The Evil Trick Anxiety Plays on You and How to Turn the Tables

– Posted in: Anxiety

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…

Relax

Here’s just a small sample of some titles I saw on one shelf:

“The Relaxation Response”

“Simply Relax”

“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.

Well….maybe not.

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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35 Comments… add one
Doris Jeanette, Psy.D.
Twitter:
December 15, 2008, 6:33 pm

When you are highly anxious you cannot relax because letting go and relaxing is exactly what you are afraid of…relaxing is your real fear.

Rich December 15, 2008, 8:07 pm

So you agree or disagree?
Rich

Jade Craven December 16, 2008, 6:25 pm

Thanks for this post – it explained what I’ve been struggling to describe all year.

The reason anxiety is so debilitating for me is because I have to ride out the fear. This can take hours or days, depending on the severity. I can stop the panic attack itself, but thats only about 20 minutes of the lengthy anxious process.

Stopping the panic attack doesn’t help much with the anxiety, is just lessens then severity of the depressive episode i’ll experience post panic attack.

Instead of trying to relax in times of high anxiety, I try to arrange my life so it has very little stress. I find it prevents several stages of anxiety.

What you described is my current way of managing anxiety. I haven’t had a panic attack in 4 weeks and 2 days :) I’ve gotten quality of life back. I truly wish I’d been told this a year ago.

Doris Jeanette, Psy.D.
Twitter:
December 16, 2008, 6:37 pm

You might try becoming more aware of what is going on inside of your brain and in your nervous system instead of avoiding triggers. The body is so effective in helping you to become aware of what the real problems are so you can face the real fears until you are no longer afraid.

When you feel safe, you can let go and allow your body to tell you and show you what is happening, while you observe the actions and listen to your thoughts. Awareness is power.

Susan/Unique Business Opportunity December 17, 2008, 4:18 pm

I love the idea of allowing yourself to be anxious. There is something about owning the moment, whatever it is, that is freeing.

Susan/Unique Business Opportunity’s last blog post..Do Holidays Make Building Your Network Marketing Business More Difficult?

Mike December 20, 2008, 1:10 am

Doris, thank you for the comments!

I agree, becoming more aware of what is happening inside my head has definitely helped me to combat my own Anxiety Disorders. I have learned to do so through some very good therapy. Every week, as I face new situations, this knowledge helps me get through what would previously been an impossible situation.

Mike December 20, 2008, 1:15 am

Jade, congratulations on your panic-free, quality life!

One of the things that has helped me tremendously is a complete change in my life as regards stress. I have learned that stress triggers Anxiety and panic attacks, and I have worked hard to learn to not only cope with the stress, but to rearrange my life so that I am not subject to severe stress. It has meant some pretty radical changes in the way I do things, but I find that my life is much more fulfilling and happy.

Mike December 20, 2008, 1:19 am

Susan, thank you for your comment and for dropping by!

Yes, living in the present is particularly hard for Anxiety sufferers. They ruminate on the past and dread the future, forgetting the present moment.

Owning the moment, this particular moment without regard to past and future, is freeing. Once we learn how to do it, we feel liberated from so many of the burdens Anxiety places upon us!

D December 20, 2008, 9:09 am

This post is *dead on*! I’m learning to not fight anxiety, for that makes it only worse. It’s taken me a looong time to learn this lesson. And as someone who has had driving anxiety for years, and recently beat it!!!, I can say this is a lesson worth learning!

D’s last blog post..Mind Block

Doris Jeanette, Psy.D.
Twitter:
December 20, 2008, 11:11 am

The more we fight anything the more we are in the middle of it. Letting go is the solution and accepting ourselves is the secret. This is what my first comment was about. We are afraid of relaxing and letting go so we have to face our real fears to overcome anxiety.

Anxiety is a healthy sign we need to listen to… It means we need help because we are not in reality and we are not in our body.

Once you are back in your body, then all you have to do is plug into the field of gravity for solid, real safety and security. Learning the difference between fear and anxiety is essential. Pay attention to the energy, this tell you in loud screaming colors!

Mike December 20, 2008, 11:15 am

Thanks for the comment, D!

I’m really glad to hear that you have conquered your driving anxiety. It seems that fighting the anxiety feelings is “natural” but is the absolutely wrong thing to do. Just letting it happen seems very wrong at first, but is the right thing to do! Talk about a paradox!

