To alleviate anxiety disorders, you need awareness and resilience. However, there is no need to set yourself up for a battle here. Telling yourself you need to fight the condition simply exacerbates it. The attribute you need to foster is understanding. You need to educate yourself and understand the underlying mechanisms that give rise to the condition. You need to expose the negative influences of the psyche saboteurs (the negative aspects of your mind, intent on impeding your progress). The first step on your journey is to recognise the con.
The Anxiety Con
Anxiety disorder is a condition in which fear is induced despite the absence of any real threat. If there was an authentic threat (i.e. real danger), your innate defence mechanisms would activate and you would respond instinctively. So, the first important thing to understand here is:
There is no real threat.
You are responding to is a distortion of your mind, not actuality
To succeed and induce fear, an anxiety disorder has to con you into thinking there is real danger
Anxiety disorder is dependent on a CON – don’t be fooled!
The next thing to do is to recognise the forms the con takes.
Manifestations of the con
With Panic Disorder or Agoraphobia you are conned into believing you’re going to die or lose self –control.
Social Phobia cons you into believing you will look so stupid or nervous in front of people that you will be humiliated. You often project your encounters with people will have the worst possible outcome (catastrophizing).
Specific Phobia: this time you are conned into believing some external object or situation (for example: a confined space, open space, or a spider) poses a threat to your life or well-being.
With OCD you are conned into believing that you’ve set a potential calamity into motion. For example, you’ve left the cooker on and all the occupants of the house will burn, or your whole family will be poisoned because you mishandled the insecticide.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: here you conned into thinking you’re going mad due to constant worrying. Despite all the fear and worry, none of the perceived disasters or calamities materialise. However, instead of feeling free and liberated, your mind becomes fixated on finding the next calamity.
Once you’ve identified the con and accepted that you are being duped, the next thing to do is issue the challenge.
Issuing the challenge
A perceived threat of danger causes us to revert to three kinds of behaviour:
Fight: If it looks weaker and faster than me, I’ll fight
Flight: If it looks stronger but slower than me, I’ll run away.
Freeze: if it looks stronger and faster than me, I’ll freeze.
When people are conned into believing they’re in danger (for example, they experience a panic attack, obsessive thoughts, or a phobic encounter), they try to protect themselves with some variation of the Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. Instead of challenging their thoughts and recognising the mental distortion, they accept their plight and submit to negative ingrained responses. Let me illustrate with some examples:
- A person with Panic Disorder gets conned into holding their breath and fleeing a supermarket. There is no rationale to support their behaviour. Onlookers find their reaction bizarre.
- A person with OCD gets conned into repeatedly washing his hands, or returning home to check the stove, rather than accepting the intrusive thoughts as mental contamination and concentrating on the matter in hand.
When one of these scenarios arises, the first thing to do is recognise the con. You are not acting on a genuine threat; you are re-acting to the psyche saboteur .
If you keep re-acting (repeating negative patterns) you will simply reinforce the neural networks in the brain that support the negativity. However, if you break the pattern with an alternative way of behaving, the negative neural networks will start to disband. To elaborate, the next section will look at how the brain operates: