How to Control Anxiety: Should You?

The harder I tried to stop thinking about it…………..the faster I thought about it.

Don’t think about the pink elephant.

The harder I tried not to feel it….the stronger I felt it.

Don’t feel the couch on your back.

If you’ve been properly treated for OCD then you know the answer will never be to stop. You can’t stop thoughts. You can’t stop anxiety. And you shouldn’t try! What then should you be doing? 

Want the thoughts. Want the anxiety. The only way out is in, not out.

If someone is telling you to just “knock it off” send them this blog. If you’re telling yourself to knock if off…keep reading!

Let’s assume your OCD is a little you. A three or four year-old version of you. If this is true, and I think it is…telling such a young worrying child to “KNOCK it OFF” is not really teaching any kind of life lesson. 

A young boy is about to take the stage for the first time in his life and sing with the chorus. His brain is asking, “What’s wrong? How come my legs feel funny?” The brain MUST search for and provide an explanation. “Why are my legs wobbly???” The brain must explain. It’s human nature. If there’s an explanation there’s got to be a solution.

Searching for an explanation can occur below the threshold of consciousness. You don’t even know you’re doing it. The attempt to explain physiological sensations can be too subtle for the conscious mind.

Only one or two seconds have passed. Ah-Ha!!! The brain has found a reason for the wobbly legs!!!! “Mommy, what if I fall in front of everyone? I feel like I’m going to fall!”

What do you think most Mommies say? I hope you take the poll before reading any further! We’ll have lots of fun if you do!

 

The problem isn’t the wobbly legs. Agreed? The wobbly legs are a symptom of the problem. If we only talk about the wobbly legs, then we address the symptom but not the cause.

“You’re not going to fall. Your legs are very strong.” In this response the focus is on the legs. But, what’s causing the wobbly legs?  

“Here, drink some water and think about the pizza we’re eating after this.” The focus is on trying to stop worrying about the wobbly legs. Distract. Reassure. “You’ll be just fine.” Don’t think about the pink elephant. Don’t feel the couch against your back.

“The chances of you falling are very low. It’s possible but not probable. So far no one else on that stage has fallen. So you’re not likely to fall either. And I bet they’ve got wobbly legs too.”

Again, the focus is on the wobbly legs not being likely to cause a fall. Why won’t this work? Because that little brain of his quickly calculated that he could be the one and only kid that falls.


In this precious moment, this boy has an opportunity to learn a life lesson. This is the kind of lesson that will carry him through many rough times in his life.

The answer to his question, “Mommy, what if I fall” has the power to rewrite the script playing in his mind.

The way you answer your question also has the power to rewrite your inner thinking patterns. Even though your thought patterns are automatic due to practice and repetition you can retrain your brain.

Let’s talk about the little boy’s wobbly legs for a minute. We all agree that the problem isn’t his wobbly legs. Right? It’s his anxiety.

Anxiety is felt physically. In nerve endings. In muscles-tense or weak. Aches. Pains. Twitches. In breath-fast or slow. In the skin-clammy or itchy. The racing heart. Upset stomach. Tremors. Saliva.

There’s nerve endings everywhere so anxiety can be felt anywhere! 

The brain doesn’t like unexplained things. It will notice the physical sensation, create a story to explain the physical sensation, and it will build control mechanisms into the story.

When the brain explains the physical sensation, it won’t automatically consider that it’s just ANXIETY!!! And it certainly won’t conclude that the anxiety is okay. (That part has to be learned.)

Instead the brain will focus on finding a way to stop the discomfort. It will focus on the story, not the anxiety.

How can it be stopped. Hmmmmm, lets think of a story that has control mechanisms. How might this look for the little boy afraid to take the stage?

“If I skip three times and jump up once, I won’t fall.” Does that sound like OCD? The focus is on controlling the situation. The brain created a story that explains the physical sensation and now he has something he can do about it.

He probably won’t fall. So what will the brain conclude? “You didn’t fall because of that skip and jump thing you did. Good job buddy! See! Anytime your legs are wobbly, skip and jump and you won’t fall.” Liar, liar pants on fire!!!

The compulsion has been reinforced in the inner thinking-below the threshold of consciousness. And now the subconscious will run the show. This will easily grow into a habit and soon he won’t even remember why he does what he does.

This little boy has anxiety. Your OCD is young, like him. A three or four year-old part of your mind. It’s only a part of your mind. There are so many other beautiful parts to your mind. But, this part has the potential to run the entire show.

What is the life lesson this little boy has an opportunity to learn? What will make his brain a lean, mean fighting machine? Choose as many answers as you think will be most helpful:

 

The actionable steps for YOU to take are:

  1. Stay focused on the anxiety-not the story that is trying to control the anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t need to be fixed. Notice it, name it and move on. Steer away from the story and go towards the anxiety.
  2. Want the anxiety. Want the thoughts generating the anxiety. “Good, there you are. I need the practice.”
  3. Seek the anxiety. “Let’s see if I can make myself anxious right now and learn to experience it as something making me stronger.”

The anxiety comes from a very young part of you that truly doesn’t know very much about life at all. But, you have all these other beautiful parts of your brain that are very rationale and fun-loving.

Let those parts talk to the little you, who really shouldn’t be leading the way.  

I’ll lead the way now.

“I know you’re afraid and uncomfortable, but I know how to move forward. You can trust me.”

One other actionable step you can take:

To work on rewriting your inner thinking patterns, let’s rewire the messages that are exposed to the mind, but are too subtle for the conscious mind to know about.

Using post-it notes or reminders on your phone, or messages that flash on your computer while you work, write messages like these:

  • I can meet any challenge even though I’m anxious.
  • I’m ready for anything because I don’t mind anxiety.
  • I go after what I want in life even though I’m anxious.
  • Everyday my confidence grows stronger because I’m okay being anxious.

You don’t even have to read them. They’ll be picked up by your subconscious mind.

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