"The truth is that a normal human brain, working correctly and normally, will far out-produce negative thoughts to positive thoughts on any given day. Our brains kept us alive by being anxious about saber-toothed tigers around every bend. They also kept us alive by analyzing, calculating, and keeping us in-step with the tribe at all times.
Now that our “tribe” is global, our poor anxious brains are constantly evaluating just how lousy we are..." - Katie Read
Can You Eliminate Anxiety?
by Katie Read, MFT
I got it again today. That, “Oh, lady, don’t tell me that,” look. I get it when I talk to anxious clients and tell them that their anxiety might never go away. Let’s just say that honesty doesn’t sell a lot of self-help books.
I quickly follow, though, with more of the truth—that there are proven, evidenced-based ways to still live a great life, even when anxiety shows up.
Clients aren’t thrilled to hear this. I completely understand. We want to hear that in just a few more weeks, this will go away forever. We want to hear a guarantee that the crippling panic won’t grip our chest again, and certainly not in a public place, or before a speech at work, or on a date. We want to hear that there is just something a little bit wrong with our personal brain, and that if we just work a little harder, just learn the perfect technique, this racing panicked feeling will all be a memory.
And if any therapist—anyone—had that fool-proof long-term solution, think of the wealth and fame!
But there is no “cure” for anxiety, and the idea that the cure for it is right around the bend is an idea built on fallacy.
- The fallacy is that you are broken.
- The fallacy is that you, your whole being, is a problem that must be solved.
- The fallacy is that you are unique in your struggle, and it’s happening to you because you’re doing something wrong, or not trying hard enough.
Fallacy, fallacy, fallacy.
So what’s the truth, according to our most current science? The truth is that a normal human brain, working correctly and normally, will far out-produce negative thoughts to positive thoughts on any given day.
Our brains kept us alive by being anxious about saber-toothed tigers around every bend. They also kept us alive by analyzing, calculating, and keeping us in-step with the tribe at all times.
Now that our “tribe” is global, our poor anxious brains are constantly evaluating just how lousy we are compared to all the smarter, sexier, richer, and more powerful. And our anxiety churns on.
So if we can’t get rid of our anxiety, what do we do with it? Well, according to the research field supporting Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), we do a few counter-intuitive but powerful things.
- Accept. Accept that you are a person who sometimes has anxiety. Accept that you are not a problem to be solved, and trying to eliminate part of yourself implies that you are.
- Defuse. When anxious thoughts arise, an ACT therapist can teach you skills to make more space so they no longer control you, compel you, or start you spinning off.
- Expand. Instead of shutting down when anxious sensations shoot up, you can learn to breathe right into the middle of them, expand around them, and ride them out. With practice, this tool will increase your confidence in your ability to manage stressful situations.
- Direct. With these tools in your belt, you can finally begin to realize and live by your deepest values. You can recognize that anxiety does not have to prevent you from doing the most important things, or being the person you most want to be. Your deepest self is the driver: not that over-working mind of yours.