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Does anxiety ever go away?
Anxiety is created by your mind, body, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This is turn becomes a series of habitual responses and patterns that make up your daily lives. Anxiety won't last forever if something in this pattern shifts. In therapy you work primarily on you changing your reaction and altering this cycle. When clients come into my office, I often tell them you can't make the anxiety go away, but you can change how they respond to it when it shows up.
Dr. Reid Wilson is a licensed psychologist who directs the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center in Chapel Hill and Durham, NC. He has a great philosophy I will share on this page about altering your relationship with anxiety to make sure anxiety does not last forever. This is an aggressive approach, but highly effective if you embrace it.
Most of us who have anxiety have a general philosophy and attitude on life. It includes:
· Trying to make sure everything is okay before you proceed with doing anything
· Getting comfortable before moving forward
· Treating fearful thoughts as if they are real
· Staying safe even when it narrows life experiences
· Trying to Feel completely confident before acting
This philosophy maintains your anxiety and limits your happiness.
Dr Wilson calls this way of approaching life the "protect and defend" attitude. Essentially, this attitude is the anxiety attitude. It makes sure anxiety lasts forever.
He believes in order to make sure your anxiety does not rule you need to shift your perceptions, thoughts, and behaviors entirely. Keep in mind this is not really a self-help strategy, but something a therapist guides you through acquiring and practicing. This new life approach includes what he calls stepping into risk.
This approach includes:
· Treating your fearful thoughts as if they are absurd
· Deliberately causing your own discomfort
· Seeking out doubt
· Moving forward into new areas you are scared to go
· Frightening yourself
This is the attitude you need in order to ensure your anxiety does not last forever.
How do you do this?
First you create your motivation, then your strategy and finally your self-instructions.
In many ways this is challenging and may feel terrifying. After all you are wired by evolution to protect yourself when you’re are afraid. Even though when you have anxiety disorders, your wiring is really malfunctioning, your brains and bodies don't know that. So how do you do this challenging task? Dr Wilson says you have to increase your level of motivation and commitment by understanding how anxiety is ruining your lives and you are at war with it.
Some ways I have found that can help are to:
Creating strategy and instructions
Remember the new strategy to replace your old protect and defend one is "step into risk": Seek out discomfort, doubt, fear, ignore your thoughts and move forward and do scary things.
In his workshops, Dr Wilson gives the analogy of a diving coach to illustrate how you can learn how to do this despite your previous wiring.
When a child is diving, they will pick up their head to protect it from the water which appears to be a solid object. The coach will begin to build instructions which are then repeated, to override this instinct in the child to pick up their head. Dr Wilson suggests you can create a strategy to override your unhealthy anxiety instincts to "protect and defend" to help make sure your anxiety doesn't last forever.
It is important to remember the positive meaning for this scary shift to help propel you forward into doing the new and difficult thing. In order to get better, you need to have the anxious thoughts and feelings. Practice reminding yourself that when those thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations show up, you need them in order to have the thing you want, the goals you are generating in your first step.
Begin to generate motivations and self-talk for yourself to help yourself through the process.
For example, if you have social anxiety and you are practicing these strategies it would look something like this.
There is an office Christmas party and your mind starts giving you a bunch of messages about why you need to not go and all the terrible things that will happen. Your social anxiety has caused you depression isolation and even a few promotions at work. Your goal is to move forward and engage with people when your anxiety shows up.
New messages you tell yourself:
A key idea in this strategy is to pair looking forward to the experience of feeling anxiety with knowing that is the opportunity to get better. Without feeling the anxiety, and choosing to make a different choice, you will never get better. In fact when we ask ourselves does anxiety ever go away? Our response of resistance often makes it so much worse.
In the example above, you welcome this feeling, you generate new thoughts and willingness to have the experience and change the pattern of "protect and defend" over time into " stepping into "risk". This would lead to long lasting change ensuring your anxiety does not last forever.
Here are some great resources for videos on this topic all on
Also here is a fantastic app for people with anxiety.
I hope this page has been helpful for you in learning a little about the answer to the question "Does Anxiety Ever Go Away?" most of this information and the resources have been taken from a workshop I attended with Reid Wilson at The 2019 ADAA conference in Chicago.
Resources for Does Anxiety Ever go Away
Wilson,R., T. (2019). The Anxious Moment [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from https://files.aievolution.com/ada1901/events/8179/1300_Wilson_MC010.pdf.
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