Most of the anxiety you experience in life is the result of inefficient critical thinking skills. You might assume that because you are anxious, you are an over-thinker, someone who obsesses about unlikely and scary outcomes more than is reasonable. The reality is that you are an under-thinker. You’re missing a part of your reasoning process, and I will prove it to you.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is anxiety? Anxiety is a normal emotion that every person experiences at some point in their lives, typically when circumstances are stressful, tense, or scary.
When anxiety is chronic and begins to interfere with day-to-day function, it becomes a clinical disorder.
We understand the importance of speaking about mental health with the same degree of legitimacy as physical health. However, in the same way that we’d question what someone is tripping over if they repeatedly kept spraining their ankle, a lot of anxiety is similarly circumstantial, as many illnesses are. Specifically, anxiety tends to be the result of an inability to process acutely stressful and ongoing circumstances.
If we want to heal, we have to learn to process.
This applies to everyone, not just those with a diagnosis.
One of the hallmarks of anxiety is rapid thinking. Because you are focusing on some issue so deeply, and for so much time, you assume that you are also thinking through the issue thoroughly, and arriving at the most likely conclusion. However, the opposite is happening. You’re experiencing a logic lapse. You’re jumping to the worst-case scenario because you aren’t thinking clearly, and then you are engaging your fight-or-flight response because the worst-case scenario makes you feel threatened. This is why you obsess about that one, terrifying idea. Your body is responding as though it’s an immediate threat, and until you “defeat” or overcome it, your body will do its job, which is to keep you in defense mode, which is really a heightened state of awareness to the “enemy.”
What is a logic lapse?
Think of something that you aren’t afraid of, maybe something that other people might find scary.
Maybe you aren’t afraid of flying in an airplane. Many people are. Maybe you aren’t afraid of being single. Many people are. Maybe you aren’t afraid of commitment. Many people are. Surely you can think of at least one thing in your life that you are truly unafraid of.
Why aren’t you afraid of it?
It’s because you don’t have a logic lapse there.
You can visualize yourself going on an airplane and successfully getting off without freaking out. You can visualize yourself being happily single, or happily committed. Even if the worst were to happen, you can think a situation through in its entirety, from exposition to climax to conclusion. You know what you would do. You have a plan.
When you experience a logic lapse, the climax becomes the conclusion. You imagine a situation, you figure that you would panic, and then because you’re scared, you never think through the rest of the scenario. You never think how you’d get through it, what you’d do to respond, and how you’d eventually move on with your life afterward. If you were able to do this, you wouldn’t be scared of it, because you wouldn’t think it had the power to “end” you.
This is why exposure is the most common treatment for irrational fear. By reintroducing the stressor into your life in a safe way, you are able to re-establish a line of thinking that is healthier, and calmer. Basically, you prove to yourself that you will be okay, even if something scary does happen (which most of the time it does not).
Either way, mental strength is not just hoping that nothing ever goes wrong. It is believing that we have the capacity to handle it if it does.
Maybe you don’t have that self-belief yet. That’s okay. It’s not something you’re born with, it’s something you build slowly, and over time. It’s something you develop with practice, by addressing small problems and then learning healthy coping mechanisms and effective reasoning skills.
The thing is that there are millions of scary things that can happen to us in life. That is true for everyone. When we are hung up on one over another, it’s not because it’s a more imminent or likely threat, it’s because we are less convinced we would be able to respond to it. To heal, we don’t need to avoid it. We need to develop logic to see situations for what they are and respond appropriately to them.
So often in life, our biggest anxiety comes not from what’s actually happening, but from how we think about what is happening. In that, we reclaim our emotional freedom and power.