My favorite definition of anxiety is fear without the presence of danger.
Anxiety can seem a little tricky sometimes when you feel the physical sensations and don’t know where they are coming from (heart beating louder, butterflies in stomach, breathing faster, etc). But if there’s no medical condition that accounts for these changes (you should always be sure to share physical symptoms with your doctor), my guess is that somewhere along the line negative thoughts are at play.
What is the story you are telling yourself? What is it that you’re afraid of?
Anxiety grows when we run from the things we tell ourselves are dangerous but actually aren’t.
Is that rustling in the leaves really a serial killer out to get you or could it be a stray cat walking by?
Is the stranger walking down the hall really making faces at you or is it possible that they are thinking about a joke someone told them earlier in the day?
Is it absolutely certain that you are going to throw up in the middle of your presentation?
Sometimes it’s about fearing the fear itself.
As you learn to cope with anxiety, you can begin to separate the part of you that senses danger – which is a good part by the way, because we do need to react quickly when faced with real danger – from the part of you that is discerning and can make an appropriate assessment of the situation.
What you need to know is that when you run from the rustling leaves or hate the stranger walking down the hall or avoid the presentation, you are confirming to your amygdala – the part of your brain that looks for danger – that yes the danger is real and your amygdala will happily continue to amplify these things for you in the future.
In this way, anxiety is a choice because your reaction is a choice. When the discerning part of you steps up and offers reassurance to the part that is fearful – that actually there is no real danger – then the discomfort remains no more than an observation and you move on with your life until the next cue arises and you’re faced with making another assessment. Gradually, over time, this gets easier and those physical sensations begin to relax a little. Eventually you won’t need to fear the fear.
Don’t get me wrong, anxiety can get fairly complex. But when you’ve lived with anxiety long enough, it might be helpful to know that there are strategies you can use to counteract the anxiety that isn’t helpful, the anxiety that only hinders you. This is just one approach and my guess is that it’s worth a try.
Copyright 2018 © Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.
Rachel Braun, ATR-BC Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA
Specializing in working with women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.