The Four Huge Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes When They Try to Cope with Anxiety

We all feel anxious time to time. Some of these common situations are exams, job interviews, financial problems, relationships, conflicts, etc. We feel under pressure when an anxiety-producing event forces us to make some adjustments to adapt to the new situation. We feel anxious and after our appropriate response, pressure subsides and we feel better.

Anxiety is necessary for survival because it acts as a warning signal to alert us to do something to protect our integrity. When anxiety appears you can use relaxation, meditation and positive thinking to feel better.

However, when the anxiety has become a chronic condition none of these strategies could help you cope with it effectively. They may help you feel a bit better but after a while the anxiety would kick in again.

What turns anxiety into major a problem?

What turns your ANXIETY into a major problem has little to do with your genetics, personality or the serotonin activity in your brain.

The key factor is what you do when you feel anxious!

So, here there are the four huge mistakes that almost everyone males when they try to stop their anxiety:

  1. Avoiding social situations
  2. Asking others to keep you company
  3. Trying to control your bodily reactions
  4. Talkig about anxiety

Let’s look at them one by one.

Avoidance makes you fell immediately good because it gives a feeling of relief. After all, you avoided a anxiety producing situation and didn’t have to deal with the symptoms. However, when you avoid, you weaken your resources because you give a very negative message to yourself: “I’m not able to handle this situation!”

Asking for help from family and friends feels good too because you get reassured that in case you felt anxious, there will be someone to rescue you. Although this may seem something positive, however, just like avoidance bears with it a negative message. When people help you out by keeping you company the message you receive is “I help you because you are not able to handle this situation on your own!”

Trying to control your bodily reactions is another huge mistakes. Many therapeutic techniques try to teach you how to control your physiological symptoms. They teach you how to relax, deep breathe and challenge your irrational thoughts in order to gain control. However, the reason that this strategy doesn’t work either is because anxiety reaction happens in a fraction of second by a surge of powerful hormones. The more you try to force yourself to calm down, the more you lose control.

Talking about your anxiety may feel good at first but afterward makes you feel frustrated because you repeat yourself. Be honest! After so many years of saying the same thing, do you have anything new to tell people about your condition? People listen to you because they love you as friends and relatives. This is the positive side of it. However, here too,  when they patiently listen to you, they will send you a negative message. The nasty massage you recive from them is: “you need me to listen to you because on your own you are unable to face your problem.

Therefore the main reason that you haven’t been able to banish your anxiety is because of these four common sense strategies. They seem totally logical but have negative effects on you.

 

How to Eliminate Intrusive Thoughts

white bear

Have you ever had a violent thought toward a close person? Maybe you thought of hurting someone you love; stabbing them; pushing them; or acting in other horrifying ways. If one of these thoughts has popped into your head without your control, you are not alone. You are not a bad person. You are not mad. You are not a criminal.

These thoughts are called “intrusive thoughts”. They are inappropriate images that enter your mind without your volition or control. They are basically stupid thoughts without any reason behind them.

Intrusive thoughts are common among those who suffer from anxiety disorder. However, these unwanted thoughts do appear also in the mind of those people who are not necessarily struggling with anxiety.

For most people these violent thoughts and images are fleeting moments of anxiety. People get very scared when they cannot dismiss them mainly because they fear they might actually put them into practice.

Avoid These 5 Mistakes

Before you learn what to do about these unwanted thoughts, let’s see five most common mistakes people make when they try to get rid of intrusive thoughts.

The first mistake is searching for the origin of these thoughts and asking, “Why do I have these thoughts?” The more you search for a logical reason, the more difficult it becomes to find a solution. These thoughts are useless and stupid.

Second mistake is trying very hard not to think of unwanted thoughts. However, our brain cannot forget by will power. You cannot not to think of something because not thinking is thinking with more intensity!

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the nineteen Century Russian author, warned us about this mistake with the following challenge:

Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”

Social psychologist Daniel Wegner put Dostoevsky’s advice to test. In his study, the participants were divided into two groups. The first group was instructed to think of white bears for five minutes. The second group was asked not to think of white bears for the same period of time. Then after a short break, both groups were asked to think of white bears again.

Wegner found that the members of the group that were told not to think for five minutes and then were asked to think, they thought of white bears more often than participants who had been told from the beginning to think of white bears. The results of this research confirmed that Dostoevsky’s was right: you cannot banish a thought forcefully.

The third mistake is trying to resist the negative thoughts. Some therapists claim that whenever you have an intrusive thought, you will be able to control them if you say to yourself “Stop!” This thought stopping technique is not an effective way to get rid of unwanted thoughts because it’s a variation of the first mistake.

The forth mistake is also another variation of the first inefficient strategy. Some people try to distract their mind. Distraction may help you focus on another topic; however, it will not eliminate the intrusive thoughts. Later they will pop up into your head.

