Chapter 2: The Lies of Anxiety | Lie #2: “You Have to Look at Me!”

This episode goes with Chapter 2, Section 2 of Anxiety…I’m So Done with You! Anxiety is like a beacon for undivided attention. It wants you to look at it, giving it all of your brain space. That’s so mean of it. Let’s put anxiety in its place. In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How anxiety engages the Monkey Mind with things to worry about
  • Why you get lost in “Anxiety Content.” 
  • The exact script you can use to stop getting lost in it
  • What to do next. 

“You have to look at me!”

Anxiety lie #2 You have to look at me

Anxiety’s attention-seeking ways are a big problem. Huge! But you can tell anxiety to take a seat. I’ll talk you through it.

We have 12 to 60,000 thoughts per day. We can’t grab them all into consciousness, so we, and our unconscious, picks and chooses which to bring closer. Anxiety wants us to pick thoughts that worry us, problems to fixate on, and things that haven’t even happened yet that it really wants us to panic about. You’ve already learned about deconstructing fear by facing it. Now you will learn how to tell anxiety to cool its jets because you’re too busy for its nonsense!   

When anxiety comes back, the temptation is to tell ourselves we failed, are losers, and can’t handle life. But that’s just anxiety talking, trying to make you feel bad about yourself. Self-judgment is another anxiety tactic to distract you from your personal agency. Anxiety doesn’t want you to know, but you have the strength to tell anxiety to back the heck off! I even give you the script! 

“Anxiety says, ‘What if you cut your fingers?’  You didn’t cut your fingers, so there’s no problem to solve with your fingers. It’s a ‘what if…’ Which is merely a remote possibility of some future suffering. The monkey is trying to solve something that didn’t happen and may never happen, and it gets really distracted doing that.” – Dr. Jodi Aman

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Resources for this Episode:

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Transcription of Episode

Chapter 2, Lie Number 2: “You need to look at me!”

This is a biggie because anxiety wants your undivided attention, and unfortunately, it knows exactly what to do to be a beacon for that. It puts thoughts in your mind that are hard to ignore. What’s worse is that it makes you pull back from everything. It makes you want to stay in your room, or hide under the covers, or sit on a chair, and try to figure out your life.

Anxiety wants all of your attention. That’s why it does that. That’s why it has you isolate yourself and why it keeps you home. It wants to have your undivided attention. One of the worst things that you could do is give your brain space to the anxiety, because when you’re busy, when you’re engaged in something, or when you’re trying to figure something out real in the world, those takes your brain space, leaving nothing for anxiety.

I interview people all day long about this. And, I ask them about times when they’re with their friends, or having fun, or doing something. Almost always, they tell me that the anxiety is gone during those times. At the very least, it is a lot less. It might be in the background somewhere and it might be bothering you that it is in the background somewhere, but it is a lot less. Anxiety usually doesn’t hang out with “fun.” it doesn’t hang out during fun times. In fact, laughter and anxiety cannot live together in the same moment.

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Anxiety is constantly trying to engage you

It does this by telling you something that you think that you have to deal with. It might have you obsessed with looking at people’s private parts, it might have you worried that your hands might be dirty and that could get you sick, or that you might touch something that could get you sick. 

This is the interesting part about people being afraid of germs. People, who are afraid of getting germs (and touching things or sitting on things that might have germs), are not as afraid of getting sick as they are of touching germs. This is evasive nonsense of “It’ll be horrible,” “It’ll be overwhelming,” or “You can’t” that stops us in our tracks. We don’t even ask, “What’s the problem?” “Why am I afraid of not getting germs?” 

I’m not making light of these thoughts. I don’t mean to be making people feel ridiculous. I’m unpacking the fear by saying, “What is it about that you’re afraid of?” Then, “What is it about that that you’re afraid of?”

If you do that, you will see that anxiety has little substance. It has this very thin demand, “Don’t get a germ! It’ll be awful!” When you start to unpack those messages and look underneath them, there’s nothing under there. 

More common anxiety lies:

Let’s look at some more things that anxiety tells you that you have to worry about: 

  • “If you don’t do this right, something bad will happen to someone you love.” 
  • “If you don’t look perfect, he’ll break up with you.” 
  • “What if I don’t make enough money?”
  • “What if I cut my fingers?” 

