Anxiety is not all bad. It is a core part of our early warning defense system when we think that there is danger around us. What I want you to do is to think about the radar system that every airport you’ve ever flow out of uses. The radar scans for planes constantly, it needs to know where they are at all times to make sure that they’re not too close to each other and to manage their arrival. The radar system only scans for and is sensitive to planes only. There is no doubt that this is a challenge, but a manageable one, is not too overwhelming and it’s managed well at thousands of airports around the world every day.
When we look at the radar scan above we can see that there are three planes, so some danger is theoretically possible but they’re not too close and it feels manageable.
What I want you to think about is what would happen if a computer glitch got into the radar system and it suddenly became really really (over) sensitive to danger and instead of picking up planes, like it needs to, it also is sensitive to birds and planes.
For someone who struggles with managing anxiety, this is how their radar will look like. It will be full of what they believe to be is potential danger everywhere. Imagine what it is like to feel surrounded by what you think and feel is danger everywhere all day every day, it would feel completely overwhelming.
To be on constant alert, to feel like you are at risk of being attacked at every moment, it’s exhausting, it feels like your emotions are draining every bit of energy that you have and that no matter where you turn you’re faced by danger. Logically you know that there can’t be that much danger around you but it’s really hard to trust that logic when your feelings and emotions are so strong. If there is no danger then why is my heart beating so fast, why am I breathing at a 100 mikes an hour and why is my stomach spinning and in knots. What if I don’t pay attention to what I’m feeling inside my body and something really bad happens, I don’t think I can let my alert levels down just in case.
The key point here is that if we have a radar that is jam packed with what looks like danger all around us, our first thought should be hang on, is this real or is this my anxiety messing with my head and making it look like there is far more danger around me than there really is?
We can’t shut down our internal anxiety radar completely because we need it to keep us safe and help us to know what is justifiable danger vs anxiety fuelled perceived danger.
So the task here is not to have the expectation of shutting off anxiety completely but to fine tune its sensitivity so that it becomes more accurate in knowing what we do need to fight or escape from.