I don't know about you, but I find anxiety a powerful emotion, which can make us feel small, trapped and completely overwhelmed. But while we may perceive being attacked and held hostage by this feeling, we all know that anxiety doesn't come from the outside, but is created by our mind. This doesn't mean we have to blame ourselves for feeling scared and anxious; instead, we can feel encouraged that if our mind can create such a powerful emotion, it can certainly also learn how to 'un-create' it. We just have to be mindful of the 5 mistakes we can make that will, unfortunately, make anxiety worse.
For almost twenty years, I have been on my soapbox about how to view anxiety not as our enemy but as our responsibility. Rather than wrestling with our emotions, we need to accept them as a form of communication from the deeper parts of our mind. When it comes to anxiety, at first glance, its messages are about not being safe, or being worried about the future. Yet, when we dig a bit deeper, we realize that the reason why we feel anxious isn't that we are in danger, but because our subconscious got triggered into self-defense mode.
For example, you have a new colleague at work - let's call him Joe. He is a big guy who speaks loud and appears very confident. Since he joined the team, you are getting more and more anxious about going to work. Sundays are the worst. You tell yourself that there is nothing to be concerned about and that he is a perfectly nice fellow. But your anxiety pays no attention to your reasoning and gets only worse and worse. So what is the message behind your feeling? Maybe Joe's physique reminds you of a sibling or a kid in school who bullied you. Or perhaps his self-assured demeanor brings up a sense of not being good enough. Although Joe hasn't done anything to cause your anxiety, your subconscious cross-references his appearance with whatever happened in your past.
Another example could be a phobia - let's say of dogs - which stems from when you were little, sitting in the stroller, and the neighbor's overly enthusiastic Fido licked your whole face. Even though it was just a friendly gesture, for your child-mind, it appeared that you were about to become a snack.
So what can you do to ease your anxiety? Quit your job, get rid of Joe, avoid dogs or suppress your emotions? None of the above will provide you with long-term relief. To heal your anxiety at its core, you need to address the unresolved events of the past, and you need to replace the limiting beliefs that your mind established at that time with new, self-empowering perspectives on yourself and the world.
While this concept of healing anxiety has proven to be very effective, there is something that can throw a wrench into the works. And that is when you get afraid of your anxiety. Since the emotion feels so scary, all you can think of is when and how it will attack you again. You constantly worry about being in public or with friends and having to deal with one of these awful episodes. I completely understand. Unfortunately, this 'secondary' anxiety can almost become an obsession, which distracts you entirely from what the original anxiety was all about. It is like trying to run away from your own shadow rather than turning toward the light.
The fear of your own emotions is one of five common mistakes that make anxiety worse. When I was dealing with bouts of anxiety, I certainly made all of them. I wish somebody would have told me how to avoid them - which I will share with you in my next episode of Get Real. If you or somebody you care about are struggling with anxiety, you don't want to miss this episode.
Tune in Thursday, May 6th at 9AM PT / 12PM ET on this page or Facebook Live.