpful/effective?

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3) What do I need to know to implement these solutions? I.e., what information do I need to gather, what research do I need to do, what resources will be necessary, who can help me with these solutions, etc.

4) Pick a solution.

5) Implement your solution.

6) Did it work? Great. Problem solved.

7) It didn’t work? OK. Let’s dance this dance again. That may be as simple as picking the next option on your list, or it may involve going back to the drawing board/ideas for solutions step.

As you have probably already considered this process could take 2 minutes (where are we going to lunch today?) to literally years (how will I afford to both eat bon-bons all day AND live at the beach?)

The thing to focus on here is that this is a PROCESS. It is a very different orientation to thinking about things than the mode that we get into when we’re dealing with Flight or Fight, i.e., when we’re treating a problem like a crisis.

There isn’t really a process when we’re under attack by danger. We first consider (at light speed) how to get away from danger or, if we can’t see a way to escape, how we can best take on this danger. Our brains have narrowed their focus, our bodies are geared to run or fight, and we need to do something NOW.

On the other hand problems have a much more analytical sense about them. Problem-solving is a very intellectual, abstract process, and it usually requires a cooler head and a calmer body. It takes time to follow the process, even if it is something as simple as deciding where to go to lunch.

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Great, Erik, Thanks for Sharing – How Does This Help Me Fight Anxiety?

Glad you asked:

1) Flight or Fight can (and usually does) make it damn difficult to think rationally or clearly – i.e., be in problem-solving mode rather than crisis mode. So one thing to keep in mind is that when we’re in the middle of a firefight with anxiety – heart racing, emotions boiling over, panic in temporary command – we can practice reminding ourselves that we’re not, in fact, in any danger at the moment, however it feels. IF we were in actual danger we’d either be running or fighting right now.

Nope, we’re dealing with a problem that FEELS like a crisis. And FEELINGS are trying hard to rule the moment when we’re anxious. But the truth is our feelings are wrong – completely wrong – and they really CAN’T help us solve this problem.

Yes, the problem we’ve converted into a crisis may be important – even critically important. Yes, we need to take steps to solve it. But that’s going to require a different kind of thinking than the one we experience when we’re in Flight or Fight.

So our mission becomes FIRST calming down, to any degree – powering down Flight or Fight to the extent that we can in those moments – THEN start reframing this little dilemma we’re frightened about as a problem, not a crisis.

That can sound very detached and rational, and we’re usually anything but detached and rational when we’re in an anxiety fight. So just hang on to these two thoughts – I’m NOT in a crisis (or I’d be doing something about it!) and my mission is to gear down my Flight or Fight reactions, THEN start problem-solving, to the degree I can.

2) Focusing on problems AS problems takes practice, especially for us anxiety fighters. So one GREAT way to combat our anxiety is to very deliberately take one thing that frightens us (after we do a little prep, get as cool as possible, have some breathing techniques and distraction tools handy to help us de-escalate if we get rattled doing this next step) and then –

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Treat that scary thing as a problem. Pull out a piece of paper or your laptop and follow the steps I listed in this blog post. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SOLVE IT IN ONE SITTING!  That’s part of the practice, after all – treating the problem as a problem, giving it some time, gathering some data, doing some research, considering your options, etc.

The first couple of times will be scary, I’m betting. I know they were for me! By the same token this is right in line with the four skills I argue are essential to mastering our fears – identifying where we’re treating problems as crises, actively discounting our Flight or Fight responses when we’re anxious, converting those problems-turned-crises (in our thinking) BACK into problems, and learning the art of good self-care.

Practice really does change how we think, and how we approach problems as well…

3) We can use this (as we get more skillful with our anxiety tools) to even stop thinking from escalating to crisis mode in the first place. Doesn’t that sound good? As we develop the habit of pulling problems apart as problems we can begin to approach with greater confidence problems in general, and treat them as problems before we start to make ourselves crazy with anxiety.

Start Small

You don’t need to pick your biggest fear to get this practice going. I recommend a smaller fear or worry first. 🙂 Maybe we save world peace or resolving the problems with your in-laws once you’re feeling a little skillful.

Last note: the irony of this conversation is that most of us already have some decent problem-solving skills in one or more areas of our lives – work, dealing with kids, managing money, etc. We’re all different, but 99.9% of us already DO this treating problems as problems in one or more arenas of our lives.

So – what problems are you dealing with as crises? And where will you practice first? Problems are problems. You’re smarter than you give yourself credit for – and you have access to a lot of good information and thinking via the Web, your friends and/or family, your local library, etc.

And feel free to post a problem you’re treating as a crisis here at the blog! I and the other fear fighters will be happy to help…

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I’ve had a slow-growing understanding creeping up on me over the last five years of writing this blog. I’m beginning to see the conjunction of anxiety and immature, childish thinking. Those are fighting words – but give me a chance to explain what I mean when I say immature and childish.

All I’m saying is that anxious “what if?” thinking at the core is thinking we acquired in our youth, thinking that was done from a child’s perspective, an immature perspective, and then frozen in place as we moved into adulthood. Because make no mistake – we ALL become grown-ups, living grown-up lives and doing grown-up things.

But in the midst of that grown-up life is lodged some unhealthy and life-draining childish thinking – anxious thinking. Today’s post starts a review of that child-like thinking, the major fears that grow out of that thinking and some discussion about what we can do to help “grow up” that thinking into healthy, adult ways of dealing with our world.

How Children Think

Kids are great. One of the things that will always make me grin or laugh is seeing children out in the world learning about the world. Kids are curious creatures – as in they are very curious about the world around them. They tend to explore, to ask a lot of questions, try things and make mistakes, fall down and get up again (sometimes after some tears.)

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Part of what it means to be a child is to NOT KNOW EVERYTHING YET. Sure, that seems obvious, but as adults we forget that we didn’t always think the way we think now. We forget that we had to LEARN to understand the world, make sense of how things worked. We also forget that it was often other people that were telling us this information.

Oops. There’s a little bit of a problem with that sometimes. Sometimes other people (parents, siblings, teachers, neighbors, peers) don’t always have the best take or information on the world around us. Sometimes they lead us astray. It doesn’t have to be deliberate. They themselves learned what they know from other people – who themselves didn’t really have the best information.

There’s another little problem with learning about the world. Sometimes, based on less-than-useful information, we take away the wrong lessons about the world. We draw the wrong conclusions, laying down in our thinking incorrect or crippling assumptions about the world based on those experiences.

Combine these two issues – not the best information/understanding about the world, and then basing our experiences in the world to some extent on that not great information, and guess what? We can develop a distorted view of ourselves and the world around us. And so anxiety is born…

One Example of Childish Thinking

(Notice that I use the world “childish” in the above sentence. I do that because I want to be clear that not all child-like thinking is necessarily bad or dysfunctional. I’ll use the phrase “child-like” to describe thinking that is young, hopeful, inquisitive – the best of childhood. I’ll use the phrase “childish” to describe the not-so-useful kind of thinking.)

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So how does childish thinking connect to anxious thinking? One example is the fear of being alone. There’s no way I can do justice to this topic in a single blog post, but in my experience one of the great chronic anxiety fighter fears is this one.

The what if questions around this fear are legion: what if I grow old alone? What if I never find love? What if my husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend die or leave me? What if other people think I’m pathetic for being alone? What if my being alone means there is something wrong with me? What if I’m fundamentally unlikeable, or even unlovable?

Isn’t it interesting to hear these questions as if a child is asking them? Children are naturally worried about being left alone. We are social creatures. We want to feel needed, loved, wanted. We also to some extent build our understanding of ourselves, how we see ourselves, through the eyes of other people.

