The title of this post is intentionally ironic. Considering that thinking is exactly what causes anxiety. None the less, this is an important topic because anxiety effects roughly 40 million Americans over 18.
I am one of them. I didn’t know what to call it until later in life, but I’ve dealt with anxiety as far back as I can remember. Varying from gripping panic to the constant hum of unease, anxiety has been a frequent visitor. I remember having panic attacks so severe that I would pass out. I’m certain that my anxiety comes from being born into a situation that constantly immersed me in hyper-threat alert mode.
So I don’t arrive at these thoughts on anxiety lightly and without experience. I have been my own lab, my own research project, my own source of empirical data. To be clear, these thoughts are what have been of help to me and those I coach and mentor. They may not work for you. I am not a therapist, psychologist or any other sort of mental health professional.
- Anxiety is yours. You own it. And if you begin thinking it’s someone else’s responsibility to fix it, you become its slave.
- No one or no thing actually causes anxiety. Anxiety is entirely an inside game; a construct of the mind/ego. As I overheard recently, “the ego believes all of its stories”.
- Anxiety is trying to protect you. It comes from thousands (maybe millions) of years of evolutionary biology to protect, to survive. But it doesn’t mean something is actually wrong. True danger triggers several responses, but anxiety isn’t one of them.
- You are not your anxiety. In Internal Family System (IFS) behavioral theory, anxiety is a “part” that your psyche created to protect your core self. As I mentioned above, this is why it is trying to protect you. I call this part of me “The Parameter Dog”. On occasion, it still barks at perceived threats — but mostly he just works (once understood, anxiety becomes a fairly decent motivator) or rests like any herding animal.
- Anxiety’s only cure is action. You can’t think your way out of anxiety. That’s why when dealing with anxiety or apanic attack, you’ve got to move. This includes sitting/standing up straight with your shoulders back and your breath even. Or push ups. Or a punching bag. Just move.
- Anxiety comes from the same part of the brain as addiction. So anxiety can fairly easily trigger addictive behavior — especially an addiction to coping mechanisms. This could be relatively benign coping mechanisms like NetFlix binging. Or highly destructive and corrosive mechanisms like drug abuse, excessive consumption of pornography, excessive shopping, excessive eating… to name just a few business models that rely on anxiety.
- Anxiety is heavily influenced by our attachment style. This includes the spiritual aspects of attachment that were taught by Jesus and Buddha as well as the emerging psychological science of attachment. In essence, we have a pre-disposition to either anxious, avoidant or healthy attachment styles. Anxiety plays a major role in the lives of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this book.
- Remember this mantra: Ownership > Anxiety. This loops back to my first thought I shared. You don’t choose anxiety but you do choose how you react to it. Own that you have anxiety. Own your current reaction to it. Own the action you want to take. Own the search for the root cause. Own how it effects how others interact with you.
If you deal with anxiety or love someone that does, I hope these thoughts are helpful. And if you have your own tips and hacks for anxiety, please share them in the comments.