Everyone struggles with anxiety from time to time. Some of us have a closer relationship with it than others. But even though anxiety is universal, there are still plenty of misconceptions about how it functions and what helps to treat it. Below anxiety experts reveal the truths about anxiety—many insights which might surprise you.
The skills we use for everything else in life are utterly ineffective for anxiety.
According to Debra Kissen, PhD., M.H.S.A, a psychologist and clinical director of Light On Anxiety Treatment Center in Chicago, Ill., let’s say you have a flat tire. Naturally, you would do whatever you can to fix your tire. You certainly wouldn’t say, “Oh, well. I have a flat tire. I’ll just accept it.”
But this is exactly what you need to do with anxiety.
“When it comes to anxiety and other uncomfortable emotional experiences, the more you try to fix it, the stronger the reaction will be,” said Kissen, also co-author of the Panic Workbook for Teens. A lot of healthy coping behaviors—such as taking slow, gentle belly breaths, avoiding caffeine, being with loved ones—when held lightly, can be super helpful, she said.
However, when done out of desperation to decrease anxiety, they become safety behaviors that signal “danger.” In other words, you start thinking, “I must not be safe. Why is it so dangerous to be drinking caffeine?” or “I must always be with my spouse. Any time I’m alone, I feel out of control.”
Ultimately, the problem isn’t with the tool you’re using or the action you’re taking; it’s the function. Is the function of your meditation practice to create health and wellness or to make anxiety go away, because it’s intolerable?
You might experience more fear before you feel better.
When something produces symptoms of anxiety, we naturally avoid it. Which is understandable, because who wants to feel distressed? But avoidance feeds anxiety its favorite food. Because the more we avoid a situation, the more anxious we become about it.
One of the best ways to treat anxiety is to experience it, to face your fears, said Emily Bilek, Ph.D, an assistant professor of clinical psychology who specializes in anxiety disorders at the University of Michigan. Which, of course, is counterintuitive because you’re trying to reduce your anxiety—not make it worse. But that’s precisely what you do in cognitive behavioraltherapy, a technique that’s called “exposure.”
Read the rest of the article here.