What is the anxiety trick?
The anxiety trick is this: you experience discomfort and you get fooled into treating it like danger. You become afraid of fear itself.
What do we do when we’re in danger? We only have three human reactions: we fight, we flight or we freeze. If it looks weaker than us, we fight it. If it looks stronger than us, we run away or deny it and if it looks way unobtainable we freeze. That is all we have for danger.
When people experience the fear of a panic attack or a phobic encounter, they instinctively treat it as a danger. They try to protect themselves with a variation of those fight, flight or freeze.
And this is what the world of politics materializes in today.
Especially if we focus on the refugees’ crisis, people experience discomfort as migrants from politically instable states flee their country to come find a new home. Those migrants are instantly treated as danger as they represent a misshape in our daily life. As they all are in a weaker shape and position, economically, socially and politically speaking, we fight them, push them away. Climate change seems so stronger and powerful than us that we would rather denying it, focusing on other “more important issues” as our beloved new president of the United States is doing.
You might wonder then why don’t people come to see this pattern, of repeated episodes of fear that never actually translate into the feared outcome, and why don’t they lose their fear gradually?
The answer lies right here: they took safe and protective steps and it didn’t end up in a catastrophe. They tend to believe that these steps they took prevented the catastrophe from happening. But this process only leads us to worrying more about what will happen “next time”. It convinces us that we are terribly vulnerable and must constantly protect ourselves at any cost. Closing borders, creating visas from migrants from “unsafe countries”, issuing mandates against strangers, fearing the unknown, those are all examples of protective steps we take when facing migration.
But the truth is that people get through the experience because the experience is not actually dangerous. Nevertheless, it is understandably hard for people to recognize that at the time. They are more likely to think they had a narrow escape that leads them to redouble their protective steps: they believe that if they did not suffer from any kind of economic recession or terrible internal conflict it is because they decided to avoid letting refugees enter their countries. It’s the protective steps which actually maintain and strengthen the anxiety trick, which makes you believe that if you avoided a catastrophe or in this case for example, terrorist attacks, it is because you closed all possible way of entrance for the migrants. And you’re going to get more stuck in the habit of “protecting yourself” by these means.
This is how the problem gets embedded in history. You think you’re helping yourself and your country but you’ve been tricked in making it worse. Because you protect yourself against something that is not necessarily dangerous and this makes the fear worsens over time.
So how do you overcome that?
The thing that makes phobias so persistent inherently implemented in our society is that anything we do to oppose, avoid, escape or distract ourselves from this “threat” is turned against us and makes it a more persistent part of our life.
All too often, our politicians or representatives get the idea that exposure means going into a place or situation where you’re likely to be in danger, for example the country or a camp and don’t feel any anxiety or danger. That’s not the point. The point is to go there and feel the danger but be sure to stay there and let this fear of danger leave first. Always keep in mind that exposure is practice with fear, and do nothing to oppose, avoid, or distract from the fear during exposure.
The way to disarm the Trick is to increasingly spend time with that fear of danger and unsureness, to expose yourself to the thoughts and sensations, and allow them to subside over time.