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“Why do I have anxiety?” is a common question, and in this post, we’ll dive into the reasons behind it, helping you gain a clearer understanding of this emotion.

Okay, so in the last video we learned that our brains and bodies are wired to have a strong, loud reaction to perceived danger, the fight, flight, freeze response, but they’re also wired to return to a sense of safety when the danger has been faced and resolved. So, why the heck do so many of us get stuck in chronic anxiety?

Why Do I Have Anxiety?

Why are people so anxious these days? It’s because people aren’t closing the loop on their anxiety. They’re getting stuck in chronic states of anxiety and immobilization because they’re able to perceive a lot of danger without taking action on it. And humans are just really good at avoidance. So in this video, we’ll explore the subtle ways you sneakily increase your anxiety by avoiding it.

This video is day four from my online course, Break the Anxiety Cycle in 30 Days. I’m publishing the 30 main videos to YouTube for free. If you want all the bonus resources, workbook and extra videos and Q and A’s with me, check out the link in the description. Okay. So in the last video, we learned all about the anxiety cycle.

Your default mode is safety. If you perceive a threat, you have a fear response, and then you face it or resolve it. And your body has a natural ability to shake it off and return to a sense of safety. But when we perceive something as dangerous and then we avoid it, our brain adapts by upregulating our anxiety.

It makes us more anxious. But here’s the thing. We humans are uniquely just really good at two things, thinking of danger, imagining danger and avoidance. We have the incredible ability to envision threats that aren’t happening, like worrying if we have enough money for retirement or imagining people rejecting us.

And this can help us prevent problems down the road, but it does keep us in the fear response in the present moment. And the second thing that we’re really good at is using complex and contrived ways to escape discomfort. We’re smart enough to know how to suppress our emotions. We can distract ourselves, procrastinate, find creative ways to avoid people or places that bother us.

We can make excuses, justify ourselves, and just hide from our fears in general. But while avoidance brings us short-term relief, it increases anxiety in the long run because we aren’t closing that loop and returning to a sense of safety, restoring that sense of safety. So, what keeps us anxious? Running from our feelings. Avoiding our problems and immobilization, not taking any action. So anxiety isn’t quite the same as a hot fear response. It’s much more of a cold frozen dread response. On the polyvagal ladder it hovers somewhere between that fight, flight, freeze response, that activation response and the shutdown response.

Okay. So, let’s do some examples of how you make yourself more anxious. So, let’s say that you had a panic attack in a public place. For some unknown reason, you’re at the supermarket and you got overwhelmed with anxiety. You thought everyone was staring at you and thinking that you’re crazy and that they’re judging you and you never want to feel that way again.

So, you stopped going to the supermarket. Initially, you feel some relief. You just order in your groceries. No big deal. But remember how the brain works? When we avoid something and survive, it upregulates our anxiety. So, pretty soon you start to feel anxious about driving around town. What if you get a flat tire and you panic, right?

That makes you feel anxious. And you don’t like that feeling. You want to avoid it. So, you stop driving. And you feel a lot of relief, right? Now, you don’t have to worry about that. And you can still walk places. You just can’t go to a lot of places that you once enjoyed. But at least you don’t feel so much anxiety.

Except for now you start to worry about walking around, about leaving your house. So, you stop going anywhere without someone to go with you. Pretty soon you aren’t leaving the house at all. Now, initially, this feels safer, right? You feel a sense of relief. But pretty soon you just start to feel anxious about everything.

When the mailman comes or the phone rings, you jump. Every little sound seems amplified. Every time you avoid something and don’t die, your brain learns, “Phew! I could have died. I’m going to make my human more anxious so that they avoid that thing in the future.” And the cycle of anxiety just spirals, right?

What Keeps Us Anxious?

Avoidance makes your anxiety louder. Now, to be fair, it’s actually harder than ever for humans to close their fear loops. So, let’s explore a few ways that modern humans get stuck in immobilization and anxiety. Now, if you were to ask people if the world is safer or more dangerous now than in the past, What would they say?

