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Overcome Fears and Phobias
November 07, 2011

Simple Ways to Tame Anxiety

November 7, 2011
Volume 11, Issue 11

Have you ever found yourself thinking "the harder I try, the worse it gets"? This month's issue of Anxiety Coach® takes a look at this thought.

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The harder I try...

...the worse it gets.

Have you ever said that, or thought it, about your efforts to overcome anxiety? Many patients have said this to me, although they didn't entirely understand the message it contained at the time.

If you're having trouble with a computer problem, or assembling a piece of "easy-to-assemble" furniture, you probably know that there's a point at which you're better off trying something different. You probably know that it doesn't help to keep forcing the screw that won't fit, or running the same software again and again, hoping to get a different result. Nor does it help to get more upset and critical.

All too often, though, people don't get that about anxiety. They observe this thought - the harder I try, the worse it gets - while struggling to overcome panic attacks, or obsessive thoughts, but don't really trust it enough to benefit from it.

What does it mean?

It can be a really helpful observation.

It doesn't mean that I'm stupid, weak, or defective, although all too often this is the impression people form. It doesn't mean that there's something wrong with my brain, my spirit, or my character. It doesn't mean I can't get better.

It means there's something wrong with the methods I'm using.

When does trying harder make it worse?

If your puppy gets off the leash and runs down the street, he'll run faster if you chase him. The faster you run, the faster he'll run, because he thinks it's a game. Since he's got four legs to your two, things will quickly get worse. Better you should run away from him, and let him catch you.

If you're putting out fires with gasoline, the faster you pour, the worse it gets. You may not know what else to do, but the first step is always the same - put down the buckets!

Trying harder makes things worse when I'm using a method that's really unhelpful.

This is an observation you can trust

This is the gold standard for figuring out what's going on with you. What does your experience tell you? It's better than anything you will read, or see on TV, or hear from me.

What does your experience tell you?

If your experience tells you that the harder you try, the worse it gets, don't try harder. Try something different.

So if you've been trying to "stop thinking" about worries and replace them with happy thoughts; or trying to calm fears of a heart attack by constantly taking your pulse; or trying to overcome fears of a panic attack on the road by calling friends on your cell phone for distraction...

...and you find that "the harder I try, the worse it gets"...

Maybe those methods are like chasing the puppy.

Try something different

New patients often say to me that they have gotten worse with their fears and phobias "despite my best efforts".

It's often more true to say they've gotten worse because of their "best efforts".

If your efforts resemble chasing that puppy - if the harder you try, the worse it gets - then it's probably time to try something really different.

Here's a longer article, if you want to read more.

See you next month!


Dave Carbonell, Ph.D.

ADAA Conference in April

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America will hold their annual conference this April, in the Washington, D.C. area. It's a great conference, mostly aimed at professionals, but they also offer some programs for consumers.

Information and registration is available here.

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