For people who struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, the primary fear lies with any and everything that could go wrong in their lives. It is as if beneath all the layers of their thought processes, lies a primary belief that states, “everything must go according to plan.”
Anxiety sufferers so much believe that everything must go according to plan that the moment they think of something that could go wrong, they either transition into ruminating over their concerns or full blown panic. I have found that when discussing with people who are currently going through an episode of excess anxiety or panic, they will repeatedly verbalize their fears about things going wrong and how much they will experience suffering if their fears come to be.
One could also argue that this is a process of learned helplessness, where they have repeatedly gone through the process of experiencing an anxious thought, then panicking. One of my favorite metaphors I share with people who struggle with anxiety is the follow through metaphor. Following through with shots was something I initially struggled with during my years of playing college basketball. I had a bad habit of giving up after the ball left my hand, if I determined that it wasn’t making it into the basket. The right thing for me to have done was to follow through with arching my wrist and sprinting to the basket to catch the rebound.
How the follow through method translates into anxiety relief is the process of following through to completion with anxious thoughts. Take for example you have a driver who has a fear of getting into an accident while driving, following his anxious thoughts to completion would become a matter of every time he has a thought of getting into an accident he completes the thought process by thinking through what he would in an accident. For example, call 911, or in a less serious situation call the insurance company after making sure everyone is okay. After this though the is complete he would then review his defense driving skills, or even take a refresher course and ensure that his insurance is up to date.
The significance of the refresher course and insurance indicates an acceptance of powerlessness towards outside events, with a reminder of focusing on what matters the most, which is personal choices.
When we come to a place of peace based on our intellectual understanding that we have no control over the actions of people or nature, it leads us to focus on our personal power which stems from our ability to make choices. There is a process of peace that comes with knowing that you have done the best you could have done in the face of adversity. Another way to use the follow through process is to write down your worrisome thoughts and the rational steps you would take to respond to your worst case scenarios.
So what are some of your worst fears and how to you visualize working past these fears?
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.