We all worry. Some of us worry more than others, and for some, worry is a way of life. Rather than living in the here and now, we are focused on the future, on “what if’s” rather than “what is.” We create stories in our heads about what we think might happen and generally expect the worst. In an effort to prepare for the dreaded future, we try to control the present; we avoid; we become hyper-vigilant; we develop dependencies, rituals, escape plans and other crutches. To cover up our anxiety, we may behave in angry or resistant ways. And while we do all of this, we miss out on what is really happening in our lives.
Dr. Reid Wilson is an internationally-renown expert on the brief treatment of anxiety disorders. In addition to the traditional methods of treating anxiety (i.e. teaching meditation, relaxation and breathing techniques; challenging cognitive distortions; using systematic desensitization), Dr. Wilson has developed a treatment modality that might be seen as somewhat radical, but proves to be amazingly effective in helping sufferers deal with their anxiety.
Dr. Wilson has taken the phrase “feel the fear and do it anyway” to a whole new level. His theory suggests that in our efforts to control the future, we cause our anxiety to heighten and perpetuate. Paradoxically, if we want to reduce our anxiety, we need to not only accept it, but welcome it with open arms.
With that end in mind, Dr. Wilson trains his clients to play “The Anxiety Disorder Game,” whenever they feel anxious. The clients earn points as they move from a position of ‘resistance’ to their anxiety to one of ‘permission’ to ultimately, ‘provocation.’ In resistance, the anxious person feels distressed, discomfort or fear and begs for the experience to stop. With permission, the anxious person experiences the same symptoms, but this time tells the self, “I can handle this.” In the provocation stage, the individual “voluntarily, purposefully chooses to be distressed,” saying, “I’m wanting this.”
Dr. Wilson suggests that by increasing the frequency, the intensity and the duration of the experience, we “evoke a response that is physiologically incompatible with anxiety.” In other words, by taking this defiant stance, by demanding that the anxiety “bring it on,” we empower ourselves to defeat it. After all, one cannot be powerful and powerless at the same time. This game works equally well for the person who experiences Panic, Phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Social Anxiety.
If you are feeling anxious, you may wish to learn more about this problem by visiting Dr. Reid’s website, which is filled with articles, ideas, exercises and activities, or you can call me for a consultation.