It is widely understood now that anxiety and depression are common antagonists across the world. Millions suffer every day and the worst part is that most don’t understand it. They don’t know what they’re feeling; they’re just scared. Since they don’t know what they’re feeling, they certainly don’t know how to correct it. Then they accept a very disappointing negative belief that they are strange/weird/crazy. That then leads to low confidence and therefore low creativity, which leads to a really poor quality of life. This giant so many of us wrestle every single day robs millions of wonderful people of a good life.
If you aren’t sure what anxiety feels like, check out this recent viral video on it. The video does great to share what it feels like and maybe makes it relatable, but doesn’t offer any skills to get better. My goal is to share a skill.
My Anxiety Story
I have lived with anxiety since I was about 8 years old and I never really lived a great life until about 4 years ago when I got my hands on the greatest anxiety book I ever read: Joshua Fletcher’s Anxiety: Panicking About Panic. This is not a sales pitch, so don’t worry. I do have to tell you though this book is so simple that it is extremely powerful. I remember when someone recommended I read it I was angry. “Do you know how many books I’ve read? How many things I’ve tried!?” Well, I was wrong. It breaks down the symptoms of anxiety to make you feel relatable. It then explains in simple terms what is happening in your body to cause the feelings of fear and heightened, well, everything. Simply understanding what is happening in the body takes the power away from anxiety.
*If you cannot afford to buy this book, please let me know. I will find a way to get it to you. It is that powerful.
My anxiety was the result of a negative thinking habit that I never resolved as I grew up. It started with being sort of picked at in school for being the quiet kid so I was sort of scared of school and social settings. As if school isn’t scary enough already for a kid. I would literally throw up in my mouth almost every morning thinking about having to go to school. I remember days when I felt brave I would dance around our table with my sweet sister and say, “I’m not gonna cry tomorrow!” Yeah, fighting tears back now thinking how far I’ve come. I never communicated that to anyone, not even my parents, nor did I confront kids I felt were picking on me the right way. This social anxiety then snowballed as I got older leading to thoughts that i just wasn’t acceptable as a person. I thought in order to be liked, I needed an accountability person who could take the blame if I did/acted/said something that wasn’t crowd pleasing. That accountability person was drugs and alcohol. Oh you didn’t like that? Well I was high, so it wasn’t really me. I used it to study people. What did they like? What did they not like? How can I be this perfect, lovable person? Cue addiction and depression. I was sick, but not just because of who I was as a person.
The root is I never caught the anxious behaviors until I had already developed horrible habits. It became harder every day to get back to even because I was so deep into things i hadn’t shared. It’s easy to see why anxiety and addiction/depression go hand in hand.
What Is Looping Anxiety?
I spent an alarming percentage of my days in “panic mode” as most people are familiar with. The more specific term for “panic mode” is looping anxiety. This is when you fluctuate between high anxiety and panic because you are so busy and scared mentally that you try to answer every little thought our question that creeps in.
Fletcher describes the cause for Looping Anxiety as this:
“Imagine your anxiety being channeled through an electrical plug. The electrical plug has a fuse which represents your body’s coping mechanisms (positive rationalization).
The more stress and worrying thoughts that you pile on yourself, then the stronger the power the plug’s fuse has to deal with. The stress and worry slowly builds up until your body simply can’t take anymore. The fuse blows, the circuit shuts down and you’re left in a confused mess trying to work out what exactly just happened. You can’t operate like you used to anymore because there is nothing to control all of this surging ‘power’.”
So, basically, our brain has a capacity and when we overload it, Looping Anxiety is the result. People can get “stuck” here for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. I have spent weeks at a time in this panicked state of confusion and stress.
The Simple Skill to Stop Looping Anxiety
The truth is, we have a capacity. Just like how you limit how much TV you watch, how many questions you can tolerate after a presentation, or how much food you eat, you have to draw the line somewhere. You have to do the same with your thoughts and worries.
As someone who struggles with anxiety, I completely understand that almost obsessive thought that we must answer every thought. If we don’t, we might get anxious! (Subtle joke there.) Do this instead and I truly believe your life will start becoming yours again. I said simple, remember.
Instead of answering every thought, replace your negative thought with this thought:
“That’s a negative thought, I’m not giving that my attention.”
This will have to be a new habit so give it a chance. Just like the anxious mess you got yourself into by worrying habits, you will need to work hard at first to replace that bad habit with a better one. Soon, you won’t need to say it or think it at all.
Fletcher calls this the Anxiety Umbrella and it looks like this:
The idea behind this simple thought replacement is that by not allowing yourself to feed those negative thoughts that produce fear and release adrenaline and cortisol, your body will return to its normal, balanced state faster. Instead of answering every symptom or thought, just think: “that’s just anxiety. It will pass.” Eventually, this becomes a habit and your daily anxiety becomes an every other day thing, that becomes a once a week thing, that finally reduces to a normal level of anxiety that can even be protective.
Let’s recap. How to conquer anxiety:
- Talk. Communicate. Share with someone you trust and who will listen, understand, and validate. Yes your parents should do this, but understand they may not know how. Reach out to someone else. I will drop everything I have going to let you share because I know it will help you get better.
- Identify and Replace your negative thought with this thought: “That’s a negative thought. I’m not giving that my attention.”
- Use the Anxiety umbrella.
I know this is scary. You are faced with this thing alone? No pills? No drugs or alcohol to help with this? It’s all up to you? Well, yes, but see you’re already going negative again. Yes, it’s on you but look at like this: you are all you need for it. You have all you need to know about it. You CAN do this and you can start right now. It’s on you because you have the power to change your life for the better. You are so bold to take this on because it is a very intentional choice to say, “I love myself. I’m worth something. I am worth a better life. I love myself enough.” Love yourself again! Live again.
I leave you with this wonderful, life-saving scripture from Philippians 4:8 that reminds us to think about things that are good, not things that are scary.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”