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Image by Matt Power

Therapy for Anxiety

Humans evolved to anticipate the worst.

 

Imagine two early humans in an uncertain situation: they’ve come across a shadow in the distance, and neither person is quite sure what it is. One person decides the shadow is a bear and runs for cover. The other decides it’s a blueberry bush and approaches. 

 

The early human who approaches the shadow could end up eating a nice snack. But perhaps the other person was right: if the shadow is a bear, this person may not make it back alive, an outcome that thinned the ranks of early optimists!

 

I share this with you to help you understand that when you experience anxiety, your brain is functioning like it was evolved to do. Our ancestors who imagined danger in every shadow were more likely to survive, and they passed this survival instinct onto us. We still focus on the scary side of uncertainty, because it’s what kept our ancestors alive.

 

Of course, many of the uncertainties we encounter today are not life-threatening. They might sound like: 

 

“I’m miserable at my job, but if I leave, will I find myself in a worse situation?”

“Will I find a partner in time to have a family?”

“I’m anxious about feeling anxious again.” 

 

Even though these situations probably won’t kill us, our bodies still produce a run-for-your-life response: heart racing, trouble sleeping, upset stomach, tense muscles, hypervigilance, constant worrying. Over time, that response becomes agonizing and exhausting.

 

Therapy cannot eliminate anxiety. Nor would we want it to: at its best, anxiety has the power to reveal what’s most important and motivate us to protect those important things.

 

Instead, therapy for anxiety is about changing your relationship with anxiety. To do this, we’ll get curious about when and how your anxiety shows up. Then we’ll look at how you respond to it. I’ll help you see the ways in which your relationship with anxiety keeps you stuck in it. We’ll also make sense of your anxiety, and your relationship with it, against the backdrop of your life. 

 

From that place, a new relationship with anxiety starts to take shape, and anxiety starts to feel more tolerable. 

 

When anxiety feels tolerable, we don’t work so hard to avoid it, and that frees up our energy to pursue more richness of experience and connection. 

 

Your tendency toward dread is not a character flaw; it’s your brain working hard to protect you, the people you love, and the things most precious to you, as it was evolved to do. If you’re interested in moving toward a different relationship with anxiety, please feel free to contact me.

 

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