If we learn that love is provisional – i.e., that love is based on being “good enough”, or following a host of rules, or even just managing some adult’s mood and temper to stay safe – then we can become very anxious about our ability to find and keep love, friendship, family.

We can also learn to be afraid of how we FEEL when we’re alone – whether we’re fighting anxiety responses like Flight or Fight, or just feeling sad or lost without other people around us. The bottom line is that we’ve made a CRISIS out of being alone, turning alone into terrible, and forever.

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Here’s the thing: alone isn’t a crisis. It isn’t always fun, but it isn’t the end and death. It is one condition, during times in our lives, of being human. Sometimes we have more people in our lives, and sometimes less. Sometimes friends leave, move away, die. Sometimes relationships come to an end. People change, situations change. All of that is just part of being alive.

But by the same token NEW people show up in our lives. We build new relationships. We go on to the next part of our lives.

And it isn’t just about having people around. There is a very adult need to learn to be comfortable with ourselves, by ourselves, in our own skin. We, as we grow mentally and emotionally, that we NEED time alone, time away from other people. We need time to think our thoughts, have our feelings, and NOT have to account for other people now and again.

Lots of people that will never be diagnosed as fighting chronic anxiety are petrified of being alone – because they, too, learned to be afraid of alone early in their experience. This is a pretty common fear.

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In a very real way our fear of being alone is the fear of a child, afraid that the parents are not coming back from the store, or from the trip away from home. It is thinking frozen in time from a much earlier time in our lives. It is however thinking that we can change, update, and in so doing stop scaring ourselves with bogey-man stories of the terror of being alone…

What if I can’t take care of myself?

Here’s another classic anxiety fighter fear, and one that is related to the fear of being alone. You’ll recognize the what ifs that show up in this thinking –

What if I can’t support myself? What if I run out of money? What if I can’t find more work? What if I get sick and never get better? What if I run into a situation I can’t handle? What if I fail at self-care?

There’s a LOT of solid psychological thinking around the issues that connect with children being left on their own too soon, or even if they are not abandoned but develop a sense that they can’t trust their caregivers – can’t depend on them for stable and consistent care.

As kids we NEED to have the sense that we can depend on those wacky adults to take care of us – we’re not ready yet. But here’s the rub: we’re not little kids anymore. We’re grown-ups. I didn’t say we’re perfectly competent or without concerns. At the same time we’re ALREADY managing our lives as grown-ups…

Because again and again I see people who are very quick to talk about their fears of winding up alone, being abandoned or unloved or afraid, or that they can’t manage their lives without help, who are at the same time raising children of their own, managing their own finances, working at part or full-time jobs, dealing with aging or sick parents, being the primary bread-winner, etc.

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What happened? I don’t think it’s complicated. We, at some point, learned that we couldn’t really trust ourselves to take care of ourselves. Ideally our parents and caregivers, teachers and mentors would have helped us to develop that trust by doing two things:

1) demonstrating that they were THERE when we needed them, so we had a solid foundation of trust in them. This is called attachment theory, and it seems to have an enormous impact on our self-trust. 2) letting us try things, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, all in an atmosphere of encouragement and growing self-reliance.

Happily we don’t have to throw up our hands and surrender if we didn’t get that kind of growing up experience. We can learn to do that for ourselves! We can start taking small risks, encouraging ourselves, getting support from other people as we face down our fears of being inadequate to the task of supporting ourselves.

In other words we can start mapping self-care, self-support as a problem, a set of skills to master, rather than as a scary monster crisis that we should run away from…

See the pattern here? This is a different, and very specific way, of seeing the crisis of anxiety in our thinking for what it is – fearful, less-than-lucid thinking that we can change into more mature and more problem-focused thinking. We won’t do it overnight – but we can begin, in small ways, from wherever we’re standing, and fight our way into healthier mental frameworks.

That’s enough Childish Fear for the day –

And I’ll come back in my next blog post with the rest of the list. In the meantime consider how you might best begin to see your fears as the voices of a young, frightened child – and how you can begin to comfort, support and encourage that child to see that there is no crisis. Start looking at the ways you fear alone, or fear your supposed inability to care for yourself. You may be fighting old, childish thinking – but you are not a child, and you are not alone, and you are more capable than your fears tell you.

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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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I’ve been talking about the habit nature of fearful thinking in the last couple of posts. Most of us don’t think of thinking as a habit. We think of habits being things like brushing our teeth or always going to McDonald’s when work runs late, not our thoughts. But thinking can be very much a habit – and when it’s anxious thinking it’s vital that we see the habit, and do something about it.

As I’ve reviewed here recently habits have three basic elements: a cue (something that prompts the habit to start), a routine (a sequence of behavior and/or thinking that we move through) and the reward (what we get from the thinking/behavior routine/WHY we do that routine.) It seems from research into habits that we’re most effective at changing habits by focusing on changing the routine…

So how do we change those routines?

Blowing up the Routine of Anxious Thinking

It’s vital, central, crucial to understand that anxious thinking is an attempt is always about us trying to get to safety. The ruminating, the panicky review of what’s happening right at the moment we’re anxious in our bodies and minds, the obsessive behaviors we often move through when we’re anxious, the frantic avoiding of this or that thing, this or that sensation – all of that is us scrambling to get away from danger we believe we’re experiencing or about to experience.

A second thing to understand is that 99.9% of us develop these habits of anxious thinking way before we’re aware we’re doing it. In other words the HABIT of anxious thinking is firmly in place before we realize that we’re even really doing it. Which means that it is very, very easy to KEEP doing that habitual thinking and reacting, even when we want to stop it.

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Third, it’s important to get our arms around how Flight or Fight, once our fearful thinking activates it, is hard-wired into our brains, and hard-wired in such a way as to bypass our critical thinking abilities. Which means that once we scare ourselves we are going to have Flight or Fight fire up, and it’s going to be yelling RUN! Flight or Fight doesn’t know or care that you’re doing this in your thinking – it just knows you’re scared, and that you should get your ass in gear. 🙂

The last thing to understand in this habit of anxious thinking (and Flight or Fight’s inevitable reaction to that thinking) is that we come to be afraid of Flight or Fight itself, and begin flinching away not just from the thinking that scares us, but the reactions in our bodies and emotions that Flight or Fight generates in its mad efforts to get us to safety. I have discussed this last point a LOT in this blog, but in this specific context it’s necessary to see that we’re in some respects in a place of mindlessness when it comes to our reaction to Flight or Fight.

We’re flinching back and we’re often barely (or not at all) conscious of our flinching – we’re just letting Flight or Fight herd us into a corner, into a room, into a box, anything to NOT feel those scary feelings and sensations.

(Except of course Flight or Fight itself isn’t dangerous, won’t hurt us and doesn’t even mean us harm – it’s just doing its evolved biological thing, trying to gear us up for flight or combat. SO many anxiety fighters are terrified of their bodies and feelings when ALL that is happening is that Fight or Fight is taking its cue from our thinking – and that it is our thinking that is the problem AND the solution.)

Now at this point you might be thinking “crap, if this is all true how in the heck do I make it stop?” And the answer begins in seeing the routine that anxious thinking is running when it starts moving through our brain. That routine is both the reason the habit is so strong, and the place it’s most vulnerable to change.

Time for an example –

What if I Run out of Money?

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Talk about your basic modern fear – this one is a classic. Variations on this theme look like this:
What if I lose my job?
What if I can’t afford a place to live?
What if I can’t cover my medical expenses?
What if my spouse (who makes most of the money) leaves me, or something happens to them?
What if I don’t save enough for retirement?
What if I have unexpected expenses that I can’t cover?