These kinds of phrases are overwhelming. It’s really distracting when the monkey thinks there’s a problem. There’s no problem.

 “What if I cut my fingers?” You didn’t cut your fingers, so there’s no problem about cutting your fingers. It’s a “what if?” It’s only a possibility of some future suffering. 


The dang Monkey

The monkey is trying to solve something that didn’t happen and may never happen. It becomes distracted. You’re trying to figure out why you thought that what you thought. “Why am I crazy enough to think that?” and on and on goes that anxiety spiral. When we give it that attention, our mind gets hooked on it. Remember, we have 12 to 60,000 thoughts a day; 12 to 60! Many thoughts go through our minds in a day or an hour, and not all of them make it into our consciousness. 

So, there are tons of thoughts going by, and we only grab certain ones and bring them in. We grab ones that are familiar, ones that are disturbing, ones that are funny, and ones that are weird. This is what happens: A strange thought comes in; your mind grabs it, pulls it into your consciousness, and says, “You are crazy! Jodi, why did you think this? This is what weirdos think! This is bad!” 

It pulls it in, and you wonder why you are thinking this. You’ll go down that rabbit hole then the next time that thought goes by, you’ll think, “Oh no!” You’ll pull it in, get really upset that it came again, and that your mind is hooked on it again. After a couple of times of that thought coming, you start to worry about why you’re obsessed with that thing happening. This is a tactic of anxiety to get you to engage with it. 

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“Anxiety Content”

I call it “anxiety content” to acknowledge that it is the content of what anxiety tells you. For example, “You can’t!” “Your hands might be dirty!” “Stop looking at their private parts!” “If you don’t do this right, something bad will happen!” “If you don’t look perfect, he’ll break up with you!” “If you don’t make enough money, you’ll fail!” 

There’s nothing for you in this content because there’s no problem (yet). What I mean by there’s nothing there for you is that there’s no problem to solve right now. There’s only a potential for a future problem. You’re worried about how you’d handle that in the future and how overwhelmed you’d be and are terrified of it, but there’s nothing that you could do now. Therefore, you feel stalled and helpless, which increases your anxiety. There are literally no benefits for you to be trying to solve this unsolvable problem now. It’s just anxiety content. Anxiety is going to use content that works on you. It uses something that’s important to you. 

  • It’s important that he doesn’t break up with you. 
  • It’s important that you have enough money. 
  • It’s important that you stay clean.
  • It uses content related to something important to you to seem like a real threat. 

In the book, I give the example of The Wizard of Oz because the Wizard (of Oz) is a great metaphor for what’s going on here. It has the smoke, the loud banging voice, and the big lights. It’s immensely scary! But then you realize it’s this little man behind the curtain pulling levers. Anxiety wants you to think that it’s a big, frightening head, menacing and loud. But it has no substance. It’s a hologram. It’s merely a projection of lights and sounds with nothing real about it. 

What’s in your hand?

The What’s in Your Hand? exercise in this section, I give you one of the most important practices from the whole book. If you do no other practices or exercises, still do this. Because much of the time, people think they have to face their fears. And we do; we have to face our fear by overriding it, and then, we must deconstruct it. I taught you that in the last chapter.

Override and deconstruct that fear…but then there’s a third step. In this exercise, I introduce you to the third step. If you have the audiobook and you want that exercise printed out, I have a download on the blog post that goes along with this episode; the link is in the show notes. There are times when we face our fear and deconstruct it, yet the fear comes back. (Or, anxiety, doubt, frustrations, hurt.) Those feelings come back, even when we thought we had let them go. Their coming back tends to make people angry, frustrated, and disappointed with themselves. When they return, people think they didn’t get rid of it properly. They think that we’re stupid or weak or something is wrong with us that this keeps coming back. 

What if coming back is actually what you expected it to do? These feelings become a habit, and you become used to them. You have created neural pathways that quickly take that route, especially when you feel overwhelmed. However, if you expected them to come back, everything would change about how you experience them. 

