“Truths” About Anxiety and Fear
- Anxiety is Part of Life.
Only the dead are not anxious. Anxiety is necessary for life.
- Anxiety Does Not Kill.
Anxiety is there to protect and motivate you.
- Anxiety & Panic Do Not Last Forever.
A panic attack has a clear beginning and a clear downturn. Nature has designed ways to protect us from being harmed, so endless panic does not occur.
- Anxiety is Fear or Worry.
When you think about anxiety, translate it into fear to understand it better. If you are anxious, it means you fear or worry about something.
- Fear Tends to be Specific.
Sometimes you might have to struggle to find what makes you anxious (what you fear or worry about), but it’s almost always there.
- Anxiety is Future-Oriented: It has to Do With Uncertainty.
You cannot control the uncertainty of life, but try to accept it. In contrast, the past is known. There is no anxiety or worry about the past, unless a past event has potential repercussions for the future. You may feel regrets about the past, but not anxiety and worry.
- The Things You Avoid are Not the Problem.
The problem is that you don’t want to experience uncertainty, actually meaning that bad things could happen. The avoidance is what creates problems.
- The More Energy You Put into Controlling Anxiety, the Less You Can Control It.
The paradox is that only when you accept your anxiety will it cease to be a problem.
- The More You Place Anxiety on a Pedestal, the More of Your Life It Will Take Up.
If you let it, anxiety will take over more and more of your life. The more you let anxiety dictate your actions, the less freedom you will have.
- “A Panic Attack Is as Bad as You Fear It at the Time and It Will Last as Long as You Keep Fearing It.”
These are wonderful mottos to heed from Dr. Roger Tilton at the 2000 ADAA Conference.
- Avoidance Feeds Anxiety.
You never overcome a phobia by avoiding it. Fear increases in the absence of learning about and facing the situation you fear.
- Confidence Comes Only on the Other Side of Fear.
Only when you face and master your fears, are you truly free. Likewise, not until you have panic attacks and don’t respond to them with fear, do you know that you can handle panic when it occurs.
- Willingness is the Best Guide.
Being willing to experience anxiety and panic is needed, not courage, not “I’ll try.”
Healthy and Unhealthy Avoidance
We all avoid certain situations and experiences at times. We put off certain thoughts, try to avoid pain, stay away from risky activities. Using avoidance and control strategies can be useful to help us cope with day-to-day life and avoid some hazards that living presents. Examples are avoiding driving on New Year’s Eve or ignoring some unpleasant events. However, these avoidances are not intense and there is flexibility.
Such deliberate control strategies become unhelpful if we apply them consistently to unwanted and aversive emotions, thoughts, and other experiences. When they have negative repercussions in our life, making it more constricted and limited, then we are engaging in what is called “experiential avoidance.” Modern behavioral therapies recognize the centrality of this problem.
When the stance is “I don’t want to have X thoughts / X sensations / X memories / X experiences,” the person might engage in compulsions to get rid of the thoughts, do repeated rituals to gain reassurance about their worrisome health or appearance issues, or avoid situations and activities to fend off physical sensations of panic and anxiety.
If Unhelpful, Why Do We Do This?
Panic & Anxiety: If we interpret the sensations associated with these events as leading to catastrophe, the threat being physical (hearth attack), mental (insanity), or social (embarrassment), then the anxiety is not only experienced as aversive, but on top of it is judged as being dangerous.
Other Unwanted Emotional States: If we think that it is abnormal/bad to feel at times sad, angry, deeply disappointed, we are more likely to think that we cannot cope with such sensations.
Unwanted Terrifying or Repugnant Thoughts: If we think any unwanted thoughts are dangerous and makes us likely to act them out, we are likely to engage in suppression or distraction.
Painful Memories: If we think that not thinking of certain memories makes them go away, we may try to run from them. Yet if they bother us, they are there no matter how much we push them under the rug.
The avoidance leads to a worse experience with the unwanted thoughts, including more anxiety, more sadness, more anger, and more unwanted thoughts.
- We need to make room for all kinds of emotions, sensations, thoughts, and experiences in order to life a full life.
- Our motto should be to approach, not avoid life.
- When things become difficult, we can avail ourselves of the support from others like friends or family, or whoever cares for us.
- We can journal about our experiences.
- We can try to balance the bad with good things that we know make us smile or laugh.
- We can exercise, one of the best antidotes for anxiety and depression.
What It Is
Things are seen in black-and-white. Something is either perfect or not good, 100% or 0%. This is different from “trying one’s best,” which implies doing as well as one can under the circumstances. The latter takes into account that we are human and that external pressures and limitations play a role. E.g., a project might be done at 80% because of time limits, or we accomplish 60% of our usual work when we are somewhat ill. The perfectionistic stance, in contrast, does not allow for situational or personal impediments. It still must be done at 100% and the person sees the task otherwise as a failure and blames himself or herself. People can be perfectionists in certain or in most areas of their lives.
Repercussions of Perfectionism
As you can see, perfectionism creates a huge amount of internal stress. As a personality trait, it poses thus a risk factor to develop any anxiety disorder, and especially obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder.
What You Can Do
It is difficult to want to give up perfectionism and difficult to do. The “want to” refers to the illusion of control that we create. The “difficult to” refers to the compelling drive to keep doing it after having practiced it over and over.
Yet it can be changed. An excellent way is to start doing little things that do not matter much purposefully imperfectly. Examples are making the bed imperfectly, cleaning the house imperfectly, wearing clothes that do not fit perfectly with each other, arranging the furniture imperfectly, writing e-mails to friends with mistakes, messing up the order on how you do things if you usually follow a strict order, saying the wrong word when talking to friends, acquaintances, or strangers. Obviously, we do not suggest that a computer expert create purposefully an imperfect program or that a surgeon do a transplant purposefully imperfectly. Over time you will likely observe less internally created stress and greater flexibility.