Rich Presta is the author of today’s guest post. Rich is the creator of The Driving Fear Program, which is used by people and clinicians worldwide to tame the fear of driving.
I was walking through my local mega-bookstore a couple days ago; you know the one, with the coffee shop and bakery, 124,748 different magazines to pick from, and an elevator to get to the nonfiction section….
I was there to see if any interesting books had come out on anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias.
I was looking everything over, and you know what word was on virtually all of them? I’m telling you, it kept leaping off the covers and poking me in the eye…
Here’s just a small sample of some titles I saw on one shelf:
“The Relaxation Response”
“1,001 Ways to Relax”
“365 Ways to Relax”
“Relax and Renew”
“Learn to Relax”
Well that seems glaringly obvious enough doesn’t it?
I mean, when you’re having a panic attack or feeling anxious, you should relax, right? Everybody knows that.
Perhaps relaxing is the LAST thing you need to be doing.
I can hear you now…
What do you mean don’t relax?
“WHAT?? What do you mean don’t relax! Good grief, I just learned 1,001 ways to relax and now you’re telling me to forget them? What will I do with all these soothing bath salts? Hold on…let me turn down this CD of monks chanting so I can pay attention.”
Don’t worry, you can still get all sudsy in your bubble bath and burn some incense, but let me take a moment and explain something really important about anxiety.
How anxiety becomes a problem
Let’s break down what occurs when you get anxious and how it becomes a problem. When you think about it, being anxious isn’t a problem at all. No really, it’s not. Everyone has anxiety sometimes. It’s how you respond and react to that anxiety that determines whether or not you have an issue with it.
When most people get anxious, they feel the tingles in their belly, fast heartbeat, maybe some dizziness or racing thoughts too. But that’s where it stops. They say to themselves, “Boy, this isn’t fun, but it’s just anxiety, it’ll pass.”
But what do YOU do?
What do you tell yourself?
Well if you have a problem with anxiety or panic, you feel those same physical symptoms of anxiety that the other person does, but then what do you tell yourself?
“Oh my Gosh. What’s this? Is it going to get worse? Will it go away or is this permanent? If I can’t control THIS sensation what else will I lose control over? My mind? My body?”
And then, just as you’d expect, you feel worse and more anxious. The cycle repeats itself until you’re in a full blown panic attack.
Something like that, right?
The anxiety was the same. It was how you responded and reacted to it that was different, began the cycle, and made the difference.
So now that you’ve started this cycle off, what’s the next thing you say to yourself?
“I HAVE to relax RIGHT NOW. This CAN’T go on. I’ve GOT to get a hold of myself. Oh please God help me, make this go AWAY. I just need to RELAX right this minute.”
How has that worked for you so far?
Not so terrific right?
Listen, I don’t think you need 1,001 ways to relax. I don’t think that works when you’re anxious, and bubble bath isn’t going to stop a panic attack my friend, lavender scented or not.
Know what I think you need to do when you feel anxious?
Just be anxious.
Really. Just let yourself be anxious. Don’t fight it or try to stop it.
We get in trouble when we react to feelings of anxiety
Let’s look at it again. Where do we get in trouble? Right! When we REACT to the initial physical feelings of anxiety. Then we scare ourselves half to death about them instead of just letting them be what they are.
If you don’t fight them, that vicious cycle never begins. The anxiety never gets beyond that initial little tickle in your belly or slightly faster heartbeat, and it goes away in a short period of time.
You can’t force yourself to relax
When you say that you MUST relax THIS INSTANT, you’re trying to force yourself to relax, to command it, which isn’t going to work. Have to ever tried to force yourself to sleep? Squeezed your eyes really tightly together and screamed inside your head “Sleep! Sleep Now or Else!”
Not very tranquil.
As a matter of fact, if you have insomnia, it’s recommended that if you have trouble sleeping you take a break and go read a book or something so you don’t “try” to sleep. Then when you’ve stopped “trying”, you’ll find you drift right off.
Same concept. You can’t relax by trying, demanding, or forcing yourself.
Allow yourself to be anxious
I know it may be hard to believe me right now, but the next time you feel anxious, if you can just let it be there, allow yourself to be anxious, you’ll find it doesn’t escalate the way it typically does, and that it won’t last near as long.
Now this doesn’t mean that you should never relax, far from it, break out that bubble bath. Get sudsy. Listen to that Tibetan flute music CD you got at Wal-Mart, all that good stuff.
It just means that you shouldn’t force yourself to relax, and that the time to relax is BEFORE you get anxious, not during. If you get good at relaxing, you can prevent that uncomfortable anxiety from coming around in the first place, and that’s ideal. But once it’s decided to show up, let it be.
About the Author: Rich Presta is the author of the Driving Fear Program. He devoted his life to increasing visibility and awareness of driving anxiety after successfully overcoming his own fear of driving. The Driving Fear Program is currently in use by individuals and clinicians. Visit his website for a free 5 day email seminar on conquering driving anxiety.
What do you think?
I hope you have enjoyed this post as much as I have. There is a lot of wisdom in it, and is a technique used by many therapists to stop patients from catastrophizing their Anxiety feelings.
As a side note, this is the first guest post I’ve had, and the first endorsement — even by proxy — of any product. You know how I feel about snake-oil salesmen. I thoroughly investigated the Driving Fear Program before asking Rich to write this post. I am convinced that it is an effective, lasting treatment for driving fear.
- What do you think of Rich’s saying not to relax?
- Do you think that you could just allow yourself to be anxious?
- What do you think of my endorsing a commercial product on this blog?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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