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So What's Your Real Problem?

If you suffer with difficult emotions like anxiety, panic or anger, it's natural enough to want to squish them out of your mind – after all it's the emotions that feel bad when it comes to stress.

Yet anxiety and anger are emotions, not diseases, and avoiding them is unrealistic in principle and counter-productive in practice. And in any case, they're more like effects than causes. Better to address causes – otherwise your coping strategy is like responding to your engine warning light by disconnecting the wire.

The real problem is the lack of an effective coping strategy, or even one that makes things worse. The real problem is lack of resilience, which is the skill-set of quickly and easily recovering from stress and set-backs.

It's this lack of resilience, that turns a bit of minor discomfort into a major problem.

What I'm saying here is that a coping style of struggling to push away difficult feelings, actually makes things worse.

Take an experience we've probably all had at some point: a sleepless night. Maybe you have a big day tomorrow and you get to bed good and early – but sleep is just not happening. The more you want sleep, the further away it seems to get. Trying harder just makes you more alert – sooner or later you wonder if you're nearly asleep yet, and as soon as you ask the question, you're not.

And this is not just happening in the mind, it's a real physiological arousal.

Worrying about all the negative consequences of not getting a good night's sleep, or being harshly critical of yourself, only arouses you further.

It's like being stuck in quicksand – struggling makes you sink deeper. (And of course in quicksand if you don't struggle, you just float.)

How strange and how frustrating that the mind works like this.

In my next article I'm going to present a model, or a way of thinking about this kind of mental dynamic, that opens up a new possibility for getting out of it.

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