The Story Behind Your Anxiety

anxiety, panic, blog

I was on my knees, tears surging from my eyes, when my uncle told me I was going to die.

I felt something like despair, even pain, when he explained to me that all people vanish from the Earth.

I can still see the 7 year old me slumped over two bony legs wondering how I could avoid this calamity.

And you know what? I still don’t want to die – not now, not ever.

My desire to survive death has always been at the heart of my anxiety. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that, and couldn’t deal with it, until much later.

That’s why it took me so damn long to recover. I was too scared to confront what I feared most.

I’m here to tell you that there’s a better, faster way to expose your deepest fear. That’s the key. Once you know what you are really afraid of you can confront it, accept it, and move on.

I have to warn you though; if you do this you’re going to feel anxious (seriously). And you know what? Good. It’s time that you stopped tip toeing around your anxiety.

And yes, it’s hard. But so is being a victim of fear. So let me explain exactly how this is done.

Note the Time

You can approach this process with fear, hopefulness, or even glee. You can feel however you want about it. But you better take it seriously. Let me say it again: you must take this seriously.

It’s because you’re a flake. All of us are. Can you remember how many times you’ve come across a promising anxiety solution only to never try it?

Yes, of course you can. I can too. It’s a complete mystery to me why we sometimes do that kind of thing, but it happens. So I’m going to ask you to try this for your own good.

So the first thing we have to do is find out what made you anxious.

Step 1

Grab a sheet of paper and draw a line across the middle. The line should stretch across the entire sheet of paper.

Step 2

On the far left, make a small dash and write the word born. On the far right of the paper make another dash and write the word now.

Step 3

Create a time line of all events in your life that you feel may have caused your anxiety to develop. This could be anything, including: panic attacks, illness, drugs, alcohol abuse, divorce, loss, or whatever you think started it all.

Step 4

Now rate each event from 0-10. Zero means no impact and 10 represents maximum impact.

Then select the event with the highest rating. If there’s a tie between any two events choose the one you think is most related to your anxiety problem. Next, circle that bad boy and move on to the next step.

You Don’t Take it Far Enough

Have you ever listened to yourself explain your anxiety to someone else?

You probably sound like this: “I get chest pains that send me into a panic and I don’t know what to do about it.” And you wonder why no one understands you.

Where are the details? Where is the description of what it feels like to have your heart slam into the inside of your chest?

Today you’re going to write it all out – every chill, tingle, and ache, all of it.

Why would I ask you to do this? Well, it’s simple. You need to identify what you’re afraid of, in detail, so you can learn to numb yourself to it.

You ever wonder how homicide detectives, coroners and undertakers work with the dead without losing their lunch? The reason is this: exposure.

If you expose yourself to something gross often enough you will reduce the gross factor over time. You adjust.

People with anxiety don’t adjust. They run, deny, lie, hide – whatever it takes to not deal with their fears. Don’t do that.

Here’s how:

Step 1

Pull out another piece of paper and draw a vertical line (up and down) down the middle.

Step 2

At the top of this paper write out the event that you selected from your time line.

Step 3 (aka the hardest and most important step)

First, take a deep breath. Then in the left column write out the entire event, what happened, in bullet points – don’t just do a vague retelling, either. That’s not good enough. You need to write it out second by second, no detail is too small.

If you feel your anxiety rising to a level that is uncomfortable, stop. Come back to it when you’ve calmed down.

After you’ve finished the entire story go back and circle the bullet points that scared you the most – the moments in time where you thought you would go mad or die.

Step 4

In the right column you’re going to challenge every single anxious thought linked to the bullet points you circled.

Go back and think about what you told yourself at that time and write it down. Now, right next to your self-talk write all the reasons why those thoughts are wrong, exaggerated or even impossible.

Step 5

Repeat the process on multiple days until you feel little or no anxiety when you rewrite the event.

Fighting Anxiety is a Contact Sport

To say that you need to face your fears is cliche. It’s a stale idea that’s been repeated so much that it’s been rendered meaningless.

Yet, it’s true. You need to make time to sort this out.

I hate to say it my friend, but there are times when you have to go through it – through the pain, the fear, the memories, all the crap that you repress so that you can get up in the morning and go to work, it all has to be dealt with.

When you write it all down your issues will stare back at you with eyes narrowed, ready to fight. And that’s a good thing. At least now there’s something to see, a clear target, a reason for all the absurdity.

The next step, the hardest of all, is approaching your fears without preconceived notions or backup plans. It’s about allowing yourself to sit with it, all of it, until it doesn’t bother you anymore.

In other words, getting better is about exposure to the fine details of fear. Exposure leads to adjustment, comfort and peace, and is only achieved through honesty, clarity and a willingness to embrace what you fear most.

It’s not easy. It wasn’t for me. But you’ll soon learn that the more you confront your fears the easier it gets. Until one day you’ll look back and wonder why the hell it took you so long to get better.

Are you going to flake on me?

You better not. You’re going to sit down and write this out, day after day, until you truly feel peace in your heart.

If not, nothing will change for you – nothing.

For those of you that prefer a visual experience I’ve included a short video. Click here.

