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Feeling Anxious versus Feeling Fine

Most of my clients over the decades have had high anxiety which has, in part, driven them to non-hunger eating. While I believe that there’s a genetic, neurobiological component to anxiety, I also know that it’s triggered by irrational beliefs that escalate, rather than de-escalate, distress and stress. Here’s a way out of anxious moments.

Anxiety is a perceived sense of a general threat to self, while fear is a specific one. You may fear particular events like being bitten by a dog, getting an injection, having Uncle Bill pinch you as he did when he got drunk when you were a child. Alternately, you may be anxious in vaguer, more general situations—around strangers or in circumstances in which you need to perform or don’t have control. Get the difference?

When you’re anxious, you “leave” the present and “enter” a mental future. To remain present, you need to observe how you are (not how you feel) in the moment, that is, you are safe and there is no actual threat. In truth, you are safe—but you feel anxiety. So, logic says, if you’re fine in this moment and the next and the next, you can’t help but be fine in the future. Think about that. There’s no reason for you not to be fine if there’s no threat to self in the moment. And, if you are safe, there’s no need for anxiety.

You might note that you are fine now, but what about a day, a week, or a year from now. Well, what about it? If you continue to observe that you are safe (threat-free) on a minute/hourly/daily basis, you will always be fine. “Fine” is a state of mind that is independent from external events—going away to college, getting married or divorced, leaving your job, giving a presentation, having surgery, attending a party of strangers. Tell me this, if you can make yourself not fine (anxious) when everything is hunky dory in the present, why can’t you make yourself fine (yes, it’s something you cause yourself to feel) when no real threat of harm exists?

I’m trying to show you that it’s all in your mind. That anxiety doesn’t come from what is happening around you, but from what’s going on inside you. Emotional safety and security come from knowing you can and will handle whatever happens, not from trying to avoid or micro-manage external events that have yet to happen (an impossibility). Like connection to appetite, emotional safety is what you carry around within you all the time to stay regulated. Try checking in with yourself when you start to feel anxious to see if you’re safe in that moment. If so, be glad and continue to check in as often as you need to do until you get the hang of being safe and fine most of the time.

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