By Brianna Wiest
We tend to place “anxiety” somewhere in the “emotional” issue sphere, assuming that it’s causes, and solutions, are strictly mental. In reality, our bodies are interdependent organisms, and often, we fail to recognize how our ancient, animalistic systems are just misfiring and misfunctioning in a modern society wherein we do not know how to make sense of them.
David Carbonell attributes a struggle with anxiety to getting caught in the “anxiety trick,” or when our minds confuse discomfort for danger.
He explains that when you’re in danger, you have three options: fight, flight or freeze. Your reaction is dependent on on how well you can size up the threat (which is what accounts for a lot of overthinking).
The problem arises when we respond to “danger” rather than “discomfort.”
He gives the following as evidence: a person with a panic disorder gets tricked into the physiological response of holding their breath and fleeing rather than deep breathing and allowing the feeling to pass. A person with generalized anxiety gets tricked into trying to figure out where the danger in the “what if” thoughts comes from, rather than just letting them come and go. A person with social phobia gets tricked into avoiding a party, rather than attending, and speaking with people. A person with a fear of an animal gets tricked into avoiding the animal to stay “safe,” rather than spending some time with it until the feeling passes.
The point is that in responding to anxiety as though it is danger, we make choices to resolve the feeling that are more appropriate for if there were an actual threat. When we feel better because we have avoided the “danger,” we think we have solved the problem. We have not.
Most often anxiety is just a discomfort that we have to allow to come and pass. Legitimate danger is not something we ever have to wonder about. You will know when you’re in danger. You will have anxiety when you are not, but you think you are.
It is reinforcing the “danger” response that leads to more intrusive thoughts and intense emotions, as well. If you “solve” an emotional issue by acting as though it’s dangerous, you teach yourself that there’s real danger, which is why your reaction to the issue only intensifies the next time you experience it.
The point is that learning to overcome anxiety has a lot to do with simply allowing the feeling of discomfort without trying to over-react to it. If you learn how to stop over-assigning meaning to sensations in your body, you’ll learn how to actually respond to your emotions in a healthy way.