One of the reasons I tell you that you have to get to “know” your anxiety, is because in order to achieve successful recovery, you have to be able to stay one step ahead of your anxiety.
Anxiety is truly one of the greatest allies you will have in life, however it’s like an over-protective mother in it’s desire to keep you safe from harm. It loves you and it means well, but it will use every trick in the book to make sure you are under its control and doing exactly what it wants you to do, which, in your subconscious’ case, is to keep yourself safe.
Every since the day you were born you have always had a subconscious that was a bit over-protective and not terribly confident in your ability to fend off danger. At some point, something happened in your life, whether it was chronic stress or one big stressful event, that really kicked this hyper-protectiveness into overdrive. Whatever it was that happened, it made your subconscious say “That’s it! Enough! I always knew this world was unsafe. I tried to trust you but nope, those days are over. This world is too uncertain. I am taking over from now on.” It decided to pump up your adrenaline output and rev your nervous system up to the highest “settings”, basically keeping your alarm system on high 24 hours a day in order to make sure you were able to handle the next round of danger when it came. This is the point in time when you started feeling anxiety symptoms frequently, if not all the time, and you, being unaware that all this had played out in your headed over the course of the past weeks or months, started to wonder what in the heck happened to the old you and maybe even if you were starting to lose your mind.
After living in this hyper-sensitized state for a while, some of us are fortunate enough to be able to take some time to heal from our previous stressors, or become so otherwise engaged with or distracted by life that we find we start “forgetting” about our anxiety for longer and longer periods of time. We find we are getting used to our symptoms and they are either going away or we are becoming so habituated to them that we don’t notice them anymore.
Great news for us, right?
But to our subconscious, this is not great news at all. It is losing control of us, and it can’t have that. If it loses control then we could get relax too much and get hurt and that would be very bad. So it has to find a way to get us back under its thumb again. That is where the Wheel of Disaster comes into play.
The Wheel of Disaster is basically your subconscious mind’s version of playing dirty pool.
It scours the world around you, looks at what is going in your life and tries to find something new, and scary – the odder it is the better – that will attract your attention and make you nervous again so that you will go back to your heightened state of awareness and stay safe.
Let me explain:
People don’t usually immediately recognize when their anxiety is getting better. Everybody envisions their recovery as though one day they will wake up and birds will pull back their blankets for them and they will think, “I am cured!” But it doesn’t really work that way. Anxiety recovery is usually very gradual for those of us who have drifted into the “disorder” aspect of it, and awareness of our recovery usually consists of the realization, often months into the process, that you haven’t thought of your anxiety in days or weeks. You realize you are almost starting to feel “normal” again!
Right about this time, quite often before your conscious mind even has a chance to realize you are improving, your subconscious mind starts to pick up on the fact that your brain is becoming occupied with things other than keeping yourself alive. You are no longer thinking you could go crazy. You are no longer thinking your heart palpitations could be a sign of a cardiac problem. You are no longer afraid to drive under that bridge. You are thinking about social engagements, and what’s on TV tonight, and where you should go on vacation next year. You are thinking about very casual things! Your subconscious mind thinks “Casual thinking isn’t going to keep us safe! It’s a war zone out there. He can’t be thinking about buying tickets to a football game. I’ve got to take matters into my own hands.”
In a desperate attempt to set your alarms off and take you right back to the hyper alert zone you had just begun to find your way out of, your subconscious spins the Wheel of Disaster again and again, trying to lure you into a line of thought that will catch your attention. At first, it might not be successful.
For example, your subconscious might try baiting the hook by throwing the thought out there of “What was that feeling in my chest?” and the new, less anxious you might foil it by thinking “Oh yeah, I had onions for lunch. Its just acid, not a heart attack.”
So then your subconscious might whisper “Did I unplug the curling iron? I hope the house doesn’t catch on fire. A house fire could kill the whole family.” And of course the new, less reactive you says “Yep. I am sure I did.”
