“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
~ Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor
Seven years ago when I was told I might be made redundant my mind set about worrying BIG TIME. I found myself automatically engaged in exaggerated, unrealistic, irrational thoughts such as:
- If I get made redundant:
- I’ll never get another job again.
- I’ll never be able to support myself and my family again.
- Everyone is going to look down on me.
The harder I tried to rid myself of these thoughts, the worse they got. The barrage of irrational, catastrophic thoughts I generated, aroused an ever increasing level of anxiety, which in turn sent my stress response into overdrive, constantly firing away like an out of control machine gun. As a consequence I guzzled an endless cocktail of symptoms we label ‘chronic stress.’ In particular my experience of stress was defined by an intense, constant, relentless abdominal pain. That pain didn’t go away until I stopped worrying about my future.
My experience of worry, anxiety and stress, as described above, is similar to the one that millions of people experience each and every day. Perhaps you’re one of them?
Many people actively try and rid themselves of their worrisome thoughts. If you’re like most people, your anxiety would probably increase the harder you tried. Why? Because worry is counter-intuitive. When you try to remove it, by whatever means, it becomes more persistent. So our efforts to directly reduce worrisome thoughts actually increases them, whereas our efforts to directly increase them reduces them.
This is called the anxiety (or control) paradox.
All effective anxiety and stress therapists and coaches use this anxiety paradox to their clients’ advantage. They encourage the person to experience the worry in some way, to practice with it, exaggerate it, in order to reduce it. For example, practicing the technique of systematic desensitization, the spider phobic is invited to touch a spider, the flying phobic is invited to go for an airplane ride, the agoraphobic is invited to go to the shopping mall, and so on.
Utilising the anxiety paradox to neutralize your anxiety “Hot Buttons”
I remember that at the time I was going through my “redundancy experience”, the words “redundancy” and “redundant” became “hot buttons”for me. I’d associated or ‘fused’ these two words with the anxiety I felt. So whenever I said or thought either of the words, or heard anyone else speak either one of them, the alarm button inside my neurology got pushed.
Had I known about it back then, I could have used the anxiety paradox to my advantage to break the connection my mind had established between the words “redundancy” and “redundant”and my anxiety. The positive consequence would have been a lower anxiety level and less stress.
So how exactly would I have used the anxiety paradox?
One way would’ve been by practicing the following technique discovered in 1916 by British psychologist Edward Titchener.
Negative label repetition/defusion
Titchener found that if you keep repeating a word fifty or more times, it begins to lose its meaning. It becomes just a sound rather than a concept. Take, for example, the word “rose.” You can imagine the colour and smell of a rose. But consider what happens if you say the word “rose” out loud over and over again. What if you keep saying it as fast as you can while still pronouncing it clearly? Go ahead and do it right now for at least sixty seconds.
What happened to the meaning of the word? Do those same sense impressions of the rose still hold, or does the word ‘rose’ feel strangely vacuous or conceptually empty? Is it more a sound than a word?
If you are experiencing anxiety and you know or suspect that certain words/thoughts are acting like triggers for your anxiety, then I encourage you to practice using this repetition technique on those words/thoughts and notice what happens. If you’re like most people with chronic worry, you’ll probably find that the worrisome thought loses power with repetition, so that the last repetition feels much less disturbing than the first one.
Remember rather than try and ignore or push those trigger words/thoughts from your mind – do the opposite – focus on them and repeat them out loud until they lose their power.
If you would like to explore some of the ways in which you can benefit from working with me to help you reduce your worry, anxiety and stress, call me now on 021 056 8389 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tony Yuile is a well-being and success coach based in Wellington NZ. He is hired by people who want to be healthy, happy and successful. Tony's particular area of expertise is in helping people perform under pressure, reduce anxiety and manage stress. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, hypnosis, positive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
Contact Tony today to discuss how he can help you, or if you think Tony could help someone you know, you might like to encourage them to get in touch with him.