Don't Do This if You Have Anxiety
Today, I'm going to tell you about the biggest mistake that people make when they're feeling anxious and what to do about it. This video can be helpful for everybody. Hi, I'm Paige Pradko. Welcome to Therapy For a Better Light.
What is the biggest mistake that people make when they're feeling anxious?
The answer may sound surprising. It is that they try to do something to not feel anxious. Now, why would that be a problem? Let me explain it to you. Anxiety is a fearful state in the mind and in the body, something our body picked up, our brain picked up in our environment. It could be through our senses. It could be we had a thought or a memory. But our brain picked up something that it misinterpreted as very dangerous, and therefore it fired up the amygdala, it activated the sympathetic nervous system, and we began to get hyper vigilant, and our breathing changed, and our heart raced and we get tense. And you know what it feels like, right? Now, what our gut instinct is and what common sense tells us is avoid whatever's making us anxious, avoid it, try to resist it, try to not have it, try to do something, take something, anything to not feel anxious.
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And what that does is it gives a message to the brain that says anxiety is dangerous. The feeling of anxiety, all these symptoms, dangerous. I better pump her with more adrenaline and more cortisol because she is in real danger. And so our reaction to anxiety actually increases anxiety, makes it go up. And so we have to change our relationship with anxiety. We have to completely change our reaction to anxiety. If we respond to our feelings of anxiety with being more anxious and trying desperately to do something to not have it, that is going to actually increase our anxiety, it actually creates a cycle. Now, this is actually how panic disorder is developed. People become so anxious to symptoms of normal anxiety, but they become so hyper sensitive, it's called sensitivity arousal, they become so hypersensitive to those feelings of anxiety that it can actually initiate a panic attack. And so panic disorder is actually being fearful of having an anxious reaction or panic.
Now, I like to give people an example of someone that's trying to get to sleep and they have sleep anxiety. And they start to worry and worry and worry as the day goes on that they're not going to get to sleep, and they're going to be tired tomorrow, and they'll be tired at work, and this will be terrible, miserable. And oh my gosh, it's going to be the worst of everything if they don't get to sleep. Well, all of these fearful thoughts and images that they're giving themselves and messages is actually increasing their anxiety. And now the brain begins to actually associate going to bed and sleep with fear, and the brain then believes, okay, I've got to really keep her awake all night long because obviously she's in so much danger. She must be afraid of being attacked by a tiger or something.
Our brain isn't logically thinking this out, but our brain interprets fear the same way every time and gives us more adrenaline and more cortisol. And the more messages we give it of being irritated or anxious about sleep, the more we are going to be awake all night. So what do we do instead with anxiety? We actually do the exact opposite of what we think we should do. We have to do the exact opposite. It's called a paradoxical treatment. And that means that we do not avoid. We do not resist. We don't try to do something. We don't try to not have it. Instead we embrace. We embrace anxiety. We welcome anxiety. We are going to do everything we can to just be okay with it, accept whatever our mind and our body does, accept this as a normal method of just a normal experience of being human.
Sometimes we're going to be anxious. We still have to do what we're going to do and we still have to go about our day the way we would normally go about our day to the best of our ability. But we don't want to give a message that we are more anxious because we're feeling anxious, right? We don't want to give that message to the brain and have the brain up the ante on us. And so this paradoxical method means acceptance, accepting our feeling state. Now, I do teach a lot of different methods on coping with anxiety. There are some methods that actually can help us kind of lower and lower our hyper vigilance and bring us into our activate our parasympathetic nervous system, like square breathing and meditation are some of those methods. But we don't want to do them in a forced way. In a forced way where we're constantly checking to see if they're working can actually up anxiety.
We want to do things like square breathing on a regular daily basis. I think of them as kind of maintaining a good, healthy lifestyle. Now, to help you with this embracing anxiety and accepting and welcoming anxiety, I'd like to share with you an acronym that I call I AM. And I developed this really in helping people with obsessive thoughts, but it works beautifully with anxiety. So the I in the acronym I AM stands for identify. So if you're having an anxious thought, you're feeling an anxious feeling, you simply identify it. I'm having an anxious thought that, whatever. I'm having an anxious feeling. We're just identifying it. And that kind of separates it from us. We're not taking it as fact, we're not running with that thought. We're just identifying that it's there. And then the A stands for allow. We are allowing the feeling. We're allowing the thought. We're allowing whatever our physical state is at the moment.
We're just allowing it. It's an attitude of kind of welcoming it. We're allowing even the uncertainty to be there. We can't predict the future. We can't control things. We're just allowing it. An attitude of allowing and openness. Now the M in the I AM acronym stands for mindfully connecting with the moment. Some people, this is helpful. And you can experiment with this. I'm going to connect to the moment of time I'm living in. What do I see around me? What do I hear? What do I feel? It just moves the brain awareness around. But we're just connecting. And really, we really always need to be connected to this present moment that we're living in. And the I AM acronym, I actually have an extra M where I just say moving on, that we're just moving on. And Claire Weekes was a therapist and author who in the early 70's wrote a few books and one of them was an agoraphobia.
And she used to say, we're going to float and then let time pass. So that's what moving on is kind of about too, is we're just letting time pass and we're moving on. Now, if you begin this practice of accepting and allowing anxiety, and not trying to push it away, or do something, or take something, your brain is going to calm down in this paradoxical way by not doing anything. It's going to just calm down on its own. We're not feeding that anxiety.
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