Originally published on July 5, 2020
Even In Our Most Anxious Moments, We Must Remember “This Too Shall Pass”
One of the scariest and most challenging things about dealing with anxiety is the dread we experience in the heat of panic. When our hearts are racing and our breathing is constricting, it can be extremely difficult to focus on anything other than what’s going on inside our bodies. The symptoms are just so intense, so gripping, and, seemingly, so pervasive. We can’t see a way out of the fear, these anxious symptoms, or the hysteria in our minds.
Though it’s typically not a conscious choice, we often choose to see such symptoms as “never-ending;” pessimism sets in during our darkest moments and convinces us that the anxiety we’re feeling right now will never subside, and that, even if it does, we’ll always be anxious, awkward wrecks.
Though such ideas are undoubtedly scary, and at times convincing, they are not in any way true. I mean, just think about it. Have you ever experienced a panic attack that never subsided? I’d imagine not. You probably wouldn’t be reading this post if you were currently neck-deep in a freakout. Sure, some of those attacks lasted longer than others, but, in time, all of them passed eventually.
And that’s true of all panic attacks and other anxiety-related symptoms. For the body can’t live in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight — it just doesn’t have the energy or the resources to do so. Eventually, it must return to equilibrium. Sometimes, getting there just takes a little while.
Keeping Anxiety Alive By Forgetting “This Too Shall Pass”
One of the things I find fascinating about anxiety (yeah I know you’re probably thinking, “This guy finds anxiety fascinating? Get outta here with that nonsense!”) is just how much our thoughts and attitudes influence our experience of it.
That is, if you tell yourself your anxiety will never retreat, then you’ll likely experience something similar to what you’re thinking. Of course, that anxiety, in time, will still dissipate. But, thanks to your negative and pervasive thoughts, it will likely last longer and feel more intense.
However, the opposite is also true. When you tell yourself that your current worries over whether you’ll get promoted at work are just passing through you, you help guide your anxiety out of town and allow your body to get back to that state of equilibrium faster.
Thus, when I say I find anxiety fascinating, what I mean is I think it’s so interesting to see that what we put into our minds has a direct effect on how long our fear sticks around, and to what degree.
I work with a good amount of folks who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, and while I empathize deeply with all of them, I can’t help but think that the ones who most intensely associate with their symptoms are just holding themselves up in some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
“My anxiety is just SO AWFUL. My heart races out of my chest. I feel like I’m going to pass out. I can’t think straight. It never ends.” I hear these things all the time.
Don’t get me wrong. For some people, anxiety truly is awful. I’m not trying to take that away from them or belittle their experiences. I’m just trying to highlight the fact that despite how bad it gets, it always ends. Sometimes we’re just too caught up in our heads to even realize it.
But I digress; I’m not trying to “out” anyone here — I’m just trying to prove my point. And that point is the fact that we often keep our anxiety alive through our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. For example, if I’m reeling over the onset of a panic attack, I may tell myself that said panic is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me or that it will never end.
In turn, my subconscious mind will hear such cries and respond appropriately. That is, it will pick up on the strong scent of fear and dump more stress hormones on the fire. Of course, this doesn’t help get me out of my frantic state — it only drives me further into the downward spiral of anxiety. And, in that spiral, the negative feelings breed even more negative thoughts — and so on and so on — until I break the cycle and give myself a chance to float back up to the surface.
Using “This Too Shall Pass” to Break the Cycle of Fear
Even though we feel like panic will never subside when we’re experiencing it, it always does. The key to getting such intense fear to retreat is to take our eyes off the anxiety itself and chart a path toward equilibrium. We can’t do this if we’re telling ourselves that we’re stuck in such a terrible state forever — that’s just not how the brain works.
Sure, in time, our brains will get our bodies back to calm no matter the scenario. But we don’t have to sit by idly and wait for that to happen. We also don’t have to bombard ourselves endlessly with dark and negative thoughts and simply hope they’ll somehow loosen their grip on us. Newsflash: we’ve been confronting negative thoughts our whole lives and they still haven’t gotten much easier to deal with. It’s not exactly a winning strategy. The only viable solution is to just not struggle with such thoughts in the first place.
We do that by — you guessed it — reminding ourselves that what we’re currently facing will indeed pass. The negative thoughts, the sweaty palms, the constricted airways, they will all fall away in time. And, with the help of our new maxim, we can shorten that time period as much as possible.
When we remind ourselves that “this too shall pass,” we do the complete opposite of telling our brains that it must prep for a never-ending battle. We send them a vote of confidence, a reassurance that what we’re facing right now is nothing to freak out over. With enough of these votes of confidence, we’ll help our subconscious minds see just that.
Once our brains make such a distinction, they’ll power down the fight-or-flight response system and move us back toward calm. After all, if there’s nothing to fight with or run from, why stay in that revved-up state? That would just be inefficient, and our bodies hate wasting time and energy. Every second and every calorie matter in the quest for survival.
So, the next time you feel your fear boiling up, instead of immediately reaching for a glass of gloom and doom, tell yourself you’ve experienced this before and that, surprisingly, it too did pass. And, just like all of your past dances with anxiety, this one shall pass as well. It’s not just a feel-good phrase — it’s also a really powerful strategy that helps guide your brain and body out of high-gear and back to calm.
Thanks for reading! Curious to learn more?
Then grab a copy of my book, Get Out of Your Head: A Toolkit for Living with and Overcoming Anxiety.* It covers many of the topics I discuss in my blog posts, as well as a few new, key frameworks for managing fear. Check it out if you’re looking to level-up your anxiety-alleviating skills.
Or, if you’re not yet ready to jump into the book, head on over to some of my previous articles on managing anxiety:
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