Having been diagnosed with a very severe form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at the age of 12, I had grown up thinking that anxiety was only present in my life to hurt me. But once fully recovering from OCD, anxiety, and clinical depression I started to study the mind, brain, and the real role of anxiety.
In studying what anxiety was I quickly realized that there are three main myths associated with it.
Here are the 3 top myths associated with anxiety:
Myth #1 – Anxiety is bad
Anxiety is actually not bad at all. I am not suggesting that when you are going through an anxiety attack that it feels good. It does not. But anxiety is actually a defence mechanism created by the brain to tell you that you have to take action in some way. Anxiety is like physical pain. No one enjoys experiencing physical pain but it is created as a defence mechanism to protect us.
Imagine if you broke your leg but did not have the ability to feel the pain associated with the broken leg. You would continue to walk on your leg until you permanently damaged it. Pain is a warning signal sent at lighting fast speed from your brain to the troubled area as an alert to tell you that something is wrong and that you have to take action. Anxiety is identical. Anxiety is the brain’s way of sending your body a signal that you have to take action. Thus, anxiety will not make your leg hurt because it’s not broken. So it has to find other ways to tell you that something is wrong. It makes your heart beat faster, makes your hands sweat, makes you tremble, etc. In other words, it gives you the “fight” or “flight” response.
What is actually happening is that the hypothalamus (a part of your brain) is triggering the release of the “stress hormone” cortisol from your adrenal glands in your kidneys. Cortisol is then distributed throughout your body via the bloodstream and causes you to experience the above effects.
An Example of Fight or Flight in Action
Imagine that you were going for a walk and a huge alligator starts to slowly creep towards you but you did not have the ability to feel anxiety. You would just stay there until you become alligator food. Anxiety gives you that “fight” or “flight” response
by giving you an extra burst of energy (adrenaline rush), elevates your heartbeat, provides you with extra strength, and an overall urgency that you have to take action (get the heck out of the way!). It’s a good thing. It’s a defense mechanism that was created to keep us alive.
But you may be saying, “but Jeremy, I take anxiety attacks when I am completely safe”. Yes, and that’s the second kind of anxiety.
Many people believe that the anxiety attack that occurs when they are completely safe is “needless” and that it’s only there to hurt them and that they are cursed with anxiety.
But this is simply not the case.
It is still present as a warning sign to tell you that you are doing things day by day, month by month, year by year that is actually abusing your mind and body. This is the way that it tells you that you have to take action which leads me into Myth #2.
Myth #2 – Situations cause anxiety
Situations cannot cause anxiety. You may be surprised to hear me say that your kids, job, spouse, or finances cannot stress you out. But it’s true. It’s never the situation. It’s actually your psychological reaction
to the situation. What is your psychological reaction? I am referring to your thoughts.
Researchers are telling us that we have on average approximately 60 000 thoughts a day. And not only are the vast majority the same thoughts we had yesterday but they are thoughts either dwelling on something negative in the past or fearing something that could happen in the future. And because the brain cannot tell the difference between something that is actually happening and when you think of something, the brain reacts as if it is happening by triggering the “stress hormone” (cortisol) to give you that “fight” or “flight” (anxiety) response.
If situations caused anxiety, everyone would react to the same situation in the same way. But we know that’s not the case. How can one person love to ride roller coasters and one person fear it? Thoughts about situations cause anxiety, not the situations themselves.
Until we take full responsibility for what we cause ourselves we cannot equip ourselves to overcome it.
Myth #3 – The one, big traumatic experience in our past is causing your anxiety today
It’s actually not the one big, traumatic experience
in your past that is causing you to experience anxiety today. It’s the dozens and dozens of little things you are doing every single day that is actually causing you to experience stress and anxiety. I am not suggesting that nothing traumatic happened in your past. I am saying that it is not what happened in your past that is causing your stress and anxiety. It’s your thoughts about what happened that is causing you to experience stress and anxiety.
There are so many things that we do on a regular basis that actually contributes to anxiety. Every time that you complain, gossip, judge, ridicule, or hold vengeful thoughts you hold negative thoughts in your mind and your brain interprets those thoughts as a reality happening right now and triggers the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) from the adrenal gland in your kidneys. This elevates your heartbeat, makes your hands sweat, increases blood pressure, and makes you experience stress and anxiety. These are only a few things that we do that contributes to stress and anxiety.
Final Thoughts on Fight or Flight as a Coping Tool
We need to realize that we are the creators of what we feel, attract, and experience. Because we create the stress and anxiety that we experience we can also take it away. We have the amazing ability to create exactly the life that we want to live. We have the ability to experience bliss, happiness
, and a life full of joy. And, finally, we have the ability to attract the people, situations, and experiences that we only thought was possible in our dreams. But first, we have to realize that we are the creators of our everything because of the thoughts we hold in our minds.
You are exactly what you attract. Choose your thoughts wisely.