If you have an anxiety disorder, you likely suffer from very unpleasant, anxious feelings and distressing thoughts. Like most with an anxiety disorder, you probably fight these thoughts and feelings as if your life depended upon it.
It is a paradox, but true, that the more you do not want anxious thoughts and feelings, the more you have them. Anxiety is made stronger by your efforts to fight and struggle against it. The more you resist it, the tighter its grip becomes. The more you provide water to a weed, the higher it grows and the deeper down its roots travel. If you feed Anxiety by fighting it, it grows. If you neglect Anxiety then it withers.
I am recommending that you deprive Anxiety of vital nourishment by doing nothing to feed it. Depriving Anxiety of nourishment may make it initially grow louder as it screams for sustenance, but in the long run it will shrink.
What are some of the things people DO that feeds their Anxiety?
- If a situation feels uncomfortable, turn around and leave
- Tighten muscles
- Attempt to force yourself to relax
- Turn down opportunities because of Anxiety
- Drink or drug yourself into being momentarily calmer
- Mentally fight off anxious thoughts or feelings
- Trying to be 100% certain of safety
- Trying to be comfortable at any cost
- Trying to force a negative thought out of your head
- Striving for absolute perfection
- Waiting until “just the right time” to face your fears
- Seeking reassurance
- Praying (not out of religious practice, but to remove Anxiety)
- Constant distraction
- Staying close to “safe” people
- Be on the look-out for certain thoughts or physical sensations
- Other avoidances and safety behaviors (could be anything!)
Do-Nothing Therapy (DONT) involves understanding that Anxiety feeds upon your resistance, avoidances, and safety-behaviors and, therefore, facing feared situations while NOT feeding Anxiety allows you to learn that you can tolerate and overcome specific fearful situations.
What do I do if I have a panic attack?
If you are having a panic attack, practice DONT. The more you are willing to accept an attack (not the same thing as liking it) the less likely you are to have a panic attack. And should you have one, it may be less intense and of shorter duration than if you struggle against it.
What do I do when I have an OCD thought stuck in my head?
Nothing! Utilize DONT in allowing WHATEVER thoughts you may have to run their course naturally without you analyzing, reassuring, or pushing away the thought. Let it remain in the back of your mind if it wishes, but don’t actively involve yourself in trying to control the thought in any way.
DONT is not limited to OCD or panic. You can apply DONT when confronted with other feared situations (heights, dogs, needles, germs, social situations, and so on).
Doing “Something” while doing “Nothing”
During DONT your job is to determine any ways in which you may be fighting Anxiety or running from the situation and ceasing those behaviors. If it helps you to do nothing, you can take some slow, deep breaths to center yourself and release the tension from your muscles (tensing IS doing something). Just don’t try to force yourself to relax.
Doing nothing does not mean sitting at home twiddling your thumbs. Despite what Anxiety might tell you, you have a life to live—go live it! Go to that party, take that flight, hang out with your friends…all the while, let Anxiety rumble on in the background all alone. Let it wither from your neglect.