Struggling with anxiety can be an isolating, unpleasant and debilitating experience. Is it any wonder that the people suffering will try to avoid it?
The problem is this avoidance can stoke the power of anxiety so how can we tackle this increasingly prevalent condition? This very short article seeks to explore some of the thinking styles that keep the vicious cogs of anxiety going.
The biochemistry associated with anxiety prepares us for the fight, flight or freeze response. The part of the brain responsible for this could be thought of as an on-board smoke alarm, constantly on the lookout for threats to our survival. It keeps us safe by activating the sympathetic nervous system which enables us to fight or flee. Of course in more primitive times we may have faced threats to our survival on a daily basis and may well have needed to run away from a predator, fight others for our food or automatically become frozen so that we were in less pain whilst being devoured! But what sends these systems into overdrive these days? Life experiences, thinking styles and a predisposition all have a part to play.
Unhelpful thinking styles can trigger the survival brain into action and once activated the thinking brain struggles to take control it may become difficult to remember things or challenge our negative thinking. It is easy to see how this becomes a vicious cycle.
Something bad is going to happen! If we regularly overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening to us perhaps based on past experience, this pattern of thinking becomes ingrained. Our internal smoke alarm may well feel under threat all of the time!
Worrying keeps me safe. Does worrying keep you safe? If you predict every possible scenario that is likely to occur as a result of your actions are you be protected from hurt, rejection, danger? .
I must be prepared for every eventuality Perhaps you believe if you workout every possible thing that might go wrong you will be more prepared to deal with the situation if it occurs. How many of those scenarios ever come into play? How much time have you wasted worrying unnecessarily?
If I avoid the situation my anxiety will go away. One of the results of distorted thinking and the anxiety is that it creates is avoidant behaviour. Perhaps you can think of an example where you avoided a social situation because you have thought of too many “potential” dangers. Unfortunately when we start to avoid we never get to challenge our fears and distorted predictions so we never get to see that things can take a more positive path and we become locked into that groove of anxiety.
Perhaps together we could get you to step off of that vicious cycle.
Michelle Brown Dip. Couns. MBACP