Therapy in a Nutshell

Anxiety, Worries and What if’s-Rewiring Anxiety through Intentional Risk Assessment- Acceptable Risk

December 28, 2020

So here’s another of the most common questions I get on my “Rewiring the Anxious Brain” video- People asked “What if the dog bites you?” Now in that video I was explaining how when you avoid something it makes your anxiety go up, and this is really harmful when you avoid something that feels dangerous, but is actually safe- like public speaking, taking a test, or asking for a raise. So I used the example of being afraid of dogs and then explained how gradual exposure can help you overcome that fear by gradually spending time with dogs. But of course, when making a video about anxiety, the anxious people watching the video are going to say- but how can I do that, what if the dog bites you? Many people with anxiety focus on the worst-case scenario, instead of focusing on the potential for growth and healing. And that’s because when your brain is in anxiety mode, it’s attuned to threats, it only notices and pays attention to the potential dangers around you. But dogs can actually be dangerous. So when you’re in anxiety mode the 1 in 1,000 chance of being bit by a family’s pet dog feels like a serious, immediate, most likely occurrence. In Anxiety mode our brain is going to assume the worst about so many things- “What if they all hate me?” “What if I get Covid from my groceries?” “What if the car swerves into my lane?” It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all the “What-ifs” that you completely lose sight of your goals. Like overcoming anxiety, or visiting your son who has a dog. But there are some practical steps you can take to manage your brilliantly anxious brain instead of letting anxiety run your life. First realize that your brain’s most natural job is to “prevent dying” to keep you from bad things happening. And unlike other mammals, that are mostly instinctual about these things, running from an immediate threat like a tiger, and then relaxing when the threat is gone. Our brain has the ability to imagine danger in the future, remember danger in the past, and that makes us feel like we’re in danger in the present moment. But just because our brain is really good at imagining dangers, doesn’t mean that avoiding those fears is the way for us to live a good, happy life. I think most people with anxiety can see how feeling anxious all the time and avoiding stuff is making their lives worse…

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