Most people would say that it’s more dangerous, but they’re wrong. The world is actually safer than ever. Lifespan is getting longer. Extreme poverty is down by more than half. Infant mortality is down. So is violent crime. (1) (2) (3

So, so what’s going on? There is more perceived danger than ever.

We think and feel like the world is more dangerous than ever. And we can thank modern technology for that. So, let’s do an example from any time more than a hundred years ago. You’re getting ready for bed. Suddenly there’s a knock at your door. You hear some bad news. The neighbor’s tree got blown over into their roof.

And you see that the danger they’re in. You have a fight, flight, freeze response. The stress response activates you. You go, you’re not tired anymore, right? You have energy. You feel like you need to get out of bed and do something, right? So, you go over to their house, you help them get physically safe for the night, whether that’s like fixing up their roof or setting up shelter for them, they tell you the story of it.

You tell the story and all of this makes it so that you can return to a sense of safety. You go back to your home and you go to sleep, right? This is how a healthy nervous system responds to a danger or a stressor. So, you start in safety in the parasympathetic response, you perceive danger, you approach it and you resolve it. And you return to safety back to the parasympathetic state. So, now let’s think about what happens in our modern world. You’re getting ready for bed. You turn on the TV and you scroll through your phone. You watch the news. You learn about a dozen bad things happening everywhere, except in your own neighborhood.

You hear about floods in Pennsylvania. You hear about drought in Texas. You hear about meteors hitting the ground in Antarctica. You hear about like all of these natural disasters. And the fight flight freeze response is activated. You feel that anxiety. You no longer feel like sleeping. Your muscles are ready for action.

But there’s no physical action to take so you avoid that feeling by scrolling some more through your phone. While laying physically still, the anxiety loop is never closed and you’re just distracting yourself from it. You’re just avoiding it. We get stuck in mounting anxiety when we perceive a threat.

We don’t face it. We avoid it. It’s like coming across a rock in the road and instead of moving it out of the way, we put it into our backpack and carry it around. Our nervous system gets stuck in chronic stress And this is the thing that makes it so hard these days. So many of the threats we face are mental, not physical, right?

School is a mental danger, not a physical danger. So we can’t burn off that stress response by doing some physical action. Friends are a social danger, not a physical danger. Work for many is a cognitive or social challenge, not a physical task to be accomplished. So, it’s harder than ever to close the loop on a task because many of our tasks aren’t physical.

Now, it was different for our ancestors. Our ancestors might’ve worried about not having enough food. So that’s the perceived danger. So, they’d walk outside physical action, right? And they’d farm or they’d hunt. They could physically approach a threat and resolve it. Now, we face the challenges of modern work in emails and drama with our coworkers.

There are less physical opportunities to solve problems for many people. Now, it’s not for everyone though. Let me give you an example. My neighbor is this awesome HVAC guy and he fixes furnaces and AC all day long. The other day he told me, “I love my job because I get to help people solve problems every day.”

Right? He gets, he shows up to a house. There’s a physical problem. My AC isn’t working. He tinkers. He moves things. He fixes stuff. He solves things. He tests things. He gets it solved. Physically, right? But many of us don’t get that opportunity and the emotional problem loop gets stuck open. And I worry about kids to like growing up kids, right?

Kids grow up now with much more focus on academic development. So, that part of their brain that has the ability to conceptualize future problems and danger gets like, super strengthened, like, if we think of that as a muscle, but they don’t get as many opportunities to solve physical tasks. So, physical work and physical play helps kids develop the other parts of their brains that help them solve problems and resolve emotions.

3 Things You Can Do To Get Out From Anxiety Cycle

So, our modern society is harder than ever for people to manage their anxiety because there’s more opportunities for avoidance, less opportunities to solve physical tasks. And I think this is one of the reasons why people love watching other people make stuff, fix things, and even just clean or mow lawns.

Like they find it so satisfying because it’s like getting to close that loop, at least in {surrogate}. Okay. So, let’s talk about solutions for a minute. I mean, obviously the rest of this course goes into a lot more detail about how we solve this problem. But there are three things you can do to get out of that anxiety cycle.

So, the first one is you got to learn how your nervous system works and how to soothe it. Right? And we’ve been talking about this as we’ve explored the anxiety cycle. The second thing I would say is limit your exposure to media. But especially news media, right? And anything toxic that’s on social media.

