How to Overcome Anxiety

How to Overcome Anxiety

By Jamie Matthewman
June 4th, 2013

If you’re a man suffering with anxiety I know how you feel. I have been there. I spent a long time wondering how to overcome anxiety, to the point where the more I tried to beat anxiety the more anxious I became.

It was uncomfortable, I felt like there was something wrong with me and I used to dread feeling anxious. I went to the doctor for some tablets and they helped, but I knew that wasn’t the answer.

Eventually I would find the cure, I would get to see the truth about anxiety so that it now longer troubles me like before.

However I will add that anxiety is a normal part of living. There will be times when you feel anxious, but as a man we’re rarely told this.

It is a mans job to be strong and courageous, which is probably why women are diagnosed with anxiety at twice the rate of men.

Anxiety is often perceived as “girl troubles” but the numbers I believe are deceptive.

It has been good to see famous men with mental health issues coming out, raising awareness and reducing the stigma associated with things such as depression and anxiety in men.

High profile names such as Russell Brand, and Owen Wilson have told of their difficulties with mental health issues, but the truth is men often fail to seek help because they perceive it as a sign of weakness.

Anxiety or depression or any other form of mental health illness don’t just target women, that would be a silly idea to believe.

In an article drawing on a range of research into male mental illness, published in Canadian Family Physician in February 2011, noted that the lower incidence of depression among men, could reflect their tendency to deny illness and their reluctance to talk to health-care providers about symptoms.

Research on men’s “help-seeking” behavior has found that men typically do not disclose emotional concerns to their doctors, focusing instead on work problems or stresses in their lives.

I can personally relate to that. Stereo-typically men aren’t known for their ability to open up and talk about how they really feel. It isn’t something most men are taught to do at least I wasn’t. How about you?

My Experiences of Anxiety

Anxiety is something I’ve experienced in the past. I didn’t really know I was suffering with anxiety, until on one occasion in 2009, I ended up in the back of an ambulance, because I thought I was having a heart attack!

Fortunately it was anxiety but none the less very traumatic. Since then I’ve been learning more about what anxiety is, my conclusion may surprise you…

What is An Anxiety Disorder?

An anxiety disorder is your mind tricking you into feeling powerful fear or panic in the absence of any real danger.

I know it feels real, I can vouch.

With an anxiety disorder, the struggle to protect yourself from the feelings leads you further down the path of increasing anxiety. The more you try to fight the feeling the more intense it gets.

The more you start to think anxious thoughts, the more the body creates cortisol, a chemical produced by your adrenal glands.

It’s an important part of overall, robust health, it gives you the energy to face challenges and move past them. But, too much cortisol in your bloodstream exacerbates anxiety.

How to Overcome Anxiety

How does this happen? Well your mind is very clever, yet in some ways easily fooled.

It cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined.

In most cases the cause of anxiety is psychological – completely and subjectively created by buying into the belief that your thinking is reality. You get tricked :

– If you have panic disorder you keep getting tricked into believing you’re about to die, go crazy, or lose control of yourself.
– If you have approach anxiety you keep getting tricked into believing you’re not worthy or will look so stupid and nervous in front of women and be humiliated and laughed at.
– If you have a phobia of flying, you keep getting tricked into believing you’re at risk of crashing so you avoid flying
– If you have OCD, you keep getting tricked into believing that you’ve set in motion a terrible calamity and the house might burn down or you’ll get poisoned because you didn’t you’re your hands.
– If you have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, you keep believing the constant calamitous what if scenarios you keep creating in your mind

In each case, the episode of fear passes without the expected catastrophe. You’re none the worse, except that you’re more worried now about feeling anxious in the future.

It is a vicious circle. In all of the above cases the details seem different, but it’s the same illusion.

What is the Anxiety Illusion?

Your natural instinct is to protect yourself from danger real or imaginary. Because your mind cannot tell that the fear you’ve imagined isn’t real, it kicks in your natural response to fear.

The 3 Responses to Fear

We enter this world apparently with only two natural fears – falling from great heights and loud noises. The rest we learn.

I am sure you’ve heard of these three responses before – fight, flight, and freeze. If the perceived danger looks weaker than me, I’ll fight it.

If it looks stronger than me, but slower, I’ll run away. And if it looks stronger and faster than me, I’ll freeze and hope it doesn’t see so good. That’s all you have for danger.

When you continue to believe an anxious or obsessive thought, your mind instinctively treats it as a danger. Your body becomes over sensitised as your body naturally puts into motion it’s protective responses of Fight, Flight, or Freeze.

You cannot think without feeling, so the more anxious your thinking the greater your feelings of anxiety.

The Illusion of Avoidance

If you suffer from any form of anxiety you probably believe the best way to avoid the it is to to take steps to avoid the perceived causes the germs, the store, dogs, people etc.

However this only maintains the illusion, because you begin to believe the protective steps, are the reason there was no catastrophe – the avoidance “saved” you! However it is likely didn’t experience danger because there wasn’t one.

It is hard to recognise at the time.

Hence you’re more likely to think you had a “narrow escape”. This reinforces the anxiety. The protective steps actually maintain and strengthen anxiety.

If you think you just narrowly escaped a catastrophe because you had your phone, or a water bottle; or because you went back and checked the oven seven times; or because you plugged in your iPod and distracted yourself with some music, then you’re going to continue to feel vulnerable. And you’re going to get more stuck in the habit of “protecting” yourself by these means.

This is how the problem gets embedded in your life. You think you’re helping yourself, but you’ve innocently tricked yourself into making it worse.

That’s how sneaky the anxiety illusion really is. The harder you try to avoid the threat, the worse it gets.

How Can You Overcome The Anxiety Illusion?

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used to create them Albert Einstein

You need to see anxiety for what it really is. A thought created illusion of an imaginary perceived threat that doesn’t exist.

When you understand anxiety is an illusion then your relationship with it changes. The thing that makes fears and phobias so persistent is that virtually anything you do to oppose, escape, or distract from the anxious feelings and thoughts will be turned against you, and make the anxiety more persistent.

When you see they aren’t real, you come to see that you’ve been putting out fires with petrol, the first step is always the same: put down the buckets. Stop throwing petrol on that fire.

You don’t have to do anything.

Whilst it maybe a tough idea to comprehend, the way to get past anxiety is to welcome the thoughts and sensations, without judgement and allow them to subside over time.

Stop fighting the feeling.

See and experience that it’s not a real threat to your wellbeing. There is in fact nothing else to do, there is no need to oppose, avoid, or distract yourself from it.

How you overcome anxiety is by seeing it for what it is, an illusory fear based on the idea of a future event or outcome that doesn’t exist.

Have you experienced anxiety before? How did this affect your you? Are you currently suffering with anxiety or depression? Please share thoughts with other men, we’re all in this together.

Jamie Matthewman

About Jamie Matthewman

Jamie is the founder, main contributor and editor of The Inspired Man.

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