The fifth mistake is to try to convince yourself that you would never actually do such things. Although this seems a logical strategy, it does not work because by reasoning with these thoughts, you are paying attention to them. Whenever you search for a rational response to unwanted thoughts, it’s like running away from a monster as well as feeding fresh meat to eat! It will become stronger.

How to eliminate intrusive thoughts

The first step in eliminating intrusive thoughts is becoming aware of the above mistakes and avoiding them. They are ineffective strategies that could actually make the problem worse.

There are two specific strategies that can help you eliminate intrusive thoughts:

First useful strategy:

Every time you get an unwanted thought or image, say to yourself: “This is a stupid thought”, “ It doesn’t deserve an intelligent reply”, and “I can block my reaction to it.” As you can see, this is a different approach than trying to stop the negative thought or not thinking. You have no control over a thought that involuntarily comes to your mind. Once you have an image in your head, you cannot get rid of it.

Where is your domain of control? The answer is: your own reaction. You can control how you answer these thoughts. So, instead of focusing your attention on the unwanted thoughts, focus your effort on your reaction to them.

For few weeks practice ignoring these thoughts by avoiding giving them rational replies. Stupid thoughts do not deserve intelligent answers.

Second useful strategy:

If the first strategy is too weak for you, then you can use one of the Chinese principles of Tao Te Ching. Lao Tse, the author of this classic book of ancient wisdom, writes:

What is in the end to be weakened,

Begins by being first made strong.

This means that if you want to diminish or eliminate the unwanted thoughts, first you must encourage their flow. You can let intrusive thoughts to come to your mind without trying to stop them.

Allow yourself voluntarily to think of all these nasty thoughts. There are some rules to doing this correctly. You decide when, where and for how long you think these thoughts. It is done in a controlled fashion: it has a beginning and an end.

This exercise will help you control the uncontrollable because it’s a paradoxical approach. Reflect for a minute! The more you try to control your thoughts, the more you lose control of them. To overcome this paradoxical impasse, you apply a counter-paradox. You let go of control in order to gain control.

This idea may be scary at first but will help you channel the intrusive thoughts. After two weeks of this paradoxical exercise, the unwanted thoughts will be less likely to come back into your mind.

A good way to tame these negative thoughts is to write them down. In a previous blog post I explain in detail the step-by-step of this assignment. You can set an alarm to write for 30 minutes all your intrusive thoughts that you voluntarily can conjure up. Then write whatever comes to your mind as you express freely any emotion that you feel. Perform this task alone in a room so you would feel free to cry if you feel like it. When the alarm goes off, stop writing and tear up the papers into pieces.

“What you deny, subdues you. What you accept, transforms you.” Carl Jung

Drilling Holes in Your Skull for Anxiety Relief

neurons

In 2005 Karl Deisseroth used the light beam to activate certain brain cells responsible for mood as a way to control its circuitry. Deisseroth, Professor of Bioengineering of Psychiatry at Stanford University, is best known for his development of a technology he coined as “Optogenetics”.

According to Deisseroth, Optogenetics is a tool not only to better study and observe the complex circuitry of the brain but also to manipulate the electrical activity of very specific cells that are responsible for certain emotion or behaviour.

Deisseroth applies his method in two main steps. He first infuses specifically targeted cells or groups of cells within the brain with a gene to render them light sensitive. Then he triggers or suppresses the activity of those neurons by stimulating them. This process requires a surgical operation (drilling holes into the person’s skull) in order to insert into the brain devices to accomplish the required procedure.

One of the applications of this technology that attracted much attention is to discover how the brain of an anxious or depressed person works and treat it. For this purpose Deisseroth only accepts people suffering from severe cases of depression and anxiety that all the other methods have failed to help them. He then combines psychiatric medications and Optogenetics to control those areas in their brain responsible for mood and behaviour.

Optogenetics could be a cutting-edge technology for research. However, it may not be suitable for treatment for several reasons. As you recall the first step of this brain manipulation technique is to render certain brain cells sensitive to light. In order to achieve this, a live virus is applied to the brain cell, which genetically and permanently alters its function. We don’t know what might be the long-term negative consequences of tampering with genetic function of brain cells. One possible side effect is that the immune system might reject the genetically altered brain cells.

Now, let’s assume that this technology is free from side effects. Why resort to such an invasive and expensive procedure when there are other less expensive and more effective methods available? As Leonardo Da Vinci said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

I believe that a small percentage of people suffering from anxiety and depression can get help from drugs and/or complex technologies such as Optogenetics. However, according to my experience, the majority of people respond well to the right methodology. The key is to find a competent therapists who are specialized in helping people with anxiety and depression.

Can Mindfulness Meditation Treat Anxiety Disorder?

