How to Embrace Your Anxiety

Have you heard of “the woman with no fear”? She’s often referred to as S.M. and she has damage to her amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for sending fear signals. 

Sounds pretty great, right? It must be nice not to have all that fear and anxiety!

Except…it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for S.M. It Turns out our fear is kind of helpful.

Our amygdala is like a smoke detector…it lets us know if there’s something to be concerned about. Without our fear, we would often put ourselves in dangerous situations, as S.M. has. Our fear is there for a reason, and it’s not the enemy. 

“But I HATE my anxiety!”

I know. I hear this all the time in session – anxious clients want to get rid of anxiety. They tell me they desperately want their anxiety to go away. 

Hear me out: your anxiety is trying to help you. It wants you to be safe and loved and cool. Your anxiety is not something we want to destroy.

The trouble is that some of us have amygdalas that are a little jumpy. If you’ve ever had a smoke detector in your house that’s sensitive, you know that sometimes it’s going nuts over burnt toast. The smoke detector doesn’t know the difference between a birthday cake for a 90-year-old and an entire house on fire. 

Your amygdala doesn’t know the difference between real threats, like a car about to hit you, and imagined threats, like showing up late to the party and having everyone turn to stare at you.

So, your anxiety is not the problem. We want to feel fear. We need to feel fear. But, we don’t need to fear everything. 

Step one is to begin to accept your anxiety. Recognize that you are someone with an overly sensitive fear response. You likely spend a lot of time in “what-if” type thinking, and you probably have a lot of concerns about what “could” happen. 

When anxiety knocks on the door, see what happens if you let it in. Find out what it’s trying to tell you, rather than screaming at it through the door to leave you alone. Comfort it by taking deep breaths and grounding yourself in the present. When the smoke detector goes off and the house isn’t on fire, we often wave a towel under it to reintroduce fresh air. Try that strategy for your anxiety. 

Your anxiety is not the enemy. Let’s work with it, rather than against it.

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