You’ve probably had the experience of hopping in your car and suddenly you are at home without realizing how you got there. We call this autopilot and it’s kind of a surreal feeling.
Rather than taking the autopilot route home could you have:
- evaluated traffic for a more efficient route?
- observed the scenery along your route?
- stopped to pick-up dinner along the way?
You probably could have done any or all of the above.
No, because your goal was “get home,” not evaluate your effectiveness at getting home. You wanted to get there quickly and your body took over and followed the predictable path you’ve taken before.
Anxiety has its own autopilot.
I’ve mentioned before how we often develop predictable anxiety pathways. This leads our thoughts-feelings-behaviors to feel automatic. That’s because we’ve done the same thing so many times, we don’t stop and evaluate alternatives.
- Destination: Calmville
- Desired Arrival: NOW NOW NOW
- Route: DON’T CARE, JUST GO FAST!
The most common way we “get rid” of anxiety is by hopping on the avoidance or distraction highway and zooming out of that situation as fast as possible. This has worked in the past to temporarily reduce an anxious state, so it makes sense to continue to follow that pattern.
In the long term though, avoidance and distraction don’t help. They end up confirming that whatever you’re anxious about is so dangerous that you have no alternative but to avoid/distract.
Did you know there’s another way?
It all goes back to that three-component model (see article here). We’ll go in more detail later but the main point is identifying and then adjusting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors:
- Thoughts: identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and worries.
- Feelings: allow yourself to feel anxious discomfort, because a feeling by itself does not confirm danger.
- Behaviors: behave differently than you normally would in anxiety provoking situations. Even a small thing like relaxing facial muscles can loosen predictable anxiety patterns.
So don’t let anxiety drive your life! Slow down, take the wheel, choose where you want to go and how you want to get there.