How to make anxiety worse
Of course, we never want to make our anxiety worse.
A really common way to deal with feelings of anxiety is to avoid situations where we might feel anxious.
We might consciously feel that if we can just avoid putting ourselves in these situations, our anxiety will improve.
However, if we continuously try to avoid our feelings of anxiety, over time it can actually get worse.
How is that possible?
According to John Arden in Rewire Your Brain, the following types of avoidance contribute to anxiety:
- Escape behaviour – things you do in the heat of the moment to get out of an anxiety-provoking situation such as fleeing a crowded room
- Avoidant behaviour – staying away from anxiety-provoking situations, focusing on activities that are not conducive to your success and happiness, continually getting involved in other people’s issues rather than focusing on your own goals
- Procrastination – such as feeling anxious about doing something so you put it off to the last minute, perhaps making yourself run late, spending excessive time on social media
- Safety behaviour – doing or carrying things to distract yourself to give yourself a sense of safety, such as picking at your fingers, playing with your phone, creating a nervous habit
Do you recognise any of these?
Each of these behaviours may provide a temporary benefit of appearing to diminish your anxiety.
However, over time they reinforce your belief that you can’t handle certain situations and can actually increase your anxiety levels:
“A paradox occurs when you avoid what you fear, because your fear then grows. This is counterintuitive, because when you avoid what you fear for a short time, your fear does decrease. Over a longer period, however, avoidance allows the anxiety to flourish …
You have to try to work against avoidance, even though it seems to make you feel better.
I call this challenging the paradox.
Challenging the paradox means doing away with avoidance and replacing it with exposure. Exposure means facing what makes you feel anxious.
By exposing yourself to anxiety-provoking situations, you become habituated to them, and your anxiety will eventually diminish.
(Arden, p38, 39)”
How might this work?
Arden makes several suggestions to help you reduce anxiety levels:
- Exposing yourself to what you’re fearful of
- Using mindfulness
- Paying attention to the tone and perspective you use to describe your experiences, “The more you describe your ongoing experiences in a particular way, the stronger the neural circuits that represent those thoughts will become. Your narratives can be positive or negative (p43)”
- Consciously developing positive beliefs that will support you to handle situations that cause you to feel anxious
Kinesiology and anxiety
Kinesiology is really helpful for working with anxiety.
Sometimes, I’ll actually ask clients to focus on the times they have felt most anxious. Otherwise we might talk about the worst case scenario for a situation you’re worried about. Once we’ve increased your anxiety levels (which sounds horrid but it’s only for a short time), we then ask your body (via muscle testing) what is needed to decrease your anxiety levels.
Again, focusing on worst case scenarios might seem counter-intuitive, but Arden’s explanations explain why it’s effective. Rather than avoiding your anxiety, you’re actually facing it which allows it to be addressed. I don’t recommend this outside of a Kinesiology session however, without any kind of remedy or process to bring you back into a state of balance and ease. We definitely don’t just leave you stuck with your increased anxiety.
Clients always tell me they feel much calmer about these stressors by the end of the session. They will often comment that they now feel more detached from the anxiety/situation or that it’s harder to think about. Their anxiety usually continues to decrease over the coming days (and sometimes weeks).
When we put in new goals for how you’d like to be feeling, such as relaxed, confident and in control, we’re strengthening the neural pathways for these feelings and beliefs.
When we deal with anxiety in a Kinesiology session, we’re decreasing the strength of neural pathways causing you anxiety and increasing the strength of neural pathways causing you to feel calm.
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