01 Jun The Seductive Strategy Of Keeping It Out Of Mind
Very interesting article from Captain Tom Bunn from www.fearofflying.com
We all learn that we can feel less anxious if we can control what is active
in our awareness. So, we use various things to increase control of what is
active in mind. In our teens and twenties, we use substances (booze, drugs) to
help avoid awareness of what is uncomfortable. Then, perhaps becoming more
productive, we learn to focus on work, or on play, or both.
Friends might say, “Afraid of flying – – – just keep your mind off
it.” OK. Fine, as long as it works, it works. But there comes a time when
it won’t work. When there is too much stuff to keep stuffed, when there are too
many things that can cause distress, concern, uncertainty, etc., we can’t keep
it all at bay. Once that strategy breaks down, we can never again get adequate
relief with that strategy.
Reminds me of Humpty Dumpty. Once he falls off the wall and shatters, he
can’t be put back together again. We keep gooey anxiety stuff hidden away
inside this egg. The egg is all smiles. But when the egg falls and comes apart,
the goo is everywhere. We can’t get it back inside the egg and seal it up.
That’s when we need to give up that strategy. What some do is just back off
from scary stuff, and stay home. A better strategy is to make a 180 and become
MORE – rather than less – aware.
Initially, that is hard because being more aware of anxiety-producing stuff
is overwhelming. Don’t look at it all at once; look at it all piece by piece.
That’s what a client does with a good therapist. In therapy we may look at just
one small part of the person’s problems for weeks, digging into it deeper and
deeper. And then switching to another, and weeks later to another.
is an interesting – though old – thing in psychology called Yerkes-Dodson Law.
When stress hormones hit, they make us pay attention to one thing fully. When a
second thing happens right away, it causes another shot of stress hormones. The
second short of hormones demands that we pay 100% attention to the second
thing. Conflict arises. Conflict causes anxiety, so we want to turn away. No.
We have to prioritize: to look at one first, solve it. When we reach a plan of
action, good. We commit to the plan of action. At the moment of commitment, a
signal goes to the amygdala to stop producing the stress hormones. Then, we
look at the other, solve it, produce a plan of action, commit to it, and get
rid of the stress hormones. Voila. No stress hormones at all.
But when we use the old method and stuff keeps building up. Like an
alcoholic who has to hit rock bottom before he or she finally decides to turn
around, so does the person plagued with anxiety. The only question is whether
we turn around now, by our own determination, or do we wait until there is no
place else to run. Agoraphobics who end up at home may finally end up in one
room, and still be anxious.
It is harder to make the decision now. But it is easier to work back to
health now than it is later. I can tell you one thing; whenever I have had a
fear of flying client who had become agoraphobic and worked back far enough to
grapple with flying, they KNEW they they wanted to go forward toward greater
awareness. None were tempted to go back where they had been.