“Conquer anxiety.” It doesn’t sound difficult. It’s only two words after all. Conquer anxiety. If you happen to suffer from high anxiety, however, conquering anxiety is like conquering Mount Everest.
Michael Anderson was a forty four year old high flying, high profile and highly successful firm with the biggest legal firm in the city. He had suffered from episodes of high anxiety ever since he was in his early twenties. Try as he may, Michael could not pinpoint an incident that may have triggered these episodes. When they occurred, his episodes were debilitating. he would sweat, shake and his mind would race. The only time that these episodes would not hit Michael was when he was engrossed in his work. This is why he threw himself into his career so feverishly.
When he was interviewing clients, preparing his cases, researching and appearing in court, not once did Michael suffer from these debilitating episodes of high anxiety. Outside of that, they could happen at any time without warning. Whilst walking down the street, paying bills, grocery shopping and most disturbingly whilst driving.
Over the years he had tried everything. Doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, hypnotherapy and prescription medication. The only thing that he hadn’t tried was illicit drugs and excessive amounts of alcohol. His career was too demanding for the two latter exercises. Michael liked (and needed) too stay sharp at all times for the sake of his career.
Maybe this was the problem. Michael was put onto a new psychiatrist in the city by his boss and gave her a comprehensive rundown of his career. She noted that he spoke mainly of his career as a lawyer. After a few meetings she put it that to Michael that perhaps his legal career was an escape valve and had become so to the extent that his anxiety whilst outside of focusing on his career had become a learned behaviour. Michael went home and thought about her words. Over the next few days her words began to make more and more sense.
On his next meeting with his new psychiatrist he told her his thoughts and what he could do about it. She replied, “Unlearn anxiety.” This made perfect sense to Michael but he was at a loss as to how to go about it. She replied, “Well, it has taken you over twenty years to get here so don’t expect your learned anxiety to disappear overnight.” He understood this. He went on to ask how he would actually go about it. She said that every time he felt an anxious thought coming on, focus on his legal career. It sounded so simple to Michael that it was brilliant but his psychiatrist kept reinforcing that it could take anything from months to years but that he should begin to start feeling the benefits within a few weeks. “Run with these thoughts,” she said. “Take heart in them.”
After several months. Michael had a firm grasp of unlearning anxiety by focusing on his legal career. He did have occasional thoughts that he would be mentally trapped by his legal career but he sought solace in the fact that he was no longer suffering from crippling levels of anxiety.
With time he had finally learned how to unlearn anxiety.