Keep in mind these often aren’t actual thoughts you are having. These are often split second little micro-conversations you are having with yourself that don’t use words…they use mental images and emotions. These micro conversations are what make up the inner thought world of human beings a great deal of the time. In this particular situation, these conversations consist of: image of something awful happening, just a blip of fear, and then reassuring yourself and mentally moving on to another topic. The fear never really ignites, because the new mentally healthier you, doesn’t fall for these tricks.
your subconscious doesn’t give up and it keeps spinning that wheel until it lands on something that sticks. Quite often it is something odd and “out there” such as a quick little realization that you haven’t had any anxiety symptoms for a while. You might take that bait, and emotionally respond with “It doesn’t feel normal to not have anxiety. This is freaking me out. ” Because this is so new and strange it DOES catch your attention, and these little micro-feelings now become very big feelings that you are very consciously aware of and very distressed by. You will want to analyze this new fear:
“I am afraid that I wasn’t afraid. But now I AM afraid and I am very upset and anxious because I am now afraid about the fact that I wasn’t afraid! This makes no sense! Why am I feeling this way now? What does it MEAN?”
Regardless of the topic that the Wheel of Disaster lands on, once this thought seed takes root in your mind, it can last for days or weeks. The good news is that this occurrence is a very common, normal occurrence among people who live with anxiety disorders. In fact, it is actually a sign that you are making very good progress in your recovery.
How can coming up with new, often stranger fears and thoughts be a GOOD sign?
Because it means it means that your subconscious now has to WORK to get you to over-react.
Before, it seemed as though anything could set off your anxiety. It was so easy to keep yourself worked up and in a state of nervous tension. But now, it’s not so easy to get yourself there. You now have to play mental worry games with yourself to stay in your subconscious comfort zone of fear and apprehension. It’s a sign that you are growing and becoming stronger and adapting to the mental games you unknowingly try to sabotage yourself with.
So remember, if you go through a period where you are doing a bit better, but now you seem to have really regressed, don’t think of it as regressing. Think of it as leveling up. You have passed the first test of being in control of your life, and now its time to show yourself what you are really made of.
Ultimately, your “nervous mother” subconscious wants YOU to win. You win by proving that you are no longer an over-reactor. You win by proving that you can handle anything. You win by proving that you don’t stress about things such as “I haven’t had anxiety in a while.” or “I have anxiety about having anxiety.”, or any other random topic your subconscious mind throws at you. You win by showing your subconscious that you don’t care about that Wheel of Disaster because you have it all under control. If you stay calm and don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole again, you subconscious will say “Okay. This is reassuring. I feel better. We seem really in control here. I think maybe things are getting better. Maybe there isn’t so much to worry about anymore.”, and it will settle down. It will quit trying to keep you hyper-alert and it will quit testing you.
There are three of you in this anxiety disorder together:
To put it in a very basic, simple way, there is your conscious self – which is basically, your active, aware self.
There is your brain which is your tech center.
And there is your subconscious self, which is your inner voice, the “deeper” you…your emotional, protective core.
None of the three of you WANT you to be in the throes of an anxiety disorder. The problem is that there is a real lack of faith and trust between the three of you. None of you really believe that the other parts know what they are doing. You are wondering if your brain is sick or “crazy”. Your brain thinks you live with lions outside your door. Your subconscious think if there ARE lions outside your door you will NEVER be able to handle it in a million years. Its all kind of a mess up there, but it is a mess like a dysfunctional family. Not a mess as in “I have a disease and my sanity is slowly being sucked away.” Its all totally correctable.
Have faith in yourself. Have faith in your brain. Have faith in that overprotective subconscious you have. These are all great parts of you. You just have to learn to get them under control and show them you are in charge of your life.
You are the leader of this trio of good-intentions. You are the one in charge. If you prove that by showing the other two some confidence, determination, and calm, in a consistent and persistent manner, they will fall in line. It may take some time, but they will fall in line and back off.
Do not give in to the bait your subconscious throws at you. If you start regressing back into anxiety again, pat yourself on the back and tell yourself “I must really be doing well, if these are the kinds of games my mind is playing with me.” Resist the urge to analyze whatever “brain junk” thoughts and phobias are thrown your way. Carry on no matter what is being dangled in front of you, and keep telling yourself you are calm and in control. That is how you win this worry game. That is how you win ALL worry games.
The Wheel of Disaster never goes away.
Your subconscious keeps it in a closet in the back of your mind and will cart that thing out on an “as needed” basis. I am 25 years into this, and mine still gets pulled out from time to time. You just have to recognize when its being spun, recognize when your subconscious is “testing” you again, and when it’s starting to mistrust your world again, and then look at your thoughts and your life and see what it is you can do to reassure it, stay in control, and keep moving forward as opposed to regressing back into your anxiety disorder.