When we have day to day anxiety, we’re running a well-conditioned pattern of thinking and feeling. 

It’s a pattern we run over and over again— and patterns that are repeatedly run, get much easier to run. 

That doesn’t mean it’s your FAULT that you run this anxiety pattern of thinking and feeling every day. 

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of people who have daily anxiety developed that pattern by default— usually because they’ve been exposed, over and over again, to unpredictable, uncontrollable environments. 

OF COURSE you’re going to develop anxiety when you grow up around people who are unpredictable and volatile. 

It would be weird if you DIDN’T develop anxiety growing up in that kind of environment. That’s not your fault. 

My dad was an addict. Those who grow up with addicts in their household know that you can never quite expect which version of the person to expect when they come home at night. 

Anxiety is all about our body and brain trying to arm itself against an impending threat— a threat that it can’t predict or control. 

OF COURSE that ends up being exhausting— especially after years. 

But we can’t just “let it go,” either…because it’s a pattern. 

When we repeatedly think, feel, and do things in succession, those sequences literally get “wired” into our nervous systems. 

The neurons that govern those responses become physically fused together. 

When one neuron fires, the other neurons in the chain fire. 

We can’t just “decide” to stop that chain reaction— it’s a biological reality. 

What we CAN do is try to scramble that chain reaction as it’s happening. 

Imagine a line of dominos, stood up next to each other. 

When one tips, the rest of the chain is going to go, because, you know, physics. 

But what happens if you put a finger in between two of those dominos? 

The chain reaction still happens— there is still force propelling those dominos forward— but the sequences is kind of screwed up. 

Now imagine doing that at multiple points along the line of dominos. 

Eventually the line is going to get so screwed up the dominos won’t fall in their neat, predictable pattern anymore. 

That’s what we need to do with your nervous system when it comes to anxiety patterns. 

We need to screw up the pattern so it can’t run the same way anymore— and eventually, so it can’t run at all. 

This is not a matter of “willpower.” 

This is a matter of choosing specific things to think, say, and do when you become aware of running that anxiety pattern, that screw up the pattern. 

This is how affirmations work. They’re not just empty phrases you repeat and hope they take hold— they’re verbal pattern interrupts. 

This is how “opposite action” works. It’s not just doing something incongruous for the hell of it— it’s a behavioral pattern interrupt. 

This is why we keep things to listen to, like songs, and short things to read, like quotes, handy on our phone— you can pull those out and use them to interrupt the pattern of anxiety. 

This is even how posthypnotic suggestion works— when used appropriately, those suggestions put things in the way of the anxiety dominos so that the pattern gets wonky. 

When you find yourself jumping out of your skin with anxiety, think to yourself: “Oh, right. I’m running that anxiety pattern again.” 

And then immediately turn your brain to the question: “How can I interrupt this pattern?” 

Keep asking that question, over and over again— and you WILL come up with answers that work for you. 

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One thought on “The anxiety dominos.

  1. What a brilliant article Doc. The dominoes scene portrays anxiety so accurately. I will remember this for future reference. Thank you.

    Like

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