Anxiety

The Monster Within: How We Feed the Appetite of Anxiety

Anxiety can be insatiable, but there are ways to stop giving it so much power.

Posted Feb 10, 2020

Pixabay / No Attribution Required
The Monster Within
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required

Anxiety is the equivalent of having a monster living on the inside. A monster that does not sleep, is always hungry, and never gives up.  The anxiety monster steals from its victims, eating them alive from within. Difficult to define and possessing elusive symptoms, anxiety sneaks up on its victims and devours them. Unfortunately, there are many ways that victims unknowingly feed the appetite of anxiety, likely because it is so difficult to recognize destruction when caught in the middle of the storm.

Anxiety is acknowledged as a risk factor for over 280 million people globally. In an acute sense, individuals with anxiety can find themselves irritable and moody with daily physical complaints. From a chronic standpoint, these persons are more likely to suffer long-term health conditions, impaired immune systems, and can even have an increased risk of heart disease.

Feeding the Monster

The paradox of anxiety, and perhaps the most disquieting aspect of it, is that its victims unwittingly feed the monster. The insidious worries and fears that anxiety sufferers experience are often abstract and implausible situations invented in their own minds. Many of these situations are based on real-life experiences. For example, failure in a relationship, making decisions that had negative outcomes, contributing to someone’s downfall – these common experiences can form the basis for anxiety-driven fears. The power of anxiety is its ability to nurture these experiences and grow them into exponentially threatening horrors in the minds of its victims.  

Once fears are formed, they are almost impossible to extinguish.  The use of thought replacement techniques, practicing mindfulness, and even some medications can certainly make fears easier to address.  Unfortunately for the millions of victims of anxiety, the likelihood of them escaping these fears in totality is bleak. This unease can quickly become a form of nourishment, a way to fuel their monster’s appetite. Hence the disconcerting realization that anxiety sufferers are aiding in their own destruction.

Although common sense dictates that recognizing a problem exists is the first step to resolving it, this is not always accurate when it comes to anxiety. Is it possible that people struggling with anxiety could instead learn how to initially ignore the problems that spark explosions of alarm?

When a person suffers from anxiety, their thought patterns fall far outside the norm. Like an out of control roller coaster, individuals with anxiety are masters at spiraling everyday problems into life-threatening fears in a matter of seconds. Distracting these thoughts from the problem at hand, if only for a short time, can restore a sense of calm that will help to address the problems more effectively in the long run. In essence, it buys these individuals precious minutes to regroup and make sure they are buckled in for the ride.

Planned Ignoring

The monster of anxiety borrows most of its power from its victims, voraciously consuming their fears and using them to escalate unhealthy and dangerous thought patterns. If victims do not find a way to shut off their perseveration on these fears, the monster will eventually gain full control.  Paradoxically, if victims can step away from their initial thoughts when confronted with a problem or a fear, their monster often quiets down. 

Pixabay / No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required

On the surface, this sounds like an easy solution. For anxiety sufferers, this can be insurmountable. The stealthy monster of anxiety sweeps up victims and turns them against themselves in an instant. Fighting your own demons is challenging enough; fighting them when you are also nourishing them at the same time is grueling.

While mindfulness and self-awareness unarguably produce beneficial results in many circumstances, they should not be the primary tools used when dealing with anxiety. Individuals suffering from anxiety are self-aware to a fault and highly trained professionals at second-guessing everything. These tools only contribute to the frenzied “what if” scenarios they experience. Given the extraordinarily unharnessed thoughts of anxiety victims, a more protective self-regulation skill can be “planned ignoring.”

Power to Survive

There is power for these victims in not immediately jumping to the potentially harmful situations that “could” occur. Because of their overactive thoughts, buying some space from problems and fears when they first arise can produce more rational and calm reactions down the line. It goes without saying that distracting oneself from anxiety-driven thoughts, even for a moment, can be an incredibly demanding goal; challenging or not, it could be lifesaving.

Learning to ignore the first grumblings of the monster is not the equivalent to being “out of touch.”  It is a way to borrow a few spare seconds to breathe before the body forgets how to in the panic-induced state that is coming. With every chance to practice this skill, seconds can turn into minutes – and minutes can turn into a lifeline.

The anxiety monster is not likely to pack up and move away.  There will always be fuel for it to feed on, often supplied by its own victims. Rather than focusing on the monster’s presence, victims may experience more relief by purposefully ignoring it in short bursts. Distract these thoughts for a few seconds by immediately turning to something unrelated, speaking out loud on an alternate topic, or physically moving your body; it may be one of the only methods to chip away at the all-consuming terror devouring you from the inside.

References

Ritchie, H., & Roser, M.  (2020) Mental Health.  https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health. 

Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017). Burden by Risk 1990-2017. Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2018.

Blumenthal,  J.A., Ph.D., & Smith, P.J., Ph.D.  (2010). Nat Rev Cardiol. 2010 Nov; 7(11): 606–608. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2010.139 PMCID: PMC3743090.