The third questions is:
What must I do?
One’s life is continually expanding or contracting. In areas of growth and development we experience expansion.
In times of regression and setbacks, contraction results.
The former increases us; the latter diminishes.
One of the images used in the New Testament for our human journey is that of spiritual warfare. In this light, life is viewed as forces internal and external working for us, and counterparts working against us.
I think this is a most useful image to keep in mind when combatting (a warfare word, by the way) anything seeking to diminish us.
And that is precisely what anxiety seeks to do. No one’s life has ever been made better by the presence of anxiety.
Let’s stay with our metaphor. Anxiety conquers your land. It takes over some of your territory.
You have to get it back.
“Just how do I do that?” Along with a diligent practice of what we’ve already discussed in previous posts, I suggest the following:
1. You have to go on the offensive mentally
Most people I’ve worked with regarding anxiety (and other cognitive/affective enemies) begin with wishing it would just go away.
Nope. Not likely.
The one exception of course is a situational anxiety. When you get beyond the situation – interviewing for an important job, for example – yes, the anxiety will go away.
But why be miserable until it does pass? Better to take the battle on, and condition yourself to not have an overly anxious response to such situations.
And remember this – every time you allow anxiety to be your response at such times, you’re reinforcing the classical conditioning that says “I should be anxious about this.” It’s a contracting habit.
Go on the offensive against this enemy. General Patton famously said: “Wars are not won by defensive tactics.”
It’s true in the warfare of life as well as military conflict.
Anxiety is trying to diminish your life. You can’t negotiate with a terrorist.
Go on the offensive.
2. Remember, it starts in the mind
Fortify your mind before the anxiety occurs by planning a strategy. (This strategy should certainly include our last two posts.)
Refuse to play “What if”… and refuse to write the narrative ahead.
Be ready for the appearance of the anxiety by reminding yourself that as awful as it feels, anxiety is just that… a feeling.
3. Go on the offensive behaviorally
“How do I do that?”
[su_pullquote]You have to begin moving toward that which creates your anxiety[/su_pullquote]
Recall what I said earlier. There is little use in hoping the problem will just go away. That is completely unlikely. In the attitude of spiritual
warfare, go on the offensive.
Some years back I attended a psychology conference in which the late Dr. Albert Ellis was one of the presenters. He shared with the clinicians
present an example of this point from his own life.
As a young man, Ellis was terrified by the thought of asking a woman for a date. This led to a lot of lonely nights and a lot of outings unattended. Ellis got fed up with this.
So he devised a strategy. (Another key term in warfare, spiritual or otherwise.)
Ellis began asking the most beautiful young women he came into normal contact with for a date. He didn’t so much care whether or not he got the date. His focus was on conquering the neurosis.
At first, he was absolutely terrified – to the point where he actually felt sick. But he pushed through it.
Like everything worth having, this took some time. However, by the time the journey was over, Ellis had completely conquered his anxiety. I remember him jovially remarking that he “had been rejected by some of the prettiest women around!”
What Ellis did is a perfect example of our point here. To conquer anxiety, or any troubling feeling, you have to go on the offensive…
… and you have to Start at your level of discomfort with the triggering situation
We will pick up here with our next and final post in this series on anxiety.