Tip #45: When you feel anxiety strike, just continue doing exactly what you were doing before. No matter how hard it is. Just keep swimming.
The why: The problem-finding centre of your brain, the amygdala (Amy for short) is constantly on the look out for trouble.
Within the mind of a person who has anxiety, Amy is even more alert than usual.
Threats can be detected anywhere at anytime.
Sometimes, Amy can be a very, very useful friend to have. She has kept our species alive for over 2.5 million years.
But sometimes, Amy can be more like the boy (or girl) who cried wolf. Constantly telling you there’s trouble when there is none.
Here’s a scenario:
Imagine Amy is your anxious self, a close associate of yours. Imagine you two sitting at dinner with friends when suddenly she begins to panic.
“You know you can’t leave here halfway without looking strange, you’re trapped here by social convention.”
“Oh my gosh, I think that knife is too sharp, what if I cut myself?”
“What if I choke on my food?”
“What if there’s a fire in the restaurant?”
Now ask yourself this: what would you do if a friend was saying these things?
If you have ever had someone you care about become very stressed about something, you know that the worst possible thing you can do is begin to freak out too.
If you don’t remain chilled as a penguin, it tells them that the fear is justified, that they should be scared.
By panicking too, you legitimise their thought process.
However, if you stay cool, calm and collected, then they also begin to calm down as they see there is no real threat.
This scenario is exactly what happens inside your brain if when your amygdala begins to bleep like a fire alarm.
If, when you feel yourself becoming anxious, you rise to it and begin looking for exits, if you stop what you’re doing, you’re legitimising the anxious thought process.
You’re agreeing that there is trouble.
The best way to overcome this is to stand. your. ground.
Tell your anxiety:
“I’m staying right here, I’m continuing exactly what I was doing no matter what you throw at me, no matter how horrible it feels. There is no danger. I am in control and you’re not going to ruin it.”
It may take a few minutes, but I promise this method really does work if you commit to it.
For instance, the other day a friend’s mother took us for pizza (amazing woman, amazing food), and whilst sitting at the table I began to feel incredibly anxious with no warning or build up.
So, despite the fact that I felt I couldn’t breathe, despite my head fog, despite my sweaty palms I sat there, I spoke, I laughed, I smiled. I acted as if nothing was wrong and told my anxiety that there was no point, I was going to sit here and have a nice evening regardless of whatever it was doing to me.
After about two minutes, it subsided. I showed it that I was okay, that I could be calm, that there was no danger.
Wherever you are, if you feel anxiety begin to strike, just keep doing what you’re doing.
Just keep swimming.