Mike December 20, 2008, 11:21 am

Thank you again, Doris, for your comment.

I really like your statement, “Anxiety is a healthy sign we need to listen to… It means we need help.” I’ve never thought about anxiety in this way before, but it makes complete sense.

I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on the difference between fear and anxiety, if you have the time. It’s a subject I’ve thought a lot about.

D December 21, 2008, 12:02 pm

I think it’s so hard to “let go” because anxiety feels so, well, yucky! I’ve read about the difference between fear and anxiety. It didn’t help me too much, but maybe that distinction will help others. Maybe I need to read about it again :)

D’s last blog post..Distorted reality

Doris Jeanette
Twitter:
December 21, 2008, 12:11 pm

You cannot read about anything and make headway toward freedom and joy. You have to experience the difference in terms of energy.

You have to feel the difference between anxiety and fear in your own body. You need to sense it and know it—deep in your bones and nervous system. That is the only way you can move toward sanity and security! For more information click on the link above at http://www.drjeanette.com and read the free article on anxiety.

Doris Jeanette
Twitter:
December 21, 2008, 12:17 pm

Oh, I didn’t know I could put a live link in this message. The exact page is http://www.drjeanette.com/anxiety.html

If you sign up for my free newsletter, “The Vibrant Moment,” you get the free report, “Anxiety Help: 8 Solutions to Your Anxiety Symptoms.” They are all natural and healthy and empowering– of course!

Kathy James January 3, 2009, 9:03 am

Great post Mike. Your excellent site is a great resource and I will be adding you to our links. Keep blogging.

Mike January 3, 2009, 12:48 pm

@D — Yes, Anxiety is very confusing, and it serves to confuse the mind even more: Fear is everywhere, and it’s so hard to distinguish between it and Anxiety!

@Doris, you make an important point about self-help books — and even this blog! Anything you read has to be put into action or it’s of no use; it needs to be felt. In the final analysis, therapists are the best source of real learning to manage your Anxiety.

@Kathy, thank you for the compliments! And thank you for dropping by!

Fear Of Long Words January 4, 2009, 9:14 pm

I don’t think relaxing is what people with anxiety need to hear at all. I think they need to focus working through their anxiety instead of just thinking it will past.

Fear Of Long Words’s last blog post..17 Symptoms Of A Panic Attack

Mike January 5, 2009, 1:24 am

Fear of Long Words, thanks for visiting and commenting!

I think what Rick was trying to say is that while one is having grievous symptoms of Anxiety, such as a panic attack, fighting against it does more harm than good. Relaxation can help in this instance.

What he didn’t write is that simple relaxation will help a person overcome Anxiety. As you say, it requires work to learn to control and manage your Anxiety Disorders. While learning to relax may be a part of that learning, it is a comparatively small part.

Carl Harris
Twitter:
April 5, 2010, 5:31 pm

Hi – you’ve hit the nail right on the head with this one. Trying to relax is a denial technique that suppresses the release of emotional energy – once you’ve produced an energetic emotional response in the body it’s too late to ‘relax it’ – it needs getting out through emotional release. In other words – you just feel it until it’s gone. I’ve come across a number of valid experts who do help people to get better – in spite of them preaching the ‘talk yourself into a relaxed state’ stuff.

True relaxation (and emotional freedom generally) is achieved by going fully through the emotional release process rather than running away from it or holding it at bay.

Feeling bad occasionally is a natural part of being human and telling ourself we shouldn’t just escalates it further by trapping it in.
.-= Carl Harris´s last blog ..Six Basic Moods =-.

Katherine July 8, 2010, 10:44 pm

This is the exact thing I have been working on.
I have a history of impulsive eating habits. As I have been able to deal with them more and more I have found that I have a history of many, many impulsive habits outside of food-related ones. I am working on dealing with emotions directly. Not eating/not-eating/reading dieting books/going on walks/listening to music/drawing/drinking water/calling a friend/etcetera, etcetera to distract me from those like I have been doing for most of my life, but rather, being still, observing what I am feeling and where it may have come from; not trying to stop it or make it more intense but just noticing.

