We all know the familiar feeling of anxiety. Your heart begins to beat fasten, your breath quickens, and you start to feel butterflies in your stomach. You may feel constriction or tightness in your throat or chest. Mentally, you start to feel keyed up and vigilant, on guard for what might happen next.
Your thoughts start racing a mile a minute as you try to come up with a way to control the situation. These are all typical reactions when your brain sends your body into “fight or flight.” Or you may feel frozen and unable to think clearly as your brain triggers a “freeze” response. Your instinct is to try to make the anxiety go away but that won’t work. Many of the common ways you react to anxiety are unhelpful and can even make things worse. And the best way to handle anxiety is not what you think.
Below are four unhelpful ways of reacting to anxiety:
1. Trying to Make the Anxiety go Away
This strategy is unhelpful because it doesn’t work. You can’t make anxiety go away just because you want it to. Fear and anxiety are wired in responses of your brain and body that have their roots in the history of our species. Our ancestors faced dangerous predators and those who reacted more quickly to get away were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Anxiety is a signal that you need to pay attention to something that your brain signals is important to your survival. Your brain triggers the release of cortisol to rev your body up to fight or run away. It may be a false alarm but trying to shove it down will only make it stronger.
2. Looking for Reassurance
Many of us react to anxiety and worry by frantically seeking information, hoping to find a definitive answer or a way to feel completely safe and in control. The problem is that most of the things you get anxious about are threats that you can’t completely eliminate. Life is full of hidden dangers. You could get run over crossing the street, you could get a serious illness, lose your job, or be a victim of crime. There are also seldom definite answers to life's complicated problems. If your partner is acting more distant, this may or may not be a sign that the relationship is threatened. Even if he reassures you that nothing is wrong, you probably won’t believe it. You can’t predict the future or have complete security. When you frantically search the internet for reassurance that the fatigue you’re feeling isn’t cancer, you will likely find all kinds of information that will make you more scared. Many symptoms like fatigue are most likely benign, but can also be a sign of something serious. When you seek reassurance from others, they may provide information that makes you feel worse or bring up a negative possibility you hadn’t thought of. Or they may just placate you without really believing what they're telling you.
3. Ruminating and Worrying