Learn to Separate You from Anxiety

If you’re ready to escape the persistent pressure of anxiety, your first step will be learning how to think of anxiety as something separate from yourself. Learning to notice your Anxiety as it happens and developing a curiosity about it will do wonders to free you from the overwhelming feeling Anxiety is so good at creating.

I want you to consider that Anxiety has its own goals, needs, and wants. Just like us, it has its own set of skills or tools for meeting these needs. Anxiety wants to feel important and needed.

To separate yourself, you will begin welcoming curiosity and interest in your Anxiety. When you feel Anxiety calling from the back of your mind, you will not run or panic, but instead you will learn to tune in with an objective interest to hear what it wants, determine if it’s an important want, and then make a decision to act based on what you learn.

Understanding What Anxiety Wants

Before I go on about how to tame your anxiety, let’s take a moment to talk about why Anxiety is actually useful for us.

Anxiety wants to protect us from harm. It comes from one of the oldest parts of our brain and is directly related to our safety. Our brain is constantly taking in information from our senses and processing it incredibly quickly while looking for signs of danger. When it notices something out of place, it sends a signal to another part of our brain where it is then cross-checked against a catalogue of past threats looking for matches. If it sees a potential match, it pulls the emergency alarm and puts our body in the classic fight, flight, or freeze response.

Of course this process is incredibly useful… when the threat is real. Sometimes, though, Anxiety is too good at its job and fires off false alarms. Too often Anxiety gets stuck operating on a 10 when it should be running closer to a 3 or 4.

Understanding why we experience anxiety is a first step in developing a more healthy relationship with our Anxiety. When we understand that our Anxiety is trying to protect us, we can start to get rid of the self-criticism and frustration that often accompanies Anxiety. Instead, we can say, “Oh, look! My brain is working as it should to protect me. Thanks, brain, but I’ve got this handled right now”.

Anxiety as a Competition

Another trick to learning to separate yourself from you anxiety is learning to think about your relationship with anxiety as a sort of competition. In this competition there are two competitors; You and Anxiety. As with any competition, you both bring certain strategies and skills to the table. If you have found yourself on the losing end of this competition, it’s because Anxiety knows your weaknesses. It has studied you to find just the right button to push, just the right thought to offer you, or just the right “what if” question to throw at you when the competition gets tight.

If you want to start adding to your win column, you’re going to have to change your strategy. You need to dive into the game plan of anxiety. You need to pour over the film. Digest the habits. Pick apart weaknesses of Anxiety. If you cannot manage to match anxiety blow for blow, you must become more strategic and intellectual in your competition.

Likely, you have been playing the game by Anxiety’s rules. Anxiety gets points when it prompts you to start ruminating.  Rumination occurs when you experience a distressing thought and then continue to think about that thought over and over and over. Anxiety tries to convince us that if we just think about the thought hard enough and long enough, then we will be able to either come up with a solution or at least consider all the possible scenarios we might have to face. Don’t fall for this. This is Anxiety playing its game and trust me, there is no end to the possibilities that Anxiety can throw at you. As long as you are willing to fear possible scenarios, Anxiety is willing to continue feeding them to you.

You score points when you are able to notice Anxiety’s plays and not respond in the way it intends for you to. This might mean you distract yourself, or you paradoxically welcome Anxiety, or a number of other strategies we will discuss in future posts. The point here is to begin developing an ability to notice your Anxiety without automatically responding to it.

Setting Boundaries with Anxiety

Anxiety (and most other emotions) are only meant to be the first step in our mind’s problem-solving process.

Anxiety should serve to warn us of danger but should then pass off the information it has gathered to more logical parts of our brain. This allows us to determine if the danger is actually worth following up on. If it is, great, we will begin to take actions which reduce the chance of harm. Thanks, Anxiety! If it is not, then we will thank Anxiety for trying and then choose actions we are comfortable with.

Setting healthy boundaries means that we learn to recognize the tricks Anxiety uses to keep itself in our minds and learning to speak assertively to Anxiety. For example we might tell Anxiety, “I know you are trying to protect me and I appreciate that, but you are standing in the way of me living my life and I am choosing to act as though your information is unhelpful or inaccurate”.

Before you can speak to Anxiety in this way, though, you have to first get comfortable thinking of Anxiety as something separate from yourself.

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If you would like to discuss your own anxiety or learn more specific ways to address your anxiety, you should get in touch me with through my contact page: Contact Me

Ben Taylor is a counselor in Johnson City and Kingsport, TN. He provides counseling for adolescents, adults, and couples. He specializes in treating Anxiety related concerns including OCD, Panic, Social Anxiety, and PTSD. He also works closely with couples seeking to increase effective communication, navigate infidelity, and rekindle past romances. 

Ben sets himself apart of other counselors by making therapy a more personal experience. He works well with clients new to therapy and challenges the notion of what it means to be in therapy. Ben strives to make therapy a more normal experience by developing a sincere interest in his clients, balancing humor and honesty, and offering a non-judgmental space for creating your ideal self. He takes pride in creating a counseling experience that is genuine enough for laughter and tears but honest enough to talk about what needs to be changed.

This content was originally published here.