Is Anxiety Manipulating You? Anxiety Is Like A Toddler In A Grocery Store

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What does anxiety feel like? Well, it’s like a toddler in a grocery store. When you’re about ready to pay for your stuff and get on with your life, anxiety starts screaming that it wants candy.

So, What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Now, I have three kids, and I know how that feels. You’re stressed out, you just want to get to the store, buy your stuff, and get back out so you can cook dinner and quietly watch a show – unless you have children, and then there is actually no rest ever.

But regardless. If when you take your kids to the store and they throw a fit and you buy them a candy bar to get them to be quiet, they do get quiet; they get what they want this time.

But what do you get the next time you go to the store? Is your toddler more or less likely to throw a fit? Much more likely because your toddler learned that throwing a fit is how you get candy.

Well, anxiety is like that. What does anxiety want you to do? What action is it trying to get you to take? There’s some real power in asking that question.

What Does Your Anxiety Want From You?

Anxiety wants you to stop doing what you’re doing and to pay attention to it. Social anxiety wants you to avoid your friends. Agoraphobia wants you to quit your job and never leave your house. Driving anxiety wants you to stop taking the freeway. And health anxiety wants you to spend your afternoon seeking reassurance from the internet that your headache isn’t a brain tumor. So, ask yourself, “What does your anxiety want from you?” Pause this video for a minute and write the answer down. What does your anxiety want from you?  The answer is usually that it wants your attention and it wants you to stop doing what matters to you. Now, that sounds like a toddler to me.

The Problem With Anxiety

But the problem with anxiety is that when you stop taking the freeway, your anxiety gets quiet for a minute.

It feels good – just like when you give that toddler a candy bar, they stop screaming or when you have health anxiety, when you google your symptoms for the six thousandth time, you feel that sense of relief for just a moment or when you avoid that party with your friends, your stress goes away for a while.

But then the next time, your anxiety comes back even stronger. Just like the kid who learned that screaming gets him candy, your brain basically learns, “I have to make my anxiety really loud to get my human to avoid dangerous things like friends and headaches.”

Your brain learns, “I have to avoid stuff to stay safe from anxiety.”

Anxiety Isn’t Dangerous

But here’s the thing: anxiety isn’t actually dangerous. Your kid doesn’t actually need a candy bar.


Their screaming is not actually dangerous; it’s just uncomfortable. Anxiety is uncomfortable but not dangerous.


So, with the kid, you’ve got to stop giving them rewards for bad behavior.  


You just let them scream a few times without giving in, and they’ll learn that it doesn’t work anymore. Same thing with anxiety.


Every time you avoid something you care about because of anxiety; you train your brain to make more anxiety.


But when you choose to do something, you care about even though you feel some anxiety, you teach your brain that it doesn’t have to get into anxiety, that you’re still okay, even if the party was awkward or even if you felt nervous while driving.  


When you feel the fear and do it anyway, you teach your brain that it doesn’t have to give into anxiety. And much of the time – most of the time, the anxiety goes down. And even if it doesn’t go down, you get to live your life.


You get to get out of the store. You get to spend time with your friends even if it makes you anxious.


So, I’m going to encourage you to ask yourself, “What does my anxiety want?” And then ask yourself, “What do I really want?” You probably want to spend  

time with the people you love. You probably want to be able to drive again or leave the house or spend time reading to your kids instead of reading WebMD.


I know anxiety is uncomfortable. It’s loud, and it screams at you to run. But just like the kid in the grocery store, when you choose to do what you value, over time the kid learns to quiet down. Well, so does your anxiety. And in the meantime, you get to live the life you value. You can do this. You can learn to quiet your anxiety.  


You can learn to live the life that you value.  It’s just like baby steps, where you choose to work through the anxiety instead of avoiding it.  I know you can do this.

Coping Skills And Self-Care

When things get stressful, do you find yourself coping in unhealthy ways like overeating, venting, or just avoiding things altogether?


These strategies may work in the short term, but eventually they’ll end up causing more problems than they solve.  


Imagine what it’d be like if you had the skills to work through tough emotions without losing it. My online course Coping Skills and Self-Care for Mental Health takes you through the process of creating your own healthy coping and self-care routine.


You’ll learn to identify triggering situations, manage intense emotions. You’ll learn to calm your stress response and build your own personalized coping skills list so that you can handle different situations.


By the end of the course, you’ll show stress, anxiety, and depression that they don’t run your life because you’ll have the skills to manage emotions in healthy ways.

You can also check out the course, How To Process Your Emotions. You’ll learn about essential skills to resolve anxiety and depression and work through intense emotions. 


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