Not letting anxiety be in the driver seat of your life
Updated: Jul 13, 2022
Many clients come to me for treatment for anxiety disorders. I would even argue that most of us deal with at least some anxiety. It makes sense. Anxiety was useful to our ancestors. It kept them alive, it served a purpose. It is just that in today's world, anxiety can often become extreme and no longer helpful.
Over the years of treating anxiety, I have found that anxiety loves to stop people from doing many things that make their life rich. I work with clients to help them take the power away from their anxiety to make decisions for them. I do exposure therapy with clients to help them - and not their anxiety - take the driver seat of their life. In exposure therapy, you learn to face your anxiety and fears. Over time, exposure therapy teaches you that when you face your fears, what you are afraid of happening doesn't necessarily occur (and even if occasionally it does, it's usually not that bad), and that the anxiety eventually goes away.
The goal is to no longer deal with anxiety by avoiding it, but instead to face it head on. If we go around anxiety and avoid it, nothing changes. If we face our fears and anxiety, things change. Facing our anxiety instead of avoiding allows us to change things.
What if instead of avoiding our anxiety, we became curious? What is it that you are afraid of? Maybe you try facing one thing that makes you a little be anxious, and test out if what you are afraid of actually happens. If it does, was it as bad as you thought it was going to be? Did your anxiety eventually go down?
Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I wanted to try ziplining. I got there. And then I noticed myself feeling very afraid. What if I fall? What if I die? My mind started catastrophizing. I was tempted to call it quits. The fear was strong. The thoughts were paralyzing. I regretted my decision to go ziplining in the first place. But what what would have happened if I had turned around ? I would never learn that I would be OK if I did this scary thing.
And so I recognized that it was okay to feel afraid. And I thought of all the other people who had gone before me who ended up just fine. I did the ziplining. I had so much fun. I learned that I didn't fall, that nothing scary happened, and that the anxiety didn't last long.
Replace this example with anything that you may be afraid of. Maybe it is snakes, or heights. Maybe it is going to that party, or reaching out to someone you met and asking them out for coffee. Maybe it is your own physical symptoms of anxiety. If you are in recovery for an eating disorder, maybe it is going out for ice cream. And then you make the choice to work through the anxiety instead of avoiding it. You go look at that snake at the zoo, go on that hot air balloon, go to the party, ask this new friend for coffee, eat a delicious ice cream. And by doing so, you learn that fears often don't realize. And even if they do, it's usually not that bad.. You don't let your anxiety make your decisions for you. You live a richer life. The only way out is through.