A reader asks:
I can’t control my anxiety. I’ve tried meditation, affirmations, positive self-talk, grounding exercises, and CBD, but nothing seems to work. Any suggestions?
Here’s the thing:
The more you try to control anxiety, the more anxiety will control you.
When people say they want to control their anxiety, what they almost always mean is that they want to be able to eliminate it…
- They have a big meeting coming up and they want to make sure they don’t get nervous.
- They’re boarding a plane and want to stop the panic attack they feel coming on.
- They’re having a difficult conversation with their spouse or partner and want to stop feeling anxious and inadequate so they express themselves clearly and confident.
All this is perfectly natural. Anxiety feels bad. So it’s normal to want to get rid of it. This is why quick fixes for anxiety like pills and affirmations are so attractive—they give you immediate relief, which feels really good!
Unfortunately, that immediate relief comes at a pretty steep cost—an increase in your anxiety long-term.
Here’s the quick version of how it works:
- When you try really hard to get rid of or avoid anything, you’re signaling to your mind that it’s a threat and dangerous.
- When the thing you’re trying to get rid of actually is dangerous, that’s good—you want your brain to be afraid of true threats. This is what your fight or flight response is for!
- But the emotion of anxiety itself isn’t dangerous and no amount of feeling anxious will hurt you.
- However, if you get in the habit of trying to get rid of or avoid it (i.e. fighting or fleeing your anxiety), you teach your brain to see anxiety as a threat. This means the frequency and intensity of your anxiety will increase in the long-run because you’re training your brain to have anxiety about anxiety!
Chronic anxiety comes from an addiction to trying to control anxiety.
And like all addictions, the momentary relief from anxiety that you get from trying to control it is never worth the long-term cost.
The alternative, strange as it sounds, is to stop trying to control your anxiety and simply accept it.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable and scary. But it’s not dangerous. When you practice accepting your anxiety and being willing to have it—despite the discomfort—you train your brain to see anxiety as something that’s uncomfortable but ultimately safe.
Short-term discomfort → long-term relief.
Instead of trying to control your anxiety, practice validating it instead.
And if you’re interested in a more rigorous approach to reducing anxiety the right way, I teach a course called Creating Calm where I walk students through by step-by-step approach for lowering chronic worry and anxiety by building a confidence mindset.