I have been scrolling through my tumblr when I saw this post on a favorite blog:
-How do I banish the anxiety loops in my head, that I know are ridiculous, but my stubborn mind won't quit scared my fragile heart with?-
I found lazyyogi.tumblr.com answer to be poignant:
In the movies, there is usually a "good guy" and a "bad guy". Usually the good guy starts off appearing really strong. Then as the plot progresses, the bad guy increases in strength until the point comes where he seems utterly invincible. But in the end, that strength is always revealed to be nothing but a house of cards. The fight may be epic, but the good guy always wins. Usually the seemingly strong foe has a simple weakness that the good guy able to exploit rather easily once he figures it out. This is a lot like anxiety.
It shouldn't be a surprise that the bad guy in this analogy is anxiety, and the good guy is you, the person struggling with anxiety. Anxiety usually comes on small, with just a little nervousness that can be easily dismissed as nothing to worry about. With time, though, it increases in it's intensity until it engulfs your life and your situation seems absolutely hopeless. The important thing to realize is that you are the good guy, and the good guy always wins in the end. The strength that you possess may not seem like a lot, but you have one major thing going for you. Your strength is real. It is grounded within you and cannot be taken away.
The strength of your anxiety or panic may seem overwhelming. But it's not real. It's a house of cards that be blown away with the same breath that you'd use to blow out birthday candles on a cake. It's not real because anxiety has no real power. It relies 100% on YOUR power to fuel it's attacks. Anxiety comes totally from within. It's your brain, and your mind, and your body that are being used against you to cause you to panic. Once you realize this and you see the anxiety for the house of cards that it really is, all you have to do is blow and you'll watch it fall.
It's a lot like Judo. Judo is a form of martial arts that focuses on using an opponents strength against them. You don't have to be strong to practice judo. Instead, you simply rely on the strength of your opponent. You just have to predict how your opponent is going to use their strength and divert it so that their own strength is used against them. This is what anxiety and panic are doing to you. They have no real strength of their own, so they trick you into using the considerable strength that you have on yourself. The harder you try to fight your panic, the more the panic wins and the worse your panic attack becomes. The winning strategy is to not play into what anxiety is leading you to do. It's predicting your attack, and it's waiting and ready to knock you on your back. All you have to do is what it does not expect: accept it. It will have no counter for this. This is much like instead of attacking when it is goading you, just put down your weapons and stand there. Realize that it is unable to attack you on it's own, because it lacks strength. If you stand there and wait, it will go away.
If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
-Marcus Aelius Aurelius
Sweat trickling down, chest discomfort and heart pounding – anxiety is a very real thing. Of the many things I have learned through anxiety, it is this that strikes me as the most curious: To accept is to change.
That has real-life implication for me. And little did I know that will also change the way I view the world.
But back to social anxiety. I refused anxiety. I guess, like most of the people, I am trying to escape what is painful. I will not deny it – anxiety is a very painful experience for me. I have tried – psyching myself that I am not anxious, telling myself that I can deal with this. It worked – in the short term. But it soon crumbled. It was an uphill battle. For most days, I would sit down and try to collect myself, inspiring myself with that Japanese, “Ganbatte!” only to have it wilting as soon as I feel that nervous twitch that I was so familiar with.
What I did not realized was that underlying all these, was a set of beliefs that I held. And through reading, discussions and much self-reflection, I, like many others, have come to the following insights.
First, I realized that anxiety need not restrict us in what we do. We may feel anxious at certain things – but that should not stop us from doing what is necessary. I was told that such an outlook on life is highly unproductive. We should not prefer the emotional-based lifestyle to the action-oriented life. What do I mean? Well, imagine on a lazy Saturday afternoon you might convince yourself that there are chores to be done. But because you felt lazy, you did not do them and in the end, something is left hanging. It would be all right – but think about how permanent your emotions are. Happy? Bored? In the wisdom of Solomon, “This too, shall pass.” Recognize that feelings come and go.
I can, and will continue feeling anxious. No one should and will take away my right to feeling anxious. However, we should not make the mistake of allowing something so impermanent like emotions to decide for us what is permanent. I can feel anxious at talking to people, but that does not always have to lead up to not talking to people, right? I can talk to people anxiously. It’s still talking. And again, we come back to the point that we should not arrange our entire life around anxiety. Anxiety exists and we acknowledge that, but like a spoilt kid, if you are to go with its every whim and fancy, you’d go insane.
Second, acceptance. It’s a powerful tool. Anxiety is painful, trust me on that ;) But there is something bigger than anxiety. That is acceptance. We are designed to escape from anxiety, and anxiety-inducing stimuli. That is how we are wired biologically, and there is no sense in kicking ourselves for being wired like that. Nonetheless, that does not mean we cannot do something about it.
To illustrate my point, I will share my personal experience. I always have qualms about eating with people I don’t know well. I guess, some part of me feels insecure eating outside. I will analyze my every move – the way I eat, does it make me look stupid. And not to mention critical – you idiot, what if they think you’re inept for dropping that piece of chicken on your lap? In short, I was extremely self-conscious about myself.
You get my point. Well, one day, by chance I found myself sitting with my new classmates who felt it was necessary to have me accompany them for lunch. You know those type, they are insistent and if I leave, they’ll pull me back to my seat. I was, in their opinion, too alone.
And again, the experience was quite anxiety-provoking. I was eating carefully, and it was very taxing. Everyone else was talking and laughing. I was however miserable and wanting to get out. I had two options, continue being miserable and tension-filled, or try to enjoy the moment. And I decided on the latter. Obviously. But it wasn’t so easy. I notice thoughts swarming into my head. Do they want you here? They must pity you. Not the most pleasant thought to have. I guessed something in me ticked – exasperated, I retorted with an Ok, and so?
And then no more. I was taken aback. For a while at least. Although occasionally, during then, I had a few more negative thoughts, but they seem reduced in intensity. Muffled, if you will.
It may seem like an unremarkable incident. Eating in public? Really? You might have worse stories to share, and that is fine. But for me, and people with social anxiety disorder, you will know what I’m on about. Tell yourself “I am anxious – I am feeling my hands shaking. I will, however, accept these sensations and thoughts that arise, and see where they will lead me to. ” Of course, acceptance is not just simply telling yourself that – but it makes for a good start.
And there is some basis to what I’m saying. All these techniques are used in therapy to treat anxiety disorder. Mindfulness based therapy, and some variation of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) base their entire treatment on these approach.
Stanley Schwarz is an author of Reducing Social Anxiety: A Self-Help Approach