If you’re trying to overcome anxiety, then you’ll know that everyone around you (friends, family, even doctors) will constantly tell you to treat your anxiety, to fight it, to medicate it, to talk about it in therapy. People will tell you to do everything but just accept it.
And the crazy thing is, accepting it and letting it be is the first step to getting it to stop.
This is one of those weird things that sounds like it can’t be true, but it really is. You’re probably asking how letting yourself panic and doing nothing to stop it could possibly stop you panicking and being anxious, and how it could ever help you overcome anxiety?
Okay, an example to prove my point, because you need to accept this so you can benefit from it.
Chinese finger traps.
You know them, I bet. You put one finger in each end and it tightens as you pull your fingers apart. The more you pull, the tighter it gets. The only way to get your fingers out is to push them together to relieve the tension.
Imagine for a minute you had your fingers in a Chinese finger trap, and you didn’t know how they worked. Imagine you knew you would die if you didn’t get your fingers free within 20 seconds.
Do you think you would ever consider pushing your fingers together? No way. Because if you thought you were going to die, the severe panic you’d feel means you would switch completely onto instinct.
When you panic, instinct is all there is.
And when you think that getting your fingers free is the only way to live, the only thing you’ll be doing is pulling them apart.
Panic attacks and severe anxiety work exactly like Chinese finger traps. When your anxiety increases, that’s just like putting your fingers in the Chinese finger trap.
And the way you fight the panic and try to stop it happening is just the same as trying to pull your fingers apart. It makes the trap tighter and it makes your panic worse.
The worse your panic gets, the more you pull. And before you know it, you’re in a vicious circle of panic and struggle, panic and struggle, panic and struggle.
This doesn’t just happen with panic attacks either.
Your general day-to-day anxiety is like this too. Your instinct is to fight it, to stop it, to somehow make it go away by doing something. When really, the solution is not to do something.
I hope this is making sense the way I’m explaining it, because trust me, when you get this it will change everything. So even if you’re not really with me yet, I’d like to give you a little exercise you can try so you can see for yourself that this works, and you need to stick with me here, because this is genuinely a way to overcome anxiety, even in the worst cases.
Here’s What You’re Going To Do Next
Next time your anxiety increases to the point that it’s unpleasant, or even when you have a full-blown attack, you’re going to do a kind of “mini mindfulness mediation session.”
But a very specific session.
When your anxiety increases, or your panic attack happens, sit down or lie down and consciously let your anxiety or panic happen.
Let it happen like you’re watching yourself from the outside. You’re just watching someone else being anxious. And then start to focus on the most unpleasant and strongest sensations your panic and anxiety is causing you.
It might be:
- rapid breathing
- unpleasant thoughts
- or anything else that affects you
Whatever is worse for you when you panic.
And yes, I really did say that: focus on the worse things. And do nothing.
In mindfulness meditation, you focus entirely on one or two things so they occupy your mind, and this leads to eventual relaxation. In your case, you’re going to use the unpleasant physical and mental effects of anxiety as your focal points.
And inside your mind, as you focus on these things, you’re going to talk yourself through them. Not judging them, not being angry at them. Nothing.
Just neutral observations.
So you might say to yourself, “My breathing is fast, much faster than normal. I can feel my lungs filling and emptying and I can feel my heart beating hard.” And observe your breathing while you do this.
No judgments at all. Just like a bland commentary.
“My head’s spinning and I’m thinking about heart attacks and dying,” and whatever other things go through your mind at times like these. And just keep this up.
Noting how you feel, narrating it to yourself in your mind, not fighting or trying to stop or change the way you feel.
If things that are unpleasant get better, describe how they’re better to yourself, still not judging or trying to force the changes.
Just let it happen.
A panic attack never ended because you wanted it to, remember that, so you’re not losing anything here.
And while you’re thinking these things to yourself, have a picture in your mind of a Chinese finger trap, and remind yourself that fighting against the trap makes the trap tighten around you.
Don’t give your panic any more power by fighting it.
This exercise might sound slightly silly to you, but it works because it saves you the struggle against your panic every time your anxiety increases.
It works because when you do this enough, you train your body and your mind not to dwell on anxiety when you notice it. Instead, you learn to let it exist there until it passes.
This is how people without anxiety disorders do it.
People without severe anxiety problems have anxiety and worries too, but they aren’t trained to resist it the way you are, so it passes and they move on.
You can become like this too, and if you can start using the simple technique I’ve shared with you today you can become like this very soon. It’s exercises like the one you’ve just learned that really help people to overcome anxiety, even after years where there seemed to be no hope at all.
You owe it to yourself to give it a shot.