I hope it helps.

If you have any questions please post those in the comments section below.

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  • Vivian Lee

    So here’s an interesting question for you. I’ve always had anxiety my entire life, ever since I can first remember as a kid. Now that I’m a working adult, I’m finding that things that never triggered attacks for me are suddenly doing it. What’s worse – the things that are triggering attacks for me are positive images and thoughts. For example, researching healthy habits, or reading a self-help book, or reading an article about positivity. I have no idea what could have caused this anxiety, and I’m not really sure how to get rid of it. Thoughts?

  • Paul Dooley

    Hi Vivian, I’d say that for a lot of people there isn’t always a single trigger for their anxiety. If that’s the case for you then perhaps it would be more helpful to deal with your anxious thoughts alone.

    So you might examine the thought that most often jumps into your mind when you feel anxious and deal with that first.

    This technique was helpful for me because I can recall the specific moment that I became anxious.

    But even if you’re unable to do that, examining your automatic anxious thoughts, and challenging them, can be helpful.


  • :(

    knowing there is no cure for Chronic anxiety its self giving me another anxiety :(

  • Paul Dooley

    Hey sad face, that’s not true – chronic, abnormal anxiety can be treated.

  • esds55

    I’ve had anxiety disorder for quite a while now. My most prominent symptom is dizziness. I like to think that I was able to cope with it pretty well, but the only situation that I can’t get over is whenever I go to a crowded place, after a while, the noise and crowds just makes me very dizzy. I was told this is anxiety related, however, no matter how often I’ve exposed myself to this situation, I can never seem to get over it. Any suggestions?

  • Paul Dooley

    Hey there esds55, You might try exposure to crowds with a therapist at your side. Sounds drastic, but it’s a highly effective option.

  • Sophia

    Hello, Paul. Could you share a little about how you dealt with your fear of death? The reason I ask is because I’ve been bothered by that fear for most of my life and believe it has led to a lot of the anxiety I have felt as well. That and the fear of losing my mind because as a child I watched my older brother as he developed schizophrenia. Is it only about allowing myself to feel those fears more fully or is it more about challenging my thoughts associated with it?

  • Paul Dooley

    Hey Sophia,

    It’s a two step solution. On the one hand, you have to challenge negative thoughts, otherwise they become the new normal, what you believe to be true, which will dictate how bad, and for how long this continues for you.

    The second, and in my view most important part, is accepting your experience and whatever might be ahead.

    You fears and worries won’t stop you from dying. You have no control over how and when you’ll leave this Earth, or what happens after for that matter. So why worry about it?

    There’s no point. No good answer. It just is.
    I dealt with it by dealing more with my life; My family, friends, work and helping others.

    I am desperate to make my life count now, not later because once it’s done, it’s done.

    Same goes for most of our worries. Guarding yourself against the unknowable is a waste of time.

    Live your life. Focus on getting better. That would be an excellent use of your time.


  • Sophia

    Thank you, Paul. That is very helpful.

  • Martin P.

    Well, after about 6 months I’m back here :) but I have to say: I had the six best months of my life. I learned how to handle, diminish and subdue my anxiety by applying the above. not on paper though but by creating a mental map and replacing every wrong or scary thought with reality. and what helped me most, was to disagree with my anxiety: whatever my anxiety told me not to do, I DID with a big smile on my face!
    so yeah, I’ve had half a year of almost no anxiety. and now it’s back… but I’m not as scared anymore. I know what I did last time, will work this time. I know anxiety is mostly self-inflicted, fuelled by fears, rumination and disbelief. I sometimes even enjoy my anxiety because I know every bout of anxiety I have will make me stronger and anxiety smaller.
    For this, I want to say a sincere THANK YOU PAUL! I know I’m probably still a long way from complete recovery but thanks to you, I have the tools and the knowledge to become stronger and less fearful. I took the info you provided, moulded it to my particular case and applied it, again and again and again.
    I managed to do things I never thought I’d do. met new people. travelled, climbed.. did all the things my anxiety told me over the years I was unable of and there are more to come because I’m not stopping here. I’m going to kick anxiety so hard, it’s going to run away squealing.

    Once again, THANKS! I probably could not have recovered so much and so fast without this website and all your useful tips!

  • Martin P.

    Oh and by the way, while we’re on the topic of facing fears, could you maybe give us some tips on how to face certain fears like the fear of losing it or schizophrenia since these are a bit harder to face considering they don’t have a physical shape like a fear of dogs or elevators etc.
    this is my main fear still causing some anxiety at times or even a relapse.
    thanks :)

  • anxietyfighter

    I have this same problem! I’m getting my other thoughts under control (fear of having some weird disease, fear of failing, etc.), but I’m scared that I’m going to just lose it and snap one day. I’m not scared of schizophrenia, but more scared of having my anxiety cause me to be aggressive or something (I’m not aggressive at all normally) and hurt someone, even though I’ve never done this in my life! Does anyone else have this fear? Am I weird? I’m too scared to work on this thought in case I make it worse, and I’m too scared to tell anyone because they will think I’m crazy.It kind of sucks, and it’s hard to get over when I can’t even work on it because of fear!