Dan Lippmann LCSW. Practical, Sustainable Happiness

Are You Addicted to Anxiety?

Do you want to overcome anxiety?

If you’ve experienced any of anxiety’s frightening symptoms, you probably don’t need to think twice before answering.

Of course you want to be anxiety-free. Who wouldn’t?

Well, the surprising answer is – plenty of people! That’s right, many people who suffer from anxiety not only prefer to feel worried and nervous, they actively cultivate anxiety.

Casey Schwartz’s recent Newsweek article entitled “High on Anxiety” (2/14/2011) reports on research that revealed that some people actually find their anxiety comforting. Anxiety becomes so familiar that life without anxiety feels strange, unsettling, even boring. It’s not that these people like feeling anxious, just that they prefer the familiar feelings of anxiety to the unfamiliar feelings of calm and ease.

Not surprisingly, the need for anxiety can even become addictive. Feelings of calm can trigger unease or even boredom, leading the person to seek out thoughts or situations that renew their anxiety.

Choosing to Overcome Anxiety

So, if you hate the way anxiety feels, but gravitate toward thoughts or situations that fuel your anxiety, consider whether you actually want to feel anxious – maybe you are even “addicted” to anxiety. If this is the case, then no matter how much you dread anxiety’s racing heart, restlessness and lack of control, your ambivalence about letting go of anxiety will keep you stuck.

I can give you lots of tools for releasing your anxiety, but the motivation must come from you. You are the only one who can decide if you want to be anxiety-free. What makes this decision surprisingly difficult is that while your conscious mind may be saying no to anxiety, your unconscious mind may be saying, yes, bring it on!

So, here’s a simple yet powerful technique to help you cut through your ambivalence. I call it “Weighing the Benefits.”

Create two columns on a sheet of paper. Label one Benefits of Being Anxious and the other Benefits of Overcoming Anxiety. Then list a minimum of five benefits under each heading.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Benefits of Being Anxious

It helps me solve my problems.

It helps me feel on top of things.

It keeps me from being surprised.

Benefits of Overcoming Anxiety

I could concentrate better.

I wouldn’t feel like I was having a heart attack.

I’d enjoy going out with friends again.

Once you’ve listed your benefits, picture an old-fashioned balance scale, the kind with a horizontal arm and a weighing pan suspended from each end of the arm. Then visualize putting your reasons for being anxious in one pan and your reasons for overcoming anxiety in the other pan.

Now, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and picture the scale tipping to one side or the other. Don’t over think this step – just let the scale tip.

What did you learn?

If your scale tipped toward remaining anxious, that’s an important insight. It means you’re not ready to make any changes right now. In this case, pay attention to the times when you actively think or do things to increase your worry and nervousness, and ask yourself whether these thoughts and behaviors serve you. Repeat the Weighing the Benefits exercise in a few weeks or months to see if your thoughts have changed.

If your scale tipped toward overcoming anxiety, you can feel confident that you’re ready to make some important changes in your life. In this case, a tool like my Mood Switch Method can help you learn to counteract anxious thoughts as they arise, and enable you to ward off anxiety before it takes hold.

Please let me know which way your scale tipped and what insights you gained about your anxiety.

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