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Rewire your anxious brain Part II

Understanding the Avoidance cycle-

Avoidance is an easy way to reduce your anxiety but is worst for long term solution. Every time you avoid a task you are giving your monkey a banana, feeding monkey logic, encouraging your monkey to reuse the anxious thought.

Justin was a fifteen-year-old who loved skateboarding. He rode his skateboard to school and to his friends’ houses, and he spent as much time as he could at the skate park. One day he was on his way home from skating with his friends when an off-leash dog in a park began to chase him. Justin was listening to music on his headphones and he didn’t hear the dog approaching. When the dog caught up to him it knocked him off his skateboard. The dog’s owner quickly appeared and pulled the dog away, apologizing repeatedly. Justin wasn’t bitten, but he felt like he could have been. He told the dog’s owner he was okay, but he walked home bruised and shaken.

The next day, Justin was skateboarding to school when he spotted a neighbor walking her large dog, coming directly toward him. He felt his heart begin to beat fast and was aware of feeling panic, like how he felt the day before. Justin stopped skating and picked up his board. He was only a block from home, so he decided to walk back and catch a ride to school from one of his parents. As soon as the front door shut, and he was back in his house he felt much calmer.

The next day when Justin reached for his skateboard, he felt a little wave

of anxiety. He wondered whether he might run into that dog again. So,

just to be safe, he had his parents drive him to school again.

When Justin went to the skate park the next day, he noticed for the first

time that the dogs in the nearby dog park were off leash. The thought

popped into his mind that someone might open the gate and one of the

dogs that was off leash could escape and attack him. He tried to keep

skating, but he was so distracted by his new thought and the anxious

feelings it brought up that he fell twice, and finally he called his dad to

come pick him up.

It is this avoidance of anxiety that is taking up so much time and energy that you have nothing left for what really matters to you. And if you keep feeding your monkey, that avoidance cycle will only get worse. Make no mistake about it: in order to reclaim your life, you need to stop the avoidance cycle in its tracks!

v Tools to tame the monkey mind

· Spot the Thought

Think of a situation that makes you anxious. Then ask yourself these three questions:

1. What am I afraid of?

2. What’s the worst that could happen if this comes true?

3. What would this mean about me, my life, or my future?

These are the thoughts that drove your behavior in that situation. These thoughts might be reasonable and true signals that this situation is somehow dangerous for you. Or they could be false alarms, a product of the monkey mind.

· Ask yourself-

What is the cost I am paying to eliminate all risk from my life?

Now let’s take another look at Justin’s anxious thoughts, this time looking for monkey miscalculations.

1. What if the dog gets off the leash?

2. That dog might attack me.

3. I am such a wimp, needing my parents to drive me!

Identifying the monkey miscalculations in your anxious thoughts helps you think more objectively. If the thought is inaccurate and there is no actual danger, then the anxiety that thought triggers is a false alarm. Knowing that allows you to distance yourself from your monkey, and it opens you up to new ideas and possibilities. What kinds of thoughts happen when you take everything into consideration, not just your monkey’s wild guesses?

· Alternative Thoughts

This tool is really the second half of the “Spot the Thought” exercise. Here you’ll respond to the anxious thoughts you now know are monkey chatter with some new, alternative ideas. These alternative thoughts will lay the groundwork for a new way to think and ultimately a new way to live your life.

Here are some of Justin’s alternative thoughts:

1. I have been around a lot of dogs and never really been attacked.

2. Most dogs are on leashes.

3. Just because I feel afraid doesn’t mean I am in danger.

4. The possibility of a dog getting off its leash and attacking me is very unlikely.

Now Justin had a choice. He had two ways to think about the problem, and one offered a lot more hope than the other.

If you haven’t already, try the Spot the Thought and Alternative Thoughts exercises for yourself. Think back to some situations that made you anxious this past week.

After using these tools a few times on paper, you will be able to ask and answer these questions in your head whenever the need arises.

What we have learned so far about the monkey mind is that it is always chattering, and if we are not careful, it will automatically drive our feelings and behavior. When you pay attention to the chatter, you are rewarding the monkey. It loves attention. For the monkey, attention is as good as a banana. The problem is, the more you feed the monkey the more it will chatter. We will talk about more techniques and tactics in the next part.

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