Tool 3: Anxiety Experiments
Living with anxiety is a lot like being stuck on an emotional roller-coaster ride that you can’t seem to get off.
When you feel anxious, you fight to bring your distress levels down, even temporarily. You may distract yourself, suppress your anxious thoughts, or repeatedly reassure yourself or seek reassurance from others. You may try to figure out what is making you so anxious. Or maybe you have become an expert avoider of certain places, people, or situations. You may not even realize you are doing it anymore.
However, anxiety inevitably sneaks up on you and “bullies” you into using the same old tactics to cope with the distress. But you never feel quite in control of how you feel, and these old tactics eventually lose their effectiveness. You will likely find yourself getting even more anxious over time.
Have you considered that what you fear is possibly something you can cope with? Are you living your life in a way that prevents you from finding out whether the threat is really so overwhelming?
Find out for yourself if your fear is real
Try this experiment in the next week: instead of listening to what your anxiety is telling you to do (or not do), “shake it up” and try something a little different. It might feel like the stakes are so high. But just take baby steps.
For example, let’s say you are avoiding postpartum exercise groups. You tell yourself, “It would be a too distressing being around all those women I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to handle it.” But how do you know what it will be like for you?
For your experiment, instead of never going to a new postpartum exercise group, you could decide to go just for the first 10 minutes. Or if that feels like too much, just walk by and look in to see what it’s like. When you get more information, you can give yourself a chance to make a decision that’s not based on fear alone.
Let’s see how Salima, Jennifer, and Ellen experimented with their thoughts