I just would say be very intentional about when, what, and where you watch. Now, I guess technically I’m a social media influencer. And the way I handle that is I have deleted social media off of my phone because I want to be able to choose when I engage with it and not. So, I engage with it on my computer.

The other thing I would say about social media is, you know, add in good news, which is perceived safety. The thing about news is the news channels know that they make money when they grab your attention. And the way to grab your attention is taking advantage of your brain’s risk aversion channel. That’s the part of your brain that’s basically like, I want to be very careful about anything risky.

So, I’m going to pay attention to anything that’s potentially dangerous. So, we’re more likely to click on a news story that’s like, oh my gosh, something awful happened, than, hey, guess what? Good things happened today or nothing bad happened in Provo today. Right? Like that’s the boring story ever. So, news channels take advantage of your brain that way.

So, you need to be intentional, add in good news. And tailor your feed to include the positive out there. You don’t want to decrease your viewpoints or your perspectives, you know, just get stuck in an echo chamber, but you do want to add in positive sources.

And the other thing is you can learn how to take action on news. So, whenever a story bothers you, you could, you know, clarify, is this something I can act on or something I need to accept? You could write letters, you could advocate, you could pray for people, you could ask how you could create change on that issue in your own circle. And just finding ways to be a little bit more active to the new stories can help you break that immobilization anxiety cycle.

Okay. Number three, I would say do more physical tasks. So, it’s very satisfying to complete projects in a physical way. And if a lot of your tasks are mental or digital, like you could physically check off to do lists, right? So, you make a big to do list that when you’re done, you get to check it off. Or you could create physical reminders of your accomplishment or physical reminders that you are safe right now. And I also would just say like, let kids play outside, do dangerous stuff intentionally, solve physical problems, build stuff, fix stuff. Right? And when you make a mistake or when you have a problem or when other people make a mistake, help them physically resolve it.

Okay. So that’s the first reason why we’re anxious. Our ability to perceive and imagine danger when we’re actually safe. And later in this course, we’re going to dive into how we can decrease perceived danger and help our minds send a message to our nervous systems that we are safe right now. So that’s all of week two is what we’re going to be talking about there.

And the second reason why humans can be so anxious in general, but people are especially anxious right now is because avoidance is always at hand, literally. Like, any time a big emotion comes up, you can immediately distract yourself by looking at your phone. So, imagine what it does when every time your toddler throws a fit if they don’t get like, the color plate they want at dinner. And instead of talking it through with them and solving the problem and teaching them how to handle a big emotion like disappointment, you just hand them a phone with a kid-show playing, right? It’s so comfortable. It’s so easy. It feels so relieving.

And that toddler and that parent never learn to solve emotional problems. We just put them on hold. We put another rock in that backpack. And then later we wonder why do we feel so anxious all the time? We all just have so many opportunities to avoid our feelings. Every time you distract yourself from what you’re feeling you send a message to your brain that that feeling is dangerous. That you can’t deal with it.

And what does your brain do with stuff that it thinks is dangerous? It makes anxiety louder around that thing. So, we all just have so many opportunities to distract ourselves.

More Examples Of Avoidance

So, let’s talk about some more examples of avoidance. You’ve got a big test coming up at school. Every time you think about it, you get a little queasy.

How is that a perceived threat? Well, it impacts your grades, which impacts your ability to graduate and get a job, which impacts your ability to buy food. Your ridiculously smart brain can tell you that you might starve to death in the future if you don’t pass this test. Okay. I’m joking a little bit because I think that it helps if we laugh at fear. But when you put it into perspective, your brain thinks that you’re in danger and you’re not.

Okay, so next avoidance. Try not to think about it. Try not to think about your homework. Did you starve? Nope. Your brain is going to increase your anxiety. Procrastinate. Feel some relief. Play a bunch of video games. Watch a bunch of TikToks. Completely forget about it. Did you starve to death? Nope. Your brain believes that avoiding studying for your test is keeping you safe.

