"Anxiety is a signal that something needs to change…. Suffering is when we don't make the change."
~ Bill Crawford

“Anxiety is a signal that something needs to change…. Suffering is when we don’t make the change.” ~ Bill Crawford

Dealing with Intense Anxiety

Five New Steps to Dealing with Anxiety

1. Acknowledge that the pain of anxiety is real. It’s not something that you are making up or imagining. Some situation has triggered your anxiety, and the pain is real. Recent research has noted that physical pain and emotional pain trigger the same areas in the brain. This isn’t your failure to cope.

2. Separate the pain of anxiety from your worth as a human being. Often, when we are overwhelmed with anxiety, we feel like we are failures, unloveable, or damaged goods in some way. Who you are is separate from how you feel. Whatever triggered the anxiety (even if it is a thought or memory from the past) isn’t who you are. This is simply a chemical reaction in your brain and body (See my book, “Life from the Top of the Mind,” for more information on this).

3. Give the pain meaning. When we break a leg or even simply strain a muscle, we feel pain, and this is good information about what needs our attention. Much like a warning light on the dashboard, the pain of anxiety can be a valuable signal that something needs to change or needs our attention. Giving anxiety this sort of meaning begins to change it from the problem to part of the solution. In other words, what this all means is that your middle brain (limbic system) is trying to keep you safe by activating your anxiety. This would be helpful if you were in a dangerous situation which required that you act quickly without thinking to avoid being hurt physically (someone was coming at you with a knife, for example). However, if you are not in any immediate physical danger, this old brain reaction isn’t serving you. In other words you are being thrown into fight-or-flight (anxiety is “flight”) when that isn’t what you need. Good information about data being sent to to the wrong part of the brain!

4. Shift from a focus on the problem to part of the solution. This can be accomplished by identifying the parts of you that are valuable and lovable, and that you are proud of. Here I suggest that you make a list of twenty qualities and/or characteristics of you at your best. These aren’t skills, but qualities, such as, caring, a good listener, conscientious, a good sense of humor, intelligent, passionate, quick learner, etc. If you have trouble coming up with twenty (which most people do), ask your family or friends. It is important to get at least twenty, however, to overwhelm the old brain thinking that your anxiety is an indication of your failure in some way. Making this list has you engaging the purposeful brain (the neocortex, or upper 80% of your brain) versus the reactive brain, and begins to trigger chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins versus the chemicals associated with anxiety, such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol.

5. Now that you have a good idea of who you are at your best (and I encourage you to write these on an index card, or put them on your phone so that you always have them with you), it will be important to create a vision of what your day/life would look like and feel like if you were bringing these qualities to life. What does it feel like when you are being a good listener, conscientious, have a good sense of humor, intelligent, passionate, etc.? What is your body language like… your tone of voice, etc.? Have you ever felt this way in the past? What was that like, and how do you want to bring these qualities and characteristics into what you are doing next, later today, tomorrow, etc.

Given that the mind doesn’t know the difference between a real and imagined event, this process of creating images of who you are at your best and bringing these to life will continue to trigger the sort of chemicals that result in our feeling better and thinking clearer. It will then be important to make practicing being this way very important, because anything that we practice we eventually get good at. Plus, this practice will begin to rewire your brain in such a way that it will make all of this easier in the future.

Again, check out my book, “Life from the Top of the Mind,” for more information on how to pull this off, and/or feel to contact me if I can be of help.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill