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.
Grab a sheet of paper and draw a line across the middle. The line should stretch across the entire sheet of paper.
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.
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.
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.
Pull out another piece of paper and draw a vertical line (up and down) down the middle.
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.
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.
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.