7 Ways Fighting Anxiety Is Making You Miserable
Fighting anxiety is completely understandable, even natural. Who wants to feel anxious, or deal with the experience of being on edge, weary, and sick-to-their-stomach afraid? Anxiety is horribly uncomfortable, and makes us want to do whatever it takes to make it stop. And yes, that’s its job: to Make. It. Stop.
But fighting anxiety itself doesn’t work, and usually makes us feel worse. Here are 7 reasons why resisting anxiety is making you miserable, rather than solving it.
1. Resisting anxiety fuels more of it: The more we resist anxiety, and fear our feelings, the more of it we feel, and the worse it gets. As we resist solutions, we fuel the problem. And fighting the messenger – our anxiety – increases our distress. Resisting anxiety escalates our negative feelings.
2. Panic blurs anxiety’s message – a full HPA response takes a toll on your body, and mind, and can be particularly scary, sometimes making you feel like you are going crazy.
3. Mindset of helplessness fuels it. Undermines your control – and control has been shown to diminish anxiety. Fighting with anxiety is like fighting with a force beyond our control. It may feel like anxiety is happening to your, but you are actually in control of how you experience your anxiety. A mindset of that it is happening to you fuels more anxiety, whereas a sense of control limits it.
4. Fear of anxiety can make curiosity tough. And curiosity is critical to naming anxiety that in turn helps us control and direct it. The more anxiety, the less you can use it. The more anxiety you feel, the tougher it is to think, and in being confused and out of control, you feel more and more afraid.
5. Anxiety’s energy builds tension. According to new research, anxious people may “be able to react swiftly and efficiently when faced with dangerous situations.” But if this energy isn’t channeled into problem-solving action as it’s designed to, it festers and builds.
6. Problems don’t get solved and only worsen when anxiety’s message isn’t heard, and utilized for productive change. Anxiety is a resource designed to help us notice things we care about that need our attention and solutions. The problem that needs solving isn’t your anxiety, it’s what your anxiety is signaling. And this is the rub. When it comes to anxiety, there are no shortcuts.
7. If you think anxiety is harming you, it probably is. In probably the most unfair twist yet of how anxiety can make you sick, a large scale study has found that the dangers of stress were more correlated with how we think about it, than how much we experience. People who believed stress was harmful, even when experiencing moderate amounts of it, were more likely to die than people with even higher levels of stress who did not believe stress was harmful. If you think anxiety is dangerous, and you can’t handle it, you may very well be making it so.
When anxiety strikes, it is completely understandable to fight it. But fighting anxiety turns our resources against ourselves, and denies anxiety its usefulness to motivate solutions.
Like an alarm clock, anxiety alerts us to the things we care about that need our attention and focus, and if we don’t use it for this purpose, it will escalate, not diminish. Its job is to get us uncomfortable enough to do something about the problem, not about our feelings. And this is the key difference.
Anxiety is not the problem; it’s what we do with it that is. When we resist our anxiety, we resist letting it forge a solution, which in turn worsens the problem it signals and the distress we feel about it. Anxiety isn’t the problem, it is simply the messenger.
Next time anxiety strikes, try using it to your advantage. Name your feelings to activate cognitive resources and reduce distress so that you can channel anxiety’s energy into solutions. Using anxiety to fight problems is the only way to quiet it for good, and restore the inner peace we so crave.