Anxiety: Fear of the Unknown.
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Anxious thinking is based on assuming the worst outcome; most often these thoughts starts off with two words “what if…”, and what comes after is our own interpretations. Mankind has never been comfortable with the unknown, not having all of the facts and not being able to fully understand what we don’t know is perceived as a threat. Someone once said “What we don’t understand, we fear. What we fear, we judge as evil. What we judge as evil, we attempt to control. And what we cannot control we attack.” In this case the attack is on ourselves; it comes in the form of anxiety and panic attacks. We lose control of our response to what we don't know because we allow ourselves to get caught up in our anxious “what if” thinking.
Humans are blessed with intelligence which allows us to be creative and imaginative. This blessing can also be a curse. When people don’t know all of the facts, they often use their imaginations to conclude what will happen. With anxiety, people imagine the worst possible outcome; these scenarios are vivid and very detailed. Almost like a dream that feels real. Unconsciously and quickly our imagination becomes our reality; this “reality” poses a threat. Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) aka “the reacting brain” is responsible for the threat response. Often times anxiety is based on misinterpretations, missing information, and assumptions. These threats mobilize our bodies to react but because the threats aren't real we don't quite know what to do with the anxiety; leaving us to sit with our reaction without any outlet.
We must consider that if our anxiety is based on assumption; we not only assume and expect the worst from the situation but we assume and expect the worst from ourselves. In the worst case scenario we create, we imagine that we are not capable of taking on the challenge; this is self-doubt. We devote much of our time to negative self-criticism and self-doubt that it hardly occurs to us that we actually have the capacity to handle many of the situations we fear. This kind of thinking can be paralyzing causing people to avoid “the unknown”. When you break it down it seems silly, but an estimated 40 million Americans who suffer with anxiety engage in this kind of thinking on a daily basis.
Anxious thinking causes individuals to live their lives in fear. Avoidance is a common defense mechanism for most people but the reason it doesn’t work is because change is constant and almost guaranteed. Anxiety is a survival response meant to motivate people so they can plan for these changes. When faced with sudden changes or challenges, a person who avoids will feel too overwhelmed to adequately deal with it. Exposure therapy is an effective way to help individuals prepare and plan for changes, allowing people to better control the SNS response.
Gaining insight into negative thinking patterns is also an effective way to reduce anxiety. This can be achieved through mindfulness techniques and self-awareness exercises. Many thoughts run through our minds unchecked and unchallenged. What we think is based on our belief system which is so imbedded into our identity that it’s hard for us to consider other perspectives. There are many different ways of looking at a problem, and most of the time we are only looking at it from one angle. The first step to increasing self-awareness is to start paying attention to negative and unhelpful thoughts, and challenge them by looking at the facts vs. assumptions.