Yikes. I’m betting some of you are already feeling scratchy from reading some of these what if questions. Let’s pull these apart from a habits perspective so we can identify how we can STOP doing this to ourselves. It starts with a cue of some kind.

That could be something as simple as seeing your checkbook. It could be seeing a bill in the mailbox, or looking at the calendar and noticing that you’re still a week short of payday. It might be noticing something you want to buy – and then about money and how little it seems you have. It might be something as innocent as someone else talking about their finances.

Any of these things, and a thousand more besides, could be the cues that fire up what if thinking. I’m hoping you’re seeing here that it is terribly frustrating and ultimately pointless to try and do anything about the cues that we’ve linked to the routine of what if thinking. A big part of what gets us in trouble with anxiety is that we, unconsciously for the most part, start running away from anything (any cue) that might fire up what if thinking and make us anxious.

That way lies madness… well, for sure it starts limiting our worlds. We retreat, pull back, avoid, and if we don’t veer off we’re diving into depression, the beginnings of agoraphobia and a desperate cycle of trying to keep the world at bay, working overtime to not have ANYTHING trigger anxiety for us. (Anyone recognize that set of behaviors?)

Futile, and it won’t take us anyplace useful. Ok, so screwing around with cues isn’t going to help. Let’s talk instead about the routine that we run in our thinking when that what if stuff starts to fire up in response to the cues that trigger it in the first place.

That routine looks something like this: “what IF I run out of money? (You pick the variation that sounds most like you.) You start wildly trying to “solve” that what if in a way that makes you feel less anxious. One routine might be what I just wrote above – running away from the whole problem in your thinking in the first place. Very rewarding for a while – maybe years – because you don’t feel as anxious.

Of course you can’t really run away. And while you may be pushing it out of conscious awareness some part of your brain, still worried about this money thing, is still trying to solve it. Which can be a second routine – an endless worrying about the what if in a desperate attempt to find some answer that makes us calmer.

THAT can go on for years and years – decades even. A third routine we can get into is flailing around for some quick fix – anything that makes this problem go away. Maybe it is cranking up the credit cards. Maybe it is borrowing money from family. Maybe it’s spending money you don’t have in a Hail Mary effort to feel better NOW – forget about how you’ll feel later when you get the credit card bill.

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And all the while you’re firing up Flight or Fight, which is almost certainly making you feel more anxious…

We need to stop running the same routine. We need a new routine. We in fact need to yank this whole automatic response off the turntable/out of the tape deck, and replace it with a new way of dealing with our automatic anxious thinking.

Changing Out the Routine

To start this change we need to get clear on the routine we’re running first. Which means getting conscious of that routine. And that means staying present with our fearful feelings and Flight or Fight sensations long enough to GET clear on the routine we’re running.

It is very, very easy to not be clear on what we’re telling ourselves, see the routine of thought and behavior that we’re running to get away from our fears. It FEELS safer to just default to the routine. But that is how we wind up becoming chronically anxious in the first place – we’re defaulting to running and avoiding and medicating, in multiple forms.

We can’t change a habit until we understand the automatic routines we’re running in that habit. This is why I ask my coaching clients to get a journal started. We have to spend a little time WITH our fears – I know, scary! – and listen to the routine we’re running in our heads and bodies.

1) What is the specific set of “what if?” thoughts you’re running in your brain? What are your specific fears? Write them DOWN. Get clear on them. Yes, you’re going to be anxious while you’re doing this work. It might feel like too much when you start. That’s OK. Take this work in small pieces. NOTHING is going to change if we keep running away from how anxious we feel.

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2) Expect Flight or Fight to go all “Oh my God RUN!” on you while you start this work. We have to begin to understand that Flight or Fight, while our fearful habit thinking is running, isn’t either trying to scare us or attempt to hurt us. It’s reacting to our fearful thinking.

It also doesn’t have any special wisdom or knowledge about us – it isn’t foretelling the future, foreseeing some terrible truth about our future. It’s just reacting to our FEARS of the future, based in our very anxious thinking.

3) We have to start disrupting and challenging the habitual anxious thinking AS it’s happening. We have to put the brakes on the tendency to run that anxious thinking out, and run it over and over and over and over again… because we’re not getting anyplace in our thinking, and we’re sure as hell not SOLVING anything , with that habit.

Remember, habits don’t have to be useful, even if at one time they seemed to help, seemed to make us feel better. Remember also that habits are automatic, and they won’t just stop on a dime. It’s going to take some time to change that tedious habit (or habits, really) of thought.

So we’ll wade into this work, freak ourselves out again and again as we get this thinking identified and written down so we can see it clearly, and then go right back to it again – it is, after all, an old and strong habit we’ve fed for a long time. It’s OK. It will change – just not usually quickly.

4) We need a new routine in place of that old routine. We need to see, with each habit of anxious thought that we currently run in our thinking, that we can and must change that routine from a path of crisis reacting to a path of problem-solving.

In other words we have to see that we’ve been treating X issue (like money challenges, or even just money worries) as crises. That created one kind of thought habit that we’ve been dancing to for way too long. We have to wrench that thinking out of its groove and convert it to problem-solving. That starts with learning to see the issue we’re panicking about AS a problem.

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Problem-Solving – the Actual Way to Break the Power of Anxiety

This post has already gotten big, so I’ll tackle the specifics of this around money, and at least one more issue we get freaky about, in my next blog post. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, you could do few things more profitably than get that journal started and get “naked” with your fearful thinking. Yeah, it’s going to be very uncomfortable. It’s going to do all the things that you don’t want it to do – make you anxious, get your thoughts racing, try to make you run away.

In other words it’s going to run that same habit or habits that have been scaring you for so long. But here’s the thing: you’re not in danger when you’re anxious, and it doesn’t matter HOW it feels. We’ve been running for a long time from a tiger that isn’t really there. We can teach ourselves to stop running (or at least slow to a walk) and begin to see the tiger for what it really is – a problem we’ve converted into a crisis.

And we can start to take our lives back. More next post –

One of the things that has some direct use for us who fight or have fought chronic anxiety and depression is the concept of a habit. (I’m taking today’s discussion in large part from a great book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.) Specifically, we anxiety fighters have developed what could accurately be called a small set of nasty habits. By understanding the precise nature of a habit we can be more effective in shutting down our what if thinking and the reactions that come out of Flight or Fight from that thinking.

We all know what habits are, yes? I know I thought I did. I thought (until this book) that a habit is simply a behavior pattern that we are used to doing – one that we don’t think much about. If you had pressed me I might have added that habits have some payoff, historic or current – something that helps keep us doing them, even if it isn’t always obvious what that thing is.

Well, there’s more to understand about habits. There are some very specific elements to habits that make them both make more sense AND give us stronger tools to change habits we don’t like, or develop new habits we want – and especially help us replace/rewrite the habit of chronic “what if?” thinking that gets us crazed in the first place. (This is the start of a 3-post series on habits and anxiety.)

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What are the Elements of a Habit, and Why Do I Care?

A habit is a piece of thinking that we’ve “chunked” into a single unit or item in our brain. Think of it as a small, automatic program that you (unintentionally, most of the time) have set up in your thinking – like the programs you have running on your computer.

Think of brushing your teeth. Think of all the specific steps involved in doing that task. You have to get into the bathroom, get your toothbrush, put some toothpaste on the brush, run some water to get that stuff wet, then run that brush repeatedly around the surfaces of your teeth. You do it for some period of time, then take the brush out of your mouth, rinse the toothpaste out, then maybe grab some floss and then some mouthwash.