This article is a great source of inspiration for this work! Thank you so much! It certainly didn’t seem like sneaky advertising to me. :)
-Katherine

Natalie December 13, 2010, 11:42 pm

Hello :)
i found this article very interesting and my therapist said that i should learn to sit with my anxiety so im currently working on this
my only problem is that my anxiety is trying to convince me that im something im not so thats why im scared to just let it slide….eh

Eleni January 2, 2011, 8:28 am

Stopping a panic attack in its tracks certainly cannot cure general anxiety or stop you from having another panic attack in the future. But it is very important to do so, because the key to conrolling your panic is to rationalize your fear and persuade yourself that it is unjustified. It is only by stop fearing your panic attacks that you can ever hope not to have another one in the future. However, there is no way you can think rationally or control your fear in the middle of a full blown panic attack. So the first step, learning how to stop a panic attack before it actually begins, is very important in the long struggle of learning how to control your fear of panic attacks.
Eleni recently posted…How to Cope With Your Panic Attacks! updated Sun Jan 2 2011 4-39 am CSTMy Profile

rob August 28, 2011, 4:12 pm

I agree with the article, we cannot run away from our fears. They are with us all the time, in the back of our minds. Its only until we face them & over come are fears, that we will be free of our anxiety. Embrace your anxiety, welcome it, with open arms. The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself, right?

We that have anxiety, are scared, frightened & fearful. What we need is the yin to are yang, which is..? Anger. Overcome your fears with anger! Its not about retaliation or revenge, its about regaining yourself. Get mad, anger is a gift!

Bogdan Mihai September 3, 2011, 4:08 pm

Every time i get the feeling of anxiety i become extremly mad people say that i have temperment isusses….i relly like the feeling its very empowering for me.

egypt rocks September 6, 2011, 4:24 pm

thanks alot it helped me very much this work just let the anxiety pass and you will feel much better and dont thinks about it its good :)

Eric October 25, 2011, 1:43 pm

I think your article is awesome. I read what you wrote about in a book by Paul David and the first day I tried it, it started to work. Then I read your article and I couldn’t believe it, I was able to walk into a store and not nervous, then I had one of the best night’s sleep I have had. It was amazing after 6 months of having anxiety it was like gone! So I came on here again today to remind myself of what to do just to keep it going and to Thank you. I tried everything before yours and Paul David article and book and nothing worked as good as your article. I found also along with thinking the way you said, keeping myself busy, exercise and using a cognitive behavioral book I have been improving so much! By the way I suffer from Anxiety and PTSD from when I was in the military. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

Briget November 18, 2011, 9:31 am

Thank you for this article. Anxiety is not new to me, but the intensity of it is. I am going to try to let it be and see what happens. I just wish the tightening in my chest would go away!

Doris Jeanette, Psy.D.
Twitter:
November 18, 2011, 10:25 am

Briget, when the intensity of your anxiety goes up, this can be helpful if you engage in person growth and self improvement. Higher anxiety means there are basic needs and desires that you are neglecting and probably have been ignoring for your whole life. There are many factors that can trigger your past learning and make you more anxious. You do not want to avoid these triggers, you want to embrace them so you overcome your anxiety at the source.

Your emotional self needs you to find, accept, love and protect her so she is no longer afraid and anxious. Here is a link with more information about anxiety from a holistic psychology point of view: http://www.drjeanette.com/anxiety.html Natural empowerment is the best way to treat anxiety. Overcoming your anxiety will result in increased self esteem, more self confidence, better relationships and lots more fun.

anxity October 11, 2012, 4:36 am

lol… i am anxity, i like to kill u all because of one thing, that is u have no trust on yourself!!!!!!!

Nostromo April 24, 2013, 5:48 am

You’re right, I have trouble with neighbor noises, and I have discovered that the worse thing you can do is avoidance.

I used to get extremely anxious and run for earplugs, now I just sit and hear the noises and feel the anxiety. The fear of being anxious is way worse of being anxious itself.

Dmunk August 16, 2016, 3:05 am

I personally 100% agree
This is the process to freedom from anxiety

Bev February 22, 2017, 2:08 pm

What a great post.. I’ve been suffering with panic and ptsd my whole life .. used and abused medicine and just got worse .. I do now though prayer,meditation and just thinking positive. .can lead a better life without medication. . I no longer listen to the lies my mind tries to tell me ! ;)

Kara July 29, 2017, 9:26 am

I’ve read a lot of posts on anxiety and this one has been the most helpful thank you
Kara recently posted…Children’s Mental Health: One of the Most Pressing Issues of Our TimeMy Profile

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