Buda

Meditation, which was once a practice for few people who were attracted to oriental philosophy to find spiritual enlightenment, in recent years, has become a worldwide trend as a universal panacea for many ills. School and university students, business people, NFL players, Oprah, US marines and even prison inmates have practiced it as a way to ease stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness meditation is a way to focus one’s mind on the present moment without emitting any judgment. Here is a simple mindfulness exercise called the 3-minute breathing space (TMBS):

  • You spend one minute focusing on your body in a wide sense. The totality of your physical being. (Wide)
  • In the second minute you focus on your breathing in a more specific and concentrated fashion. Focusing on your lungs, mouth or nostrils. (Narrow)
  • During the third minute you observe your experience of your body and your breathing like in the first step, in a wider fashion. (Wide)

Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard J Davidson are two of the most well known promoters of meditation and mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn is a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has created a program based on meditation to help people cope with stress, anxiety and pain. Davidson, an American psychologist, and his and his colleagues have led studies at the University of Wisconsin with several Buddhists monks who were master mediators. Both Kabat-Zinn and Davidson advocate that mindfulness can help lower people’s anxiety.

Mindfulness has become a hot trend and for some a fad to reap benefits from. Every year there is a new title published on mindfulness. Among these titles there are those claiming that this practice can help people with anxiety. Some publishers take advantage of the popularity of the terms “mindfulness” and “mindful” adding them to their book titles: Mindful work, Mindful Universe, Mindful Eating, Mindful Parenting, Mindful Teaching, Mindful Politics, etc.

Among all these titles, two in particular show you how a worthy topic, when pushed to its extreme, can become absurd: Mindfulness for Dogs, and Mindfulness for Cats. The book promises that you can “Learn from your canine” (or feline) “how to live in the present and approach every day with a calm and positive attitude.”

It is true that meditation is beneficial to your health. It helps you relax your body and calm your thoughts. Meditation and mindfulness are useful to improve your state of mind and maintain a serene attitude toward life. However, when you are suffering from anxiety disorder, meditation and mindfulness are not the right solutions.

The promoters of mindfulness are biased because they have become too fond of oriental wisdom and practices and have attributed an excessive beneficial power to what meditation can do. It is true that studies suggest that regular meditation has helped lowering anxiety among some individuals. However, mindfulness cannot stop an anxiety attack nor can it prevent or cure it as some suggest.

The confusion is the result of an error at the logical level. Paul Watzlawick, John Weakland and Richard Fisch explain this epistemological error in their book, Change: Principles of Problem Formulation and Problem Resolution (1974), pp. 38-39. The authors make a distinction between the terms “difficulties” and “problems”. According to them, a difficulty is an “undesirable state of affairs” that can be solved with common sense and “no special problem solving skills are necessary”. However, they “…talk about problems when referring to impasses, deadlocks, knots…” In other words, a problem is a state of affairs that have resisted change despite all the efforts of people involved.

Meditation and mindfulness can be helpful with a difficulty. For example stress is a difficulty. You may have a tough day at work and come home stress out and angry. You can sit down, deep breathe and meditate to calm your thoughts and ease your emotions. The solution to this difficulty is common sense.

However, anxiety is not a difficulty that can be solved with common sense meditation and mindfulness. Anxiety is a major problem that requires problem-solving skills that are not necessarily common sense. On the contrary, the solution for anxiety must be counterintuitive!

It is possible for some individuals suffering from anxiety disorder to ease their symptoms with mindfulness practice over a long period of time. However, what if there is a more effective and efficient way to overcome anxiety that takes less efforts and less time? There is an efficacious method for anxiety disorder!

Pokémon Go & Social Anxiety

Pokemon Go

Pokémon Go is the new game from Nintendo and Niantic. This location-based augmented reality game, designed for cell phones, allows the players to capture, train and battle the virtual Pokémon characters that appear in real world. Players must walk around in their cities to move their avatar in the game and interact with other players in real world.

Since its release in the first week of July 2016, it has been reported that Pokémon Go motivated few individuals who suffer from social anxiety to get out of their homes and interact with other players in the real world. Social anxiety is the fear of being judged by others for mistakes you might make in public or the fear of being scrutinized for your flaws. This causes them extreme anxiety. In order to protect themselves socially anxious people avoid social situations.

However with the help of Pokémon Go, these people have been able to expose themselves to social situations despite of their fear. Avid players of this game who suffer social anxiety say that they get distracted by the game and feel less anxiety. However, as one girl explained, she dreads the idea of interacting with another player in the real world. Staring at the screen of their smartphone and following an avatar is something most anxious people can do. What may become a real challenge is when they have to meet another human being and talk with them.

Although this game has helped some anxious individuals to get out, it is not the solution. The main reason is that people with social anxiety need effective resources to face and overcome the real causes of their anxiety.