It’s going to increase that anxiety. What about the opposite approach? What about frantically running from your fears by being a perfectionist and studying all day and all night? This is another sneaky form of avoidance. When you do it and you don’t starve to death, your brain also increases anxiety. So, this was me in high school.

I would never let myself fail a class. And so I never got to see that I would actually survive if I did. And my anxiety around school just went up and up and up.

Alternative To Avoidance

So, what’s the alternative to avoidance? Sitting down, allowing your anxiety to be there, and choosing how many hours you’re going to devote to studying for this test.

And then doing it, right? Studying and then going on with your life. We’re going to touch more on this in the next video, but sitting with your feelings and choosing your actions, stopping running is the most sure way to show your brain that you are safe enough and that you can handle this. You can handle this feeling.

Okay, let’s try a harder one. You’ve got a really big project at work. It’s really important, but it’s also really difficult. It stretches you to the limits. So, how do you deal with this? You avoid the problem by distracting yourself. You gossip about your boss. You engage in a bunch of drama with the other co workers.

You use humor. Sometimes you fear that you aren’t capable, and that’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling. But you avoid that feeling by blaming your boss for being a jerk and reminding yourself how perfect you are. Maybe you daydream of escaping by quitting your job and moving to Thailand. And when you have a great idea and your boss like just challenges you to back it up with some evidence.

You just run away inside, you shut down your emotions, you try not to care, you try to numb yourself off. And can you see how each of these sneaky defense mechanisms is an attempt to avoid your initial feelings of anxiety, of a lack of safety? The situation here isn’t straightforward, right? Relationships are complicated, but we can learn to problem solve without chronically escaping to avoidance.

Because every time we avoid a problem, we make our anxiety louder. Okay, let’s do one more. Let’s say you’ve got a painful history of abuse. You’ve got intense memories of a traumatic childhood. You have these painful feelings of unworthiness. Maybe you get flashbacks of fear. Or you get overwhelmed by intense sadness. Or every time a memory comes up of your mom screaming at you, you feel intense anxiety.

And in the past, when you were a child, that feeling of anxiety meant that you were in danger. And anytime there’s a little conflict in the present, whether, you know, the restaurant gets your meal wrong, or you and your husband disagree about parenting, you get super anxious. You’re like terrified of that feeling because in the past, that feeling of anxiety indicated something was wrong.

So, let’s look at another way you might avoid that feeling. How do you deal with that feeling or cope with that feeling? Let’s say you use pleasure seeking, right? You love to shop. You love the thrill of finding a great deal, despite how it impacts your credit card. When you’re stressed, you run from it with some Ben Jerry’s.

Maybe you’ve gotten into the habit of drinking every night, but now that’s kind of messing up your sleep, messing up your health or your relationships. The more you run from your feelings, the worse you feel. And your brain starts to believe that these memories are too painful to face. So, it actually increases your anxiety around them.

You feel panicky now, you fear these memories will destroy you. But in truth, you can face them. When you start with a therapist and you tell them the things you’ve never told anyone, and she doesn’t judge you, and you don’t die either, suddenly your amygdala starts to recategorize these memories.

Maybe you can face them. Maybe the memories hurt, but they won’t harm you. The more work you do, the more confident you become at feeling your feelings. Now, I know these examples are oversimplified, but I hope you can see in yourself how these sneaky patterns of avoidance keep you trapped in cycles of anxiety.

The Role Avoidance Plays In Your Life

So, now you know what’s keeping you anxious. You’re constantly exposed to perceived threats. You feel like you’re in danger, but you’re likely engaging in these chronic patterns of avoidance. Even or especially these really subtle patterns of avoidance. So, let’s explore the role avoidance plays in your life.

What function does it serve for you? I want you to use the workbook to explore a bunch of, you know, really impressive and brilliant ways that you avoid your triggers. What are your go to ways to avoid things? I’ve got a lot of sheets in the back for you to explore this, this question, because when we understand how you’re avoiding things, we can really unlock the key to the antidote to avoidance.

And that’s going to decrease your anxiety over time. So, this video is day four of my Break the Anxiety Cycle in 30 day online course. If you’d like to access the workbook and live Q and A’s and dive deeply into what you’re doing that increases your anxiety, please check it out below.

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