That’s a lot of things to run in a row. But tell me – do you actually do much THINKING around that process? I’m betting you tell me no. You are in the grip of a little automatic program you’re running while you think about the next day, or maybe how much you liked dinner, or man, wasn’t NCIS good tonight? 🙂

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You’re not thinking – you’re just running a little program. Let’s get more technical/more precise. You experienced a cue or stimulus – in this case, stuff stuck in your teeth, or the strong taste of garlic in your mouth – and so you started towards the bathroom. You ran your tooth-brushing program, then you got a reward for it – in this case, a tingling feeling in your mouth and no more stuff stuck in your teeth.

Cue, Routine, and Reward. That’s what makes up a habit. So how does this apply to our fight with anxious, what if thinking and the rush of Flight or Fight?

What If – a Nasty Habit

As I do coaching and group discussions around this work of fear-busting I am always telling people that the core of the problem is our “what if?” thinking – i.e., our projecting/turning problems into crises in our thinking and then asking ourselves frightening/terrible what if questions about the outcomes. I almost always hear people tell me “sure, Erik, I buy it – I’m scaring myself in my thinking. But I don’t really consciously KNOW my “what if?” thoughts – they sometimes seem hard to identify or pin down. Which makes me think I’m NOT thinking what if thoughts.”

That makes sense. We started our what if thinking a long, long time ago, and by the time 99% of us get to a place where we’re aware that we’re dealing with anxiety at all that thinking has been “chunked” into a habit (really, multiple habits) and is running very much on automatic pilot in our skulls.

So we wouldn’t necessarily BE aware of the habitual thinking we’re doing. Let me make that stronger: when we start this work, and even when we’re well into this work, we will have anxious thinking that is NOT conscious – not right away – and it will take work to make it conscious for ourselves.

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It might be as simple as you waking up in the morning. You immediately feel terrible – sad, hopeless, upset, afraid, you name it. You report that you “just feel sad” or “woke up really anxious.” You were not consciously aware of the thinking that made you feel that way – because that thinking is a habit chunk, a little program (or for most of us, several little programs) of scared what if thinking that has been running for years or even decades.

It zipped through your skull, maybe even before you were awake, and so you find yourself with all kinds of Flight or Fight reactions – feelings and physical sensations – and you think “crap, here we go again – what is wrong with me?” What’s wrong with you is your thinking habits – your “what if?” habits.

Wait a Minute – didn’t you Mention that there had to be a Reward to make it a Habit?

Habits only get set up when there is a payoff to that routine/program in response to the cue that starts the whole schemer. What could possibly be a reward for getting caught up in scary thinking?

Well, for starters, we don’t set out to scare ourselves. We set out to solve a crisis – or at least a crisis that we’re making out of a problem, situation, challenge in our thinking/lives. The cue is the crisis thinking. The routine is Flight or Fight, doing what it is supposed to do, trying to find a way to get away from the crisis – get away or solve it.

And the reward? There are a couple of possibilities. One is that worrying/agonizing over the future FEELS like we’re doing something concrete, something useful in the face of our fears. That is ISN’T useful 99% of the time is besides the point – it feels like it is useful.

Another likely outcome of that habit is that sometimes, in the past, worrying about something HAS given us a solution. It’s a lot less often than we believe, but once in a while worrying over something seemed to bring an answer. That answer might have happened for several reasons – the problem resolved itself, you got some outside help, or even a wild-ass effort resulted in some answer to your “crisis” thinking – but there was a payoff in the thing being resolved in some way.

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I bet that you have experienced both outcomes to worry. The bottom line is that the vast majority of our anxious thinking is a habit that has had just enough reinforcement to become a habit – regardless of whether it’s a useful habit or not…

And what happens as a result of 99% of our worried, anxious, fearful thinking? We simply strengthen and encourage that useless habit to continue.

This Just in: Habits don’t have to be Good

These little automatic programs called habits are powerful things. And like it or not we’re going to create and have habits – it’s a human thing. But here’s some good news: we don’t have to be slaves and helpless prisoners to our habits. We can take command of our habits.

Make no mistake – habits can be stubborn. And if we’re afraid of something habits are likely to have even more control over our behavior. It’s going to take some work, effort, energy and tolerance for frustration as we work to disrupt and change the habits of anxiety in our lives.

Here’s some more good news: habits, for all of their toughness, are also surprisingly vulnerable to change. You just have to know how to change them. It appears that habits are most susceptible to change if you interrupt them in the middle…

Remember what I said about the elements of a habit? Cue, routine, reward? It seems that changing the cue or the reward is pretty challenging – even a waste of effort. The cues will keep coming and we really can’t stop them. Rewards are rewards – we want to feel better, we want to be encouraged or pleased or feel safe or whatever the rewards of a habit happen to be in that situation.

But we DON’T have to run the same routines. We can change those, take command of them, and wrench them into new routines, ones that work much better for us.

It’s time for some new routines. It’s time to take back the energy and time that our anxiety habits have stolen from us.

In my next couple of posts I will be reviewing specific examples of habit change…

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(This topic comes up a LOT in my coaching discussions and email exchanges. It is very, very easy to let the emotions and physical sensations of Flight or Fight derail us in our efforts to confront, unpack and rethink our anxious thoughts/assumptions. We HAVE to learn to reframe what those sensations and feelings actually mean – and learn to steadily scare ourselves less and less with those sensations and feelings as we move forward in this work.)

Feelings. I talk about them a lot in this blog. I often hear the word from my coaching clients, I see the word in the emails I receive, and yes, I have my own feelings. 🙂 Anxiety itself is a feeling, and it is often the seed of other feelings – anger, rage, sadness, depression, grief. To be afraid is to FEEL afraid, anxious, worried, scared. To be anxious is to be, too often, at the mercy of our feelings.

In this Fear Mastery work I say all the time that one of the skill sets we need to break free of anxiety is to “discount” the meaning of our feelings – specifically, the emotional (and physical) responses we have from Flight or Fight when we’re anxious. Some people have taken that to mean that they shouldn’t HAVE those feelings –that they should squish, bury and hide away those feelings from themselves.

Don’t do that. “Discounting” isn’t the same as shutting away. And shutting away our fears (and the thinking that generates those fears in the first place) is at the heart of why we’re anxious in the first place. No, our mission is to HAVE our feelings – let them surface, look them in the eye – but also dispute what they heck they seem to be saying to us.

HANG ON – You’re Saying it is GOOD to Feel Anxious?

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We anxiety-fighters don’t have a great relationship history with our feelings. It can, for many of us, seem like our feelings are petulant children or, worse, terrible slave-drivers, throwing us around the room, trashing our days, ruining our time with friends and family, making a mess of our lives. Our feelings can come to be unwanted house-guests that we just want to go away…

Part of the problem is we only poorly understand what the heck feelings ARE. Feelings are, among other things, ways to motivate us to take action. When we feel hungry we eat. (I know I do.) When we feel sleepy we find a flat surface and lie down. (Or, if you’re at work, put your head on your desk.) When we feel angry we want to DO something – break a dish, shout, take action in some way to deal with the thing that is making us angry.

All of that makes a ton of sense. Emotions/feelings are much older than conscious thought – way, way older. Like hundreds of millions of years older. Smart came very late in the game. Animals need to take action, and in the absence of clocks, calendars and appointment books feelings are what motivate them to take action in different situations.

