Anxiety that causes serious discomfort shouldn’t have to go on forever. Yet long-term talk therapy and treatment with medications don’t always free a person who’s suffering. Millions of Americans are dealing with some form of anxiety disorder: according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), each year, 40 million American adults grapple with an anxiety disorder in some form.
One approach that can help you break free of anxiety and phobias is a simple series of steps. Unlike open-ended talk therapy, it’s not expensive or time-consuming, and unlike pharmacological approaches, it has no side effects.
It’s called LPA — Learning, Philosophizing, and Action.
This direct approach enables you to identify the problem, and think about the problem and its affects on your life, relationships, work, and home. After you learn more about your anxiety or phobia, and consider how it’s limited you, you can start taking clear steps to defuse its power over you.
Once you learn LPA, the only tools you need are a good chair, a pen and a notebook. Try to practice what you’ve learned three or more times a week. It doesn’t have to take long — five minutes is plenty. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, or overwhelmed by fear, stop the exercise, get up, and resolve to try again the next day.
Here’s how each step works:
To follow the LPA steps you need to first quiet the mind. There are many simple and effective relaxation techniques for this.
For instance: Find a quiet spot and a comfortable, supportive chair. Next, take a few easy, deep breaths. Feel yourself begin to float on each breath. When you reach a peaceful state of relaxation, you’re ready to start the next step.
In the learning phase, you focus on the nature and details of the problem by asking yourself questions. Write down all the details of what you remember and realize, including how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.
If you’re facing an anxiety, ask yourself:
- What am I feeling?
- What is making me anxious?
- How do I feel when I am anxious — for instance, a stomachache, a headache, sweating?
If you are addressing a phobia, ask yourself:
- What am I afraid of?
- What does this fear prevent me from doing — for instance, leaving the house, taking the subway, or driving across a bridge?
- How do I feel in the grip of this phobia?
Now ask yourself about the first time you began to this way:
- What is my first memory of feeling this way?
- What else was going on at the time?
- What did I learn?
Once you have learned about the nature of your anxiety or phobia, you have enough information to look at the bigger picture. During this phase, you step back and challenge the thinking to led to this problem in the first place. Your look for the origins of your anxiety or phobia, and think about how it has affected your life, your relationships, your work and even your financial situation over time.
- Did someone else convince me to feel this way?
- Is it possible I picked up this anxiety or phobia from a parent?
- What’s the big picture?
- How did I take this belief and expand on it myself?
Without meaning to, parents may pass on their anxieties and phobias to their children. But this faulty learning can be fixed. You can use a simple math problem to illustrate: A child walks into kindergarten, having been convinced at home that 2 + 2 = 3. It’s only going to take one quick lesson to show that is wrong. This may be a simplified version, but it shows what happens with learned or even inherited anxieties and phobias. The learning passed on to you was flawed, but you believed it.
Dogs, cars, deep water, dentists — Think about how you picked up on other people’s anxieties. Were you encouraged to feel anxiety or fear in certain situations? You may have grown up thinking that feeling anxious was perfectly normal. But now you can change that thinking. Consider the impact this anxiety or phobia has had on your life. If you could undo its power, wouldn’t you?
Taking action means unlearning those behaviors. One effective tool for this step is the Probable or Possible exercise. It helps defuse the power of the anxiety or phobia by looking at whether or not something is likely to actually happen. For instance, if you’re phobic about dogs, you may be afraid of being bitten in circumstances when it would be very hard for that to happen. For example: you are on one side of the street, and a dog and its owner are walking on the other side of the street. Yet you’re afraid the dog will bolt, escape its leash, and come and bite you. That’s often the way fear works: it takes a possibility and intensifies it until it seems like a near-certainty. Irrational or not, you believe it. Asking if it’s possible or problem is a way to take that fear and reduce it down to size.
So ask: It many be possible that the dog runs across the street to bite me. But is it probable?
Think about it: what is the likelihood of that really happening?
Investigate all the factors that would have to be in place for the fear to come true. You could even research the statistics, or learn all about dog behavior. Information is often a missing piece of the anxiety and phobia puzzle.
Once you know the different between the possible risk and the probable risk, remind yourself: This is possible, but it is not really probable. Keep reminding yourself that, and see how you feel the next time you encounter a dog.
The LPA brings new perspectives to old faulty beliefs and problems, helping you see your way out of old patterns. It also works in small steps, each just one part of the process. Do these as much as you want. Remember that you are the one in control. But the more you practice, the more effective it will be. That’s because when you do something successfully a number of times, the success-producing behaviors replace your old thought and behavior patterns with positive, productive ones.
Brick by brick, you can take the actions to face your fears, free yourself from them, change your life. And once you learn LPA and incorporate it into your routine, you can use it to tackle other obstacles. LPA has been proven to be highly effective in dealing with many forms of PTSD and conquering insomnia as well.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Understand the Facts Depression. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression