Anxiety About Anxiety: How a Small Shift in Attitude Can Create Change
Therapy is all about change. It’s about learning new skills, finding new perspectives and developing insight. Solving a problem you’ve been working on can be an ah-ha! moment. It all makes sense, you get it, it becomes crystal clear.
Sometimes, you solve a problem slowly — little by little. Therapy can help you notice your own life in new ways, considering and appreciating your own progress. With fresh eyes and a more flexible, expansive worldview. This process isn’t just about insight, it’s chemical: by learning new things about yourself and evolving your perspective, you’re creating new brain pathways for experiencing yourself and the world around you.
Change can sometimes involve learning a new skill. The skill can be about a shift in perspective or approach to a persistent problem. For example, with anxiety change can occur when we ironically stop fighting the anxious feelings but instead approach them with curiosity. What physical sensations do I experience when I am anxious? They can feel dangerous, but are they? What happens if I try to get to know them? Do they become less frightening? Ahhhh…look at that, yes, they become a little less threatening. As I get more comfortable with them, I am less anxious about the feelings themselves.
It’s often a revelation that anxiety can get heightened by anxiety about the anxiety. We call this having a secondary emotion about the first emotion, which in turn amplifies the emotional intensity of all of it.
The skill involved in this approach strengthens the part of ourselves that can exercise an internal sense of agency through deliberately thinking and approaching a feeling or experience in a new way. As we practice these new abilities we create change. In the case of anxiety, it gradually loses its power to overwhelm us when we are curious instead of afraid. We now have at least one tool in our skill set to transform it into a different felt experience.11