So emotions are STRONG. They need to be. You can’t, if you’re a water buffalo, ignore those hunger pangs. Not eating is a bad idea! And this applies even more to immediate, physical danger. Living things need to be alert and responsive when their lives are threatened, yes?

Enter human beings and anxiety. We didn’t lose any of the feelings that helped our ancestors survive before humans had the bulging brains we have now – we just stacked those smarts on top of those feelings. That can be a tremendous strength, if we understand the relationship between feelings and thinking. It can also a key element of anxiety – which is why I’m writing and you’re reading this blog.

When we start to imagine/picture something bad happening in our future, and that bad thing scares us in our thinking, well, we’re going to have feelings. We’re going to have feelings because we’re triggering Flight or Fight. We’re hard-wired that way. As I keep saying here that’s a GOOD thing – we need that system to stay frosty in case of real danger.

So you are going to have feelings when you’re anxious! And they won’t be the happy, fuzzy feelings you have when you see a bunny or the face of someone you love. (Or, in my case, a container of Baskin-Robbins ice cream – Vanilla, please, or I’m also good with Cookie Dough.) Nope, they will be anxious, lets-get-the-hell-out-of-here kind of feelings – the feelings that would get you moving in the presence of real, physical, life-or-death danger.

Which means yes, you do need to feel your feelings, if only because you’re going to, whether you want to or not. And it won’t serve you at all to simply try and squish those feelings. It isn’t like you have a big box you can shove your feelings into and lock the lid. We’d like to THINK we can do that – but the end result of all that attempted squishing is, in fact, anxiety.

But I Don’t LIKE These Feelings!

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Yup – I hear that. Then again, those feelings really are not the problem. It is the thinking behind them that are the problem. Feelings are simply the messengers of your thinking or, more accurately, your mental responses to your environment. In non-self-aware creatures (like that mouse in your basement) that thinking is mostly learned experience. Don’t eat cheese sitting on wood platforms that smell of metal. Do chew open bags that smell like flour. Run away from large furry things that purr.

In us it is a much richer (and potentially more anxious) universe of mental activity. We can conjecture/speculate about the future – and in having that ability we open ourselves up to some serious worries, if we’re not clear on the difference between crisis and problem. All it takes for us is to think we’re in the middle of a crisis – life-or-death – and that’s enough to power up Flight or Fight.

Which means we’re going to have feelings! And their mission is to GET US MOVING – either running (best choice) or fighting (remove this scary thing from my life right now!) Like them, don’t like them, try to bury them, knock yourself out – you’re going to have feelings.

So it isn’t about liking or not liking our feelings, any more than it is about liking or not liking your eye color or your height. They just ARE. The real question is what do we DO with those feelings as we’re having them?

I have two answers for you –

Don’t Start the Wave / Ride the Wave

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The first answer is, of course, to avoid firing up Flight or Fight in the first place. And that’s the eventual goal of this work – to learn to NOT let our thoughts scare us the way they do now. As we get more and more skillful in our practice of converting crises back into problems in our thinking we will be less and less likely to get anxious in the first place.

Along the way, however (and essential to the work of reaching that end goal) we need to learn to ride the wave of our emotions once Flight or Fight is engaged. This is the perfect place for a surfing metaphor, so grab your board shorts…

Surfers understand that waves are NOT, by their nature and size, controllable. You don’t paddle out to surf with the expectation that you’re going to control ANYTHING but your reaction to the wave – period. When you’re starting out you pretty much suck at wave-riding. You get tossed around a lot, you feel helpless a lot of the time, and you’re convinced you’re never going to get it right.

But you do get better at it, with practice and determination, and part of what helps you get better is learning to just ride the wave rather than fight it. And that’s a great parallel with the feelings of Flight or Fight. Once we activate that mechanism, no matter HOW much we want to control it, it is going to do its thing.

And, as in surfing, the more we get freaked out by the wave of our feelings the worse we make it! Which, at the start, makes us even crazier. And even after we learn this crucial lesson about feeling our feelings, allowing them to just happen, we still have to practice discounting the meaning of those feelings.

That’s why discounting the MEANING of those feelings is so central to this work. Those intense feeling amplify our fear for two reasons: 1) we label them as bad, scary, evil, linking them to the thoughts that start those feelings in the first place, and 2) we’re afraid that they are never, ever going to stop/leave us alone.

ALL of that fear is about the future – yes? Every last bit of it. The future is the problem – not the feelings. The heart of all of this is the meaning we give our feelings. And meaning is a mental process, a learned process.

That doesn’t mean we set out to makes ourselves fearful, it just means that, with a combination of lack of understanding and worry about the future, we’ve learned to scare ourselves silly with our thinking and our physical and emotional reactions.

Here’s some really good news: you only need to get a little ways down the road of this work to see the results start to happen. That doesn’t mean you’ll turn a corner and suddenly it will be easy.

You have to do the work, and that means ups and downs, good days and bad days. What I mean is that you’ll begin to get it, begin to feel yourself NOT making it worse, begin to get skillful at both allowing your feelings and discounting their importance to you (when you’re anxious.)

Please don’t take my word for any of this! Nope, paddle out yourself and start the work. The waves are not good or bad – they just are. Your feelings are not good or bad – they just are. They are not prophets of doom, they don’t have certain knowledge of the future (any more than you or I do), and they can’t hurt you.

But they can scare you – until you begin to reframe what they MEAN. Then they start to become less and less frightening. There will be definite bumps – days or even weeks where the work seems endless and deeply frustrating. Which is to be expected. We, most of us, have spent a lot of time (years or decades) scaring ourselves witless with our thoughts AND our feelings.

Just don’t forget there will also be victories, and slow and steady progress, and you’ll reach a point where you’re aware that you just tried to scare yourself, and it didn’t really happen. You’ll have found that you’re starting to learn to ride the wave.

Sometimes, in my zeal to write about all the issues that can surround this work to overcome the hold of anxiety in our lives, I forget how much the basics matter. But this work is all about the basics, and so I’m going to make some time today to pound on the most basic concept of all for anxiety – the temptation/training/too-often unconscious act of converting a problem into a crisis.

THIS is the central issue in both generating and overcoming anxiety. Everything else I talk about in this blog points back to this idea, supports this work and is aimed at getting to us to CUT THIS OUT. Whatever else we do doesn’t do much to ease our anxiety – but if we’re doing this, whatever else we’re doing, we are on the road out.

So bear with me while I go “old school” about Anxiety 101 –

Definitions

Two little words: problem and crisis. We confuse these words all the time in our talk about anxiety, but clarity is crucial, so listen up:

Crisis-Problem 1

Crisis Thinking: anything that we think is about to kill or seriously injure us, and when I say about I mean in just a matter of moments. That’s a crisis when it comes to how our brains think, and that’s the trigger for the flaring up of Flight or Fight – our natural way to deal with crisis.

Notice how I said “we think” in my definition. It’s essential to understand that it doesn’t have to BE an actual crisis – all it has to be is a crisis in our thinking’s perception. Notice that I didn’t say when we FEEL that something is a crisis – because thinking has to come first, however unconsciously, however quickly. We think, and then we feel.

90% of the fight with anxiety is captured in the above two paragraphs. As long as we’re running a crisis story in our thinking about anything, regardless of it actually being or not being a crisis, it is enough to drive anxiety – anxious thinking, which generates anxious responding in Flight or Fight, which starts us (too often) on a hamster wheel of treating our Flight or Fight reactions as PROOF that we’re in a crisis, when we’re just reacting to our thinking.

