Forms of Negativity Solution: Anxiety

Dan Bolton


As a follow up to my blog post, Forms of Negativity in Men, some readers asked for feedback about what they could do if they were experiencing this negativity themselves. Today I will focus on anxiety, particularly given the events in Newtown, CT, which may have left many of us feeling anxious or stuck in negative feelings this past week since the shooting. I wavered back and forth about whether to post advice about this absolutely insane shooting, and ultimately, I decided that we have all probably been flooded with media surrounding this event, and I would not create a post solely and explicitly about it, since there are already so many posts and resources available. Furthermore, I felt that it would be a good way to model how to get back to normal life in a healthy way by writing a post that helped us start to get back to our normal routine by keeping with our usual topic of conversation, while also peppering in ways to get involved to support the community and families of Newtown, without absorbing ourselves in this horrific event (which could lead to being stuck in the negativity).

I thought it would be a great opportunity to demonstrate how to break through the negative vibration this event has inevitably created by outlining two concepts I teach to clients coping with anxiety: Distraction, and Taking Action

I identified two distinct forms anxiety can take in Forms of Negativity in Men:

1) Men who always list things that are wrong in their life; or always wishing things were different. (This can come out as being critical of others as well)

2) Avoidance: Men with anxiety become stuck, frozen, paralyzed by the thought or certainty that the worst is going to happen, leading to inaction (which leads to rumination making the anxiety worse).

With anxiety, the main problem boils down to avoidance. Even the first form of anxiety leads to avoidance. Cataloguing what is wrong in one's life gives the person the impression they are doing something, but what tends to happen is that to remain feeling productive, you just end up creating a longer and longer list. The list becomes something that points to deficits that feel insurmountable, and lead to rumination and paralyzing anxiety. This can also happen while waiting for an anxiety provoking event that is happening in the future, leading people to be stuck ruminating about what might happen.

In this case I recommend using Distraction. If there is nothing that you can do right now to change something that has already happened, or do something about something that has not yet happened sitting around ruminating about it is not doing you or anybody else any good. Get out and do something completely unrelated to what you are anxious about. For example, if the recent shooting at Newton, CT has you feeling traumatized or anxious, sitting around nervous or angry about it is not going to help. You have a couple of options… distract yourself from the cycle of looping thoughts and images, of repetitive media coverage, and get out and do something that gets your mind off of the event. Clear your mind and not only will you feel better, but with your head cleared you may come up with a constructive way to take action.

If you see that you are avoiding something you know you need to do, the solution is Take Action. Avoidance may feel better for a very short while, but will end up making your anxiety worse (and the unaddressed problem usually becomes worse as well). If it is a large project, or something that needs to be done in many steps, or something that cannot be completely be solved by you alone, or one action alone, it is easy to get caught up in focusing on the complete outcome rather than the steps you need to take toward the outcome. If you focus on the outcome you will be more likely to feel anxious and overwhelmed, see an incomplete result, and end up feeling like there is no point, and more likely to submit to inaction. Do only what you can do, and only take on responsibility for what you are reasonably responsible for. 1%, 1%… real change is cumulative. If you can muster up the discipline to do this you'll do the little things you need to do each day, you won't be worrying about the outcome, but in the process you'll be putting the building blocks in place.

Along these lines, if you've been possessed by some feeling you need to do something in light of the shooting in Newtown, realize you cannot do it all, and devote yourself only to what is reasonable for you to do. If you are so inclined, you can get involved in some activism… creating awareness for a cause, for children, for teachers, for gun control, for promoting improved school safety procedures, for improvement of mental health services. If the anxiety is about the action you are avoiding taking, just go out and do it, but only take on what you can reasonably do as one person.

Ways to show you can get involved and get beyond any feelings of helplessness you may be feeling and support:

1) Sandy Hook School Support Fund (set up by the United Way):

2) Newtown Youth and Family Services is providing counseling for families, community members and school staff. They say no appointments are needed and those needing help may walk in. All donations made to them at this time will go to helping those impacted:

3) The Newtown Parent Connection has also pledged to try and bring in extra counselors to help parents cope:

4) Newtown Family Memorial Fund:

5) The band OneRepublic has put up an indiegogo site to directly support the 26 families directly affected by shooting. They have a nice video explaining how they plan to allocate the money raise through their campaign:

6) The organization 'Lutheran Church Charities' has sent a team of 'comfort dogs' to the community. Chewie, Barnabas, Hannah and others will be visiting schoolchildren, attending funerals and memorial services, and will be at the memorial area. You can donate to help support the dogs' visit to Newtown:

7) Save The Children has opened a "child-friendly space" in Newtown to give kids a place to play and express themselves while parents seek support or counseling. If this form of support for families and children of Newtown speaks to you, you can donate to support their efforts here:

8) And, as always, the Red Cross has been on the ground as well:

So remember, two strategies:

1) Distraction (to stop the cycle of rumination that comes with anxiety), and

2) Take Action (to break the cycle of avoidance).

Have a Happy Holidays and Happy New Year everybody!


Photo Courtesy of DieselDemon