Anxiety sensitivity as fear of all strong affects
In my last post, I explained that anxiety sensitivity is the fear of arousal-related sensations, arising from beliefs that the sensations will have adverse consequences such as death, insanity, or social rejection.
Fear of fear is common when you are in a neurologically vulnerable state, including being hungry, tired, angry, lonely, and stressed. We discussed how to make a plan to prevent and manage your sensitized states.
Let’s focus on other thoughts, feelings, memories, and situations that contribute to sensitization. We can try to predict and prevent sensitization, but triggers happen.
The paradox of introspection is that when you are very triggered and sensitized, all the thinking you engage in to try to “figure out” why you’re upset will likely make you more upset. It isn’t your fault. Your amygdala is doing its job searching through your memories and fears in an attempt to figure out why it’s happening, how to get out, and how to prevent it again in the future. Most people get caught in this attempt to figure it out and their rumination and worry make them feel worse.
Even if you gain insight every once in a while, the problem is that this type of rumination and worry does not help you in the long term. For long term relief, you need to switch to observing what is happening, not why its happening. Here’s my self-monitoring infographic to remind you how to switch to what is happening.
As you switch to observing what’s happening, you may find that you don’t know what you think and feel. When anxiety is challenging to identify, label, and allow, all other emotions are usually difficult to identify, label, and allow.
Here are a couple of tips to help you relate effectively to emotions besides anxiety, without avoidance, rumination, worry, or self-criticism.
- Notice when you are thinking or saying, “I’m upset,” “I just don’t feel good,” “I feel bad or down,” “I don’t like myself or this situation.” Try to identify a feeling word for these states. Take a guess at what someone else in the same position would feel if you can’t come up with anything.
- Ask yourself, “If I didn’t feel anxiety, what would I be feeling?”
- Ask yourself, “What 3 words describe what I’m experiencing?”
- If it seems like you are on the anger spectrum of feelings, get curious about whether you are also on the sadness spectrum.
- If it seems like you are on the sadness spectrum of feelings, get curious about whether you are also on the anger spectrum.