Yes, I know, the word “just.” It sure as hell feels like something a lot more serious than “just” reacting to thinking. But that’s precisely the point, because if we’re NOT in an actual crisis – if we’re not on the brink of fierce injury or our own death – then we’re NOT dealing with a crisis, at least not in the way the brain and body understands crisis, and we are earnestly feeding a nasty habit of increasing anxiey.

Crisis-Problem 2

Here’s the wacky part: JUST because we think something is a crisis doesn’t mean it is. Here another wacky part: if something is actually a crisis it isn’t hard to figure out! From my very earliest days writing about this stuff I’ve been saying this statement: if we have time to even ask the question “hey, is this a problem or a crisis?” then it HAS to be a problem.

How do I know that? Because if it is a crisis WE ARE ALREADY DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT. If we hear a child scream in pain we are on our feet and moving before our brains are even clear that we’re in motion – yes? If we hear an explosion near us we duck – yes? If we see a drunk driver start to swerve in front of WE TAKE ACTION NOW – yes?

So – there is crisis thinking and an actual crisis. But the food for anxiety comes from treating something that isn’t a crisis in this moment AS a crisis – crisis thinking. If we’re not facing down imminent death or njury we’re not dealing with a crisis, but a

Problem Thinking:

Problem are not crises. Problems 99% of the time can’t be solved by running or fighting – the way Flight or Fight would have us roll.

See my blog post HERE for an in-depth discussion of problems, what they are and what to do with them. The thing that’s most important for this conversation is the definition of a problem. A problem takes TIME to solve – anywhere from 5 minutes to years, depending on the size, complexity and information/skill needed to solve the problem.

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This is the biggest reason we can’t solve a problem like we resolve a crisis (actual crisis.) But there’s something else that’s very important to understand here: problem thinking is a rational, look-at-the-options, think-it-through way of dealing with an issue. We think better in problem thinking than we do in crisis thinking. And we DON’T crank up our anxiety meter when we’re treating something as a problem.

Confusion sets in for most of us when we start saying to ourselves “hey, THIS thing I’m afraid of IS actually a crisis – or at least I sure FEEL like it’s a crisis!” It isn’t feelings that decide whether something is a crisis or not.

Let me say that again. Feelings can’t be our guides in deciding if something IS actually a crisis. You have the definition of crisis in this blog post. It either IS about to eat your face off or it isn’t. A problem is not a crisis.

Feelings depend so much on the story we tell ourselves (largely, if not mostly unconsciously) about an issue or challenge or situation. One person sees a leaky water heater and says oh my Gosh, this is the worst thing ever, this will wreck my savings, infuriate my Significant Other, waste my whole day getting fixed and it probably won’t even get done right! Help! This is a crisis!

Another person has the exact same issue and says well, this sucks, I don’t really want to spend that money, why did this have to happen today, Significant Other could well be cheesed off, but we’ll figure it out and hell, the new water heater will probably be energy-efficient and save us money in the long run. Talk about two different stories…

One generates a crisis reaction. Heaven only knows what happens next… we spend a fortune to get the water-heater fixed NOW. We completely avoid the problem and pretend it hasn’t happened (good luck with that.) We freak out, call 30 friends and burn lifespan regaling them with our horrible lives. We flail, thrash and make ourselves crazy and anxious…

Crisis-Problem 6

One generates some thoughtful phone calls to trusted thinkers who know stuff about plumbing, a visit to Angie’s List or similar vendor referral website, a phone call to the Significant Other to get the finance thing figured out, then a call to the vendor we like to get our water heater PROBLEM sorted out.

Anxiety Fighters are Amazing at Converting Problems to Crises

And we know we are! We have an amazing gift honed over years and decades. We can take almost any sunny day and conjure a rainstorm. We don’t have to keep doing that. Let’s start with the basics in this blog post:

Where are we converting problems to crises? Here are some hints –

1) If we have time to ask this question it’s a problem. It might BE a crisis soon if we don’t do something, or it might not be – but right now it’s a problem, and we’re going to both avoid a lot of unnecessary anxiety AND probably come up with a better answer if we treat this thing as a problem.

2) Is there a what if question present? We don’t have to always identify that question – just the presence of Flight or Fight feelings and reactions (surging emotions, physical stuff that makes us crazy, you know the drill) can answer this question (and assuming you’re not facing down an angry bison.) If you are doing what if questions it’s a lock that you’re making yourself anxious. Time to stand down from that story. Easier to say than do – but it’s a skill we get better at with practice and time.

Crisis-Problem 5

3) Standing down looks a lot like this: how is this actually a problem, and not a crisis? One answer is you’re not about to die – HOWEVER you feel at the moment. Another answer is what are some of the options that might exist to deal with this? If you find yourself nuking every answer that comes up because you can’t do it in the next 30 seconds that a flag on the field as well.

4) Ask someone else what they think. Don’t sit there shouting how terrible this is – simply ask their opinion. (Make it someone you trust and respect, please.) If THEY treat it like a problem, then, well, hmmm – maybe you can too? 🙂 At least in theory for the moment?

I have lots more to say about this elsewhere in this blog. Here are some places to start: HERE, HERE, HERE. In the meantime, try tackling one of your scary what if stories the way I’ve outlined here today. Start identifying where you’re making problems into crises. You’ll be amazed at the real power and strength this thinking skill can, with time and practice, bring you…

So, we all clear on this basic concept? 🙂 There will be a test soon…

Ugh. Anxiety is fear about the future – fearful what if thinking about things that scare us. That’s the bottom line. To break anxiety’s hold we have to break the habit of the repeated what if dialogues in our heads.

One element that gets in our way in our thinking/fearful ruminating about the future are the things that we refuse to accept about life and the world we live in. We have set some issues up, usually through no fault of our own, into huge scary monsters that roar at us from their misty future location in our brains.

We can only defang those monsters if we’re willing to look them in the eye and see through them. In Malaysian cultures children are taught to face the monsters they find in their dreams – and to face down those monsters. That’s a huge gift to give children. Unfortunately here in the West we too often learn to run away from our monsters instead…

Refusing to Accept is a form of Running Away

Human have amazing imaginations. We can conjure things in our thinking that don’t exist (and may never exist) and imbue them with life, color and energy. That’s a remarkable ability. As smart as you think your dog is he or she doesn’t have anything like that kind of imagination. Imagination has been one of the key gifts in the building of our human world.

But the gift can be a curse when we turn anxiety loose on our imagination. It’s a natural sin, and one we have to be aware of to do much about. This is especially likely to happen when we begin think that we’re in danger – real or imagined.

Acceptance 1

Why? Well, one of the features of Flight or Fight works like this: when it fires up in our bodies and brains it starts estimating which route is safest/most likely to work in our efforts to get away from danger. (I.e., what will be most likely in getting me out of danger’s way?) This is very effective in dealing with an angry mob or lions looking for a snack…

It is not so effective, however, when it comes to imagining ways to escape the IRS bill you owe, the doctor you need to visit or the in-law you’d like to avoid. Flight or Fight evolved to deal with real, present-moment CRISES. That means dealing with immediately available facts and the situation right in front of us. But PROBLEMS (including the ones we inflate into crises) don’t usually consist of either immediately available facts OR are situations we have to solve this second.

Which means Flight or Fight isn’t nearly so useful to us in problem situations. So when Flight or Fight fires up it just starts to mess with us! We start imagining the worst-case scenarios – and our monsters are born. Flight or Fight is just trying to help us, chiefly by trying to help us figure out the worst-case scenario and then figure out a solution…

Only it’s operating on limited facts/information, and it really can’t solve a problem that’s still up in the future – not the way it can solve or largely solve an immediate, right-now situation. I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about.

A Scenario you Might Recognize

Let’s try that doctor thing. Say you are supposed to see the doc for a problem – a racing heart, maybe, or high blood pressure. You are afraid that something is wrong. Flight or Fight, trying to help you, starts imagining the worst-case scenarios in an effort to “figure a way out.” Great – except that you don’t know a lot of info yet. You don’t know your physical situation well enough to make any good evaluations. That’s why you’re going to the doctor!

Acceptance 2

But you have fears about where you are physically. So you conjure possible scenarios – and they scare you. What if the doc says your BP is too high? What if that means it’s straining your heart, or putting you at risk for stroke? What if the doc puts you on medication? What if that medication doesn’t work, or makes you dizzy, or makes you want to eat pizza? (OK, that last isn’t really scary.) What if you have to stop eating certain foods? What if you never get better? What if your brain explodes? Etc. Etc. Etc…

Sound familiar at all? Now you’re all freaked out. Your heart IS racing, or you’re feeling nausea, or you’re screaming no way I’m not going to the doctor, or whatever you’re doing in your anxiety and fear. So you refuse to go to the doctor. Great. You’ve managed to avoid the scary outcomes you’ve summoned –

Except that by running away, by refusing to accept the situation and find out what you can in order to do something helpful for yourself, you’ve only managed to 1) feed your fears more and 2) set yourself up to do more avoiding. That might not be bad today, or tomorrow – but that doesn’t mean you’ve done anything to really deal with the problem that might be there – or dispel your fears if it isn’t.

Not Accepting Doesn’t mean that Thing is not There

Running away feels good – for a while. Maybe for years. But, to keep playing with that doctor scenario, you have this little voice in the back of your head (the rational part, trying to shout over the anxious part of you) saying hey, sure would be nice to KNOW what’s happening with that blood pressure thing. If there’s a problem we could do something about it. But anxiety isn’t having it. NO, it shouts, it’s better if we just pretend that nothing’s wrong, or if we can’t pretend, just refuse to accept the possibility. We’ll feel safer that way.

Acceptance 4

But that doesn’t change anything – and we KNOW it. And of course it isn’t like anxiety contents itself with just worrying about blood pressure and doctor responses. Nope, it starts worming its way into other parts of our life – and it fact has been doing it the whole time. We develop a terrible habit of running away – and that habit only gets stronger the more we support it.

Crises, real-life crises, come and then get resolved, one way or another. You’re either in a life-or-death situation or you’re not! It’s either happening or it’s over! But problems don’t usually work that way. In fact they NEVER work out that way, because when it becomes life-or-death then it isn’t a problem any more – it’s a crisis.

Problems, even problems we inflate into crises in our thinking, have a way of not going away – until we do something about them.

Which means we have to start to challenge that nasty habit of avoiding, of not accepting the world we live in as it is right now. Sure, we’re scared. I get it. I was scared as hell of lots of things back in my fight with anxiety. I ran like a champion.

But all that did for me was slowly worsen problems I was avoiding, as well as made me MORE anxious. Because our brains are not really fooled. We can run, and we can refuse to accept, but we still KNOW down deep that the problems are still there, lurking in the shadows. We really do have to develop the skill and strength to open the closet door, look under the bed, and face down our scary monsters…

99% of our Monsters are not Monsters at all

One of the most wonderful, and often the most infuriating, things about those monsters we’re avoiding is when we discover they are not monsters at all. We go to the doc and… discover our BP is fine, or a little elevated. We call the IRS (gasp!) and learn that we can pay what we owe in installments – they just want their money. We face down the in-law and realize that while he or she is tedious, even annoying as crap, the visit doesn’t kill us.

Acceptance 3

Not accepting seems to automatically mean we make our problems-turned-to-crises larger and larger in our thinking. Small things get bigger, big things get huge, and we burn tremendous amounts of energy and lifespan running away, avoiding, not accepting the things we need to face down.

Flight or Fight is to blame for all of this. It’s trying so hard to help us “escape” our monsters – but it can’t. There’s nothing to escape. We have problems to address and solve, not crises to flee from, however it feels.

WE are the ones shouting “Oh my God this is terrible!” Flight or Fight obediently tries to help us escape the scary monster… which isn’t a monster at all. So even Flight or Fight is the helpless prisoner of our fearful thinking.

In other words we have to tackle the thinking that is scaring us if we are to deal with and overcome anxiety. It really all does come down to that.

Great, you say. That’s lovely. And you’re right Erik – I’m running away from problems I’ve made into monsters most of the time. But there are problems that I really can’t do a damn thing about –

What about the 1%?

Good point. There are problems we can do something about – the doctor visit, the IRS, the in-law – but there is a much smaller cluster of problems that we CAN’T resolve. We just have to accept them as part of our world, part of the world in general.

Acceptance 5

Aging is one of those problems. We’re all going to get older (or, in my case, GETTING older.) We can rave about it, we can go get cosmetic surgery, we can eat healthy and get lots of sleep and wear facial masks and we’re still going to age. OK. That’s still not a crisis, whatever we think about aging. It’s a problem that we can’t solve – but we can learn to accept it as part of life, and then get about the business of living.

There is a whole little class of problems that we can’t solve by OURSELVES. We might potentially solve them with the assistance of other people – world hunger, the Middle East Mess, etc. – but we won’t do it by ourselves. We can contribute – help out – try to make a difference –but we won’t solve it all by our lonesome. What can do then? Not make it into a crisis. It’s a problem that’s too big for us alone .

And of course there’s the little problem we call death. Yes, death sucks. Nobody really wants to die. (Think of all the cookies that won’t get eaten when I, for instance, pass from this world.) Guess what? We will die. I don’t like it any more than you do.

But we can’t solve it. We can’t avoid it. It’s going to happen! We HAVE to accept it and get about the business of living while we are here, now. If we don’t we run the risk of running away from death, start treating it like a crisis, and when we do that we feed anxiety – and slowly begin to lose the capacity to live our life in the here and now.

In other words we can live until we die, or we can shut down our joy and engagement and life by running like hell away from something that will happen anyway. Only one of those makes any damn sense, yes?

Stop Running – Start Facing and Accepting

Avoidance. Monsters. Problems we can solve (which are most of them, in one form or another of solution) and problems we can’t solve. None of these things have to rob us of our capacity to live. And none of these things need to take up much more time in our thinking, making us anxious and keeping us trapped in our fears.

It starts with accepting where we are. It starts with accepting that our fight with anxiety is a thinking problem, and not some mysterious illness or mental breakdown. It starts with accepting that we have to turn and face down our closet monsters, our (unintentionally) conjured scary future scenarios. And it starts with accepting that Flight or Fight really can’t hurt us (has no interest in hurting us).

We can face down our fears. We can convert crises, the crises we’ve made in our thinking, back into problems. We can get our life back. It’s scary. It means a new way of thinking. It also means that we can get our lives back from our fears. Anyone can do this work, with the right information and a little encouragement.

Acceptance 7

If you’re as old as I am (54, and damn glad to be here) then you remember oldies radio stations. (Do they still have those? I’m so addicted to Pandora now I couldn’t say.) When I was growing up oldies stations played songs from the 50’s and early 60’s. One of the things the DJ would often say to set up a song was “and now, another golden oldie!”

Well, I’m going to spend some time today reviewing some “golden oldies” from the all-time hit parade of things we tell ourselves about our struggle with anxiety. I’m going to label those golden oldies ghost stories.

Ever sit around a fire, or in a dark room at night with your friends, telling yourselves ghost stories? Trying for the delicious shiver up your spine as you were doing it/listening to those stories? That’s not a bad analogy for what most of us anxiety fighters are doing with some of the stories we tell ourselves – and in the telling scare ourselves away from doing the work we need to do.