I have a script for this: You say, “Hey, Anxiety, I knew you’d come back. Just have a seat. I’m busy right now.” 

Listen to that again: “Hey, Anxiety, I knew you’d come back. Just have a seat. I’m busy right now.” 

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What is happening?

I’ll unpack what is happening in this script, but first, let me show you the alternative. Alternatively, when the anxiety comes back, you say, “Oh my God, you came back! I thought I got rid of you, but I didn’t! I’m such a loser! I don’t even know! I don’t know how everyone could do it but me! Everyone knows how to do it! I don’t know how to do it! I don’t know if I can handle this! It’s back now! What am I gonna do! I hate this anxiety! I hate this anxiety!” 

Can anyone relate? Can you see how that makes you feel so much worse? That’s judgment and worry about anxiety. It’s those negative self-judgment and worry circles from Chapter 1, Section 1. They’re globbing on and making the whole situation exponentially worse. First and foremost, don’t judge yourself that your negative feeling comes back. You won’t judge it when you expect it to come back. It wouldn’t blindside you. You won’t be surprised or disappointed. You’d be like, “Oh, hi, anxiety; I knew you’d come back!”

See the difference? I hope you can feel the different energy of the words as I speak them: “There you are, anxiety. I knew you’d come back.” There’s no attachment in my energy, no worry, and no self-judgment, either. When you have the expectation that it’s going to come back––not because there’s something wrong with you and not because you’re weak––but because that’s what problems do to the mind. You can use all of that energy that you’re saving on committing to practicing repetition to change your neural pathways. 

When you are not attached to the change process, it is much faster and easier.

Back to the exercise…

After you deconstructed it and decided that you don’t need to have it anymore, then, when the anxiety comes back, you say, “Hi, Anxiety Chatter, I knew you’d come back.” Acknowledge it as anxiety chatter. This will help you stay out of the content, so you avoid the rabbit hole of what it wants you to be worried about and what problems it says you need to solve right now (because “What if” they happen?) 

When you stay out of the content, you stay out of that conflict with yourself. That conflict inside of you––between you and anxiety––gives anxiety a lot of attention: Anxiety says something’s bad, and you say, “No, it’s okay, I’m okay, I’m okay!” (in a panicky voice). The conflict causes more chaos, and you’re trying to solve the problem as if that’s going to resolve the chaos, but you can’t solve an unsolvable problem. So you’ll always have doubts. That’s how anxiety gets you––because you always have doubts, the chaos ensues. 

Again, you have to decide not to engage in the content of what anxiety is saying. Let’s take, for example, Anxiety telling you that you will fail a test. Instead of saying, “Okay! Oh my gosh, what happens if I fail? What are my parents going to say if I fail the test? What am I going to do? I’m going to fail out of school?” ((in a panicky voice). Instead of all that, you can say, “Oh, hi Anxiety Chatter, I know you’d come back. Just have a seat; I’m busy right now.” Then, start your homework, or study for the test (if that’s what you’re doing). 

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Practice ahead of time.

The best way to do this exercise is to picture yourself and practice using the script before the anxiety comes. Think about something that would make you anxious. (Pay no attention to the content of what it’s saying.) Zoom out. Call it Anxiety Chatter and then use the script: hi Anxiety Chatter, I knew you’d come back. Just have a seat; I’m busy right now.” Then, you want to take your attention on the task at hand. Any task! You don’t want to leave any brain space for the anxiety. You want to engage your mind in something at the moment. Engage in an activity or action.

Make it something that would really capture your attention. It’s a bonus if you’re doing something to help the situation or help somebody else. It’s also great to do something to make yourself feel better or build your confidence, but any activity will do

Thank you so much for listening to this episode. I hope you love it! Thank you for subscribing and commenting. Head on over to the blog post for this episode, where I have more resources for you. As always, that link is in the show notes. Please don’t forget to give me a five-star review on Apple podcasts because that will get this podcast into the ears of more people who need it. The youth mental health crisis is out of control. Kids are suffering! Share this message so that more people can get help! 

In the next episode, we’re going to be talking about Chapter 2, Section 3. Have a read, and I’ll meet you there.

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