Dealing With Anxiety – Why You Shut Down When Anxious and How to Move Forward


Do you ever find yourself facing a task or a situation and you just can not seem to move forward because you are so tied up with anxiety?

This article is for you.

While you may not see yourself as “anxious”, some other words that mean the same as anxiety are nervous, worried, concerned and stressed.

According to the Emotions as Tools model, every emotion communicates a message about how we perceive what is happening to us.

When we use the information our emotions provide through this message, we gain control over our lives.

The message of anxiety is: There MAY be a threat out there and it MAY “kill” me.

The word kill is in quotes because the future about which you are concerned is viewed as disastrous and as possibly killing your plans, your dreams, or some desired outcome.

Physical death usually is not the focus of anxiety. When physical death is an issue, what you feel is fear.

The word “MAY” alerts you to the possibility that the threat does not exist or is not as bad as it initially appears to be.

Anxiety Symptoms

In situations where you have asked yourself the question “What if… ?”

  • And the answer left you feeling agitated or short of breath with your heart beating faster..
  • Or you found that it was more difficult to think straight
  • Or you wanted to escape or had difficulty taking any action…

You were experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety is a future focused emotion with a negative orientation.

Three points are important here:

1. With anxiety, you are only considering the worst possible outcome that could occur.

Another word for this is catastrophising.

2. You are NOT thinking about other possible ways your situation could resolve itself.

3. You are reacting “as if” the one scenario you are thinking about will happen and will produce the worst possible outcome for you. This is the “threat that might kill” you.

Using your anxiety as a tool

  • Anxiety is your brain warning you that action may be needed.

a. Use your emotion as a source of important information.

  • When you feel anxious, know that you are focusing on a potential threat.

a. Begin to question how real that threat is to you.

b. Think about other possible outcomes beside the one you are considering.

  • If there is a real threat:

a. Make plans to deal with it.

b. Take action.

  • If you can survive the threat:

a. It is not a catastrophe. (It may, however, be a major inconvenience.)

b. Remind yourself that there is no threat even though you are feeling anxious about it.

c. Because feelings always follow thoughts, the anxiety will go away in time.

The antidote to anxiety

The antidote to anxiety is to ask, and answer, five questions:

1. What data do I have proving a threat really exists?

2. Are there other possible outcomes that could occur?

3. If the worst possible outcome happens, can I survive it (though I may not like it)?

4. What actions can I take now that will eliminate the threat or reduce its impact?

5. What must I do now to take the above actions?

Action can eliminate anxiety.

An example

One of my college students in my Personal Growth class reported that she received an email telling her to report to her boss’s office in three days. She immediately became upset and anxious. She did not know why she was being “singled out”. Her “what-if’s” included being reprimanded, transferred to a different office, being demoted, and losing her job. She was catastrophising. She was thinking about not going back to work.

When she finally did go into see her boss, she was surprised to find out that her co-workers had, unknown to her, recommended her for an award and her boss wanted to commend her for her work.

The bottom line..

1. She did not use her emotion as a tool or use the information it provided to her.

2. She did not question the “threat” she believed existed.

3. She considered only the worst possible “what if” and got herself all worked up over nothing.

Source by Ed Daube, Ph.D.


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