Let’s start with a classic golden oldie ghost story lots of us play a lot on our mental turntable:

Ghost 2

This is Too Hard for Me

Anxiety sucks. There’s no way around that. The debilitating drain on our energy and soul is freakin’ tedious. It limits our lives, it puts up walls and it sucks the joy out of the everyday.

That leads a lot of us to think this will never change – and more so if we’ve been fighting it for a long time.

It can be easy to conclude that we just don’t have what it takes – that it’s too hard for us. The surface evidence might make it seem as if we’ve reached the right conclusion.

But we’re WRONG. Reasons why:

1) Just about anything new and unfamiliar to us is “hard” to do/understand at the start.
2) We don’t have the “muscles” we need at the moment to get all the way to the end. That just means we have to do some “muscle-building” – i.e., practice the skills of unpacking anxious thinking, learning to see Flight or Fight clearly/accurately, and start treating our anxious thinking as problems instead of crises. That will take some skill-building. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it.

There’s one more issue here: we learn to feel helpless early on in our experience with anxiety (and, frankly, in the life training we received in our worlds that set us up to be anxious in the first place.) See my last blog post HERE for more about this and what to do about it.

This isn’t too hard for us. I don’t care how you feel about it, you’re wrong. 🙂 I can say that because millions of people have said the same thing, and then gone on to do precisely what they said they couldn’t – broken the hold of anxiety in their lives. You can too. Don’t take my word for it. Get good information, clarify what you need to do and lean into it. You’ll find out the truth yourself.

Next on our hit parade –

Ghost 3

I’ve tried before and it didn’t work

Some of us battle-hardened veterans of this anxiety war have a few scars, yes? We’ve see the guns of our enemies, and we’ve tried to fight our past them. And, from where we’re standing, the battle can seem pointless.

We have tried different therapies, seen doctors and tried medications, but it doesn’t seem to really fix the problem. We’ve done meditation, yoga, affirmations, homeopathic treatments – and we’re still anxious. We’ve exercised. And of course we’ve medicated in lots of ways that we knew were not going to stop anxiety – but we were desperate and just wanted some relief.

All of that can EASILY take us to “I’m screwed – I’ve tried and it doesn’t work.” OK. That’s legal. But it isn’t fair to you – because it isn’t true. Reasons:

1) Just because something hasn’t worked in the past doesn’t mean, with different information and understanding of the problem, something couldn’t work in the future.
2) There’s a lot of really crappy information and poor understanding about anxiety out here in the world. Just because lots of people don’t really get anxiety, or we were poorly informed in the past, doesn’t mean we don’t have the ability to make change.
3) This isn’t a one-shot, two-treatment, take a pill kind of problem. It’s in your thinking – and you’ve been doing some of that thinking for a long, long time. You have thinking habits and assumptions that will take some work to transform – change to healthy and functional thinking. Non-anxious thinking. Which means it’s going to take some work, and time, and effort, and some frustration along the way.

Ghost 4

In other words history is a poor predictor of what can happen moving forward from here. There is however one requirement – we have to see that doing the same thing expecting different results really is the definition of crazy. 🙂 We have to shake up our worlds and really question the thinking we’ve done for so long – seriously examine it and see it for what it is.

These are snappy tunes, these golden oldies – let’s do another one.

Nobody Understands What I’m Going Through

There’s no question anxiety can be fiercely isolating. The reasons are numerous. Many of us have been taught that there’s something weak, or deficient, or even monstrous about dealing with something that’s been stamped a mental illness. (This isn’t mental illness, btw – it’s nothing like schizophrenia or insanity. It’s a set of thinking errors that leads to some frightened thinking and living.)

Nonetheless we often (usually) feel like freaks, we who battle with anxiety. Everyone else seems so normal, so happy, so carefree. They don’t seem to be anxious about anything. TV, movies and YouTube seem to confirm our thinking. We must be defective somehow – missing some crucial personal trait maybe, or we’re just damaged goods.

We’re wrong. Here’s why:

1) Anxiety is a condition that plagues literally hundreds of millions of people all over the planet. The CONSERVATIVE estimates place anxiety sufferers as 1 in 10 of the whole human race. It’s my personal belief that it’s more like 2 in 10 – or even higher. With 7.2 billion people on the planet that makes for a LOT of anxiety fighters…

2) It’s also isolating because the people in our lives who do NOT fight anxiety don’t have much in the way of understanding what we’re dealing with in our lives. They may tell us useful advice like “just stop worrying so much” or “nothing is that serious.” (Which tells us just how little they get where we are.)

Ghost 6

OK. They don’t get it. That doesn’t mean that what we’re fighting is something from Mars. It’s anxiety. We’re not mentally deficient. We’re not damaged goods. And, despite the reality that people we love don’t grasp where we are, we have a condition based on faulty thinking that is bleeding us dry.

3) Who cares that some people don’t understand us? Because the statement “nobody understands what I’m going through” isn’t accurate. Some people (like myself, like millions of other people) DO understand what this battle is like.

Our mission isn’t to surrender because the people in our immediate universe don’t get us. Our mission is to get the help we need – and that includes hooking up with people who do understand this dance. Hit me here if you’d like more info on how to do that, regardless of where you are.

Summary: not true. Our battle is a common one in the human experience, and there are people who get it. We are not freaks, and we can beat this thing.

OK, one more golden oldie before I call it a day:

Ghost 5

My anxiety is different from everyone else’s/I’m beyond help

When I first started fighting my way out of this junk I worked with a program called CHAANGE, an early tool kit in the fight and one that gave me some decent starting points in this work. One of the things the folks that wrote that program said that struck me was how EVERYONE who fights anxiety thinks they are different, unique, special and perhaps worst, untreatable/beyond help.

It almost might be called a defining symptom of this condition, this belief that we are the ONE person on the planet who cannot be helped. We’re so freaky, or so damaged, that we might as well just throw in the towel.

I did this. I read a statement in CHAANGE that gave some percentage of people that were helped by this work, and I automatically put myself in the category of the percentage that didn’t get help. 🙂 Seriously? Really?

You know what I’m going to say – I was wrong, and so are you.

1) You’re not special – not when it comes to anxiety. See my comment above about how many people fight anxiety.

2) Anxiety is anxiety is anxiety. Yes, you have weird physical symptoms – and those are caused to Flight or Fight. Yes you’re anxious all the time – and that’s because you’re massively focused on what if fears of the future. Yes you’re housebound – like millions of other people. Literally millions.

You face the same issues, and the way out for you is the same as it is for everyone else. You don’t have to search for exotic physical problems, and you don’t have to stamp yourself as weird or unreachable.

3) Nobody who is fighting anxiety is beyond help. “Beyond help” is the plea of our fears, shouting from the depths of Flight or Fight. Somebody help me! Well, somebody is here to help you. We have some really solid thinking about anxiety these days, and most importantly you have YOU – you are the lever to pull yourself up out of this fear.

It isn’t easy. It sucks many days. It sure feels tedious, terrible and scary. But it is something we can all do.

Ghost 7

Enough with the Golden Oldies!

So – ready to ditch the oldies station? Time for some new music in our lives, isn’t it? Time to see around the deceptions and ignorance that anxiety brings, and move instead into good information and understanding of the work in front of us.

We don’t have to keep playing the same stories over and over again. We really can change up the music in our heads. We don’t have to scare ourselves with these ghost stories. Time to banish the ghosts, see through them and take our lives back.

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