The Anxiety Paradoxby@scottdclary

The Anxiety Paradox

by Scott D. ClaryJune 24th, 2024
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

Scott Dclary writes a weekly letter on mental models, performance, business and entrepreneurship. This week he talks with Dr. John Delony about anxiety. He says modern life is too comfortable, leaving a void filled by anxiety. The science is clear: you have the power to overcome anxiety.
featured image - The Anxiety Paradox
Scott D. Clary HackerNoon profile picture

Hi All!

Here is my weekly letter on mental models, performance, business and entrepreneurship.

If you love this content (please share it), but also…

Check out my Podcast, connect with me on YouTube / Twitter.

You can also subscribe to my DAILY newsletter here.

What’s in today’s newsletter?

I had Dr. John Delony on the podcast.

He’s a mental & emotional health expert, national bestselling author & host of The Dr. John Delony Show.

We spoke about a major topic that pretty much affects all of us. Anxiety.

The message?

If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious?

You’re not alone.

People everywhere are facing a mental health crisis fueled by a paradox:

  • Modern life is too comfortable. We’ve engineered away the challenges that our bodies crave, leaving a void filled by anxiety.
  • We’re trapped in a transactional mindset. Superficial interactions and a relentless focus on ROI have left us hypervigilant and stressed.

But there’s hope. We can rewire our brains and rewrite our narratives.

Embrace discomfort. Intentionally seek out challenges that push your boundaries.

  • Reframe your stories. Challenge negative thought patterns and create empowering narratives.
  • Hack your brain. Use tools like the exposure ladder and cognitive reframing to build resilience.

The science is clear: you have the power to overcome anxiety.

It starts with understanding its roots and embracing the discomfort that modern life has tried to eliminate.

If you want to listen to the full podcast, listen on or on YouTube.

The Anxiety Paradox: Why Running Makes it Worse (and Better)

Let’s talk about something uncomfortable.

Something we all feel but often don’t discuss openly: Anxiety.

Now, I’m not talking about the occasional butterflies before a big presentation.

I’m talking about the soul-crushing, sleep-depriving, can’t-focus kind of anxiety that feels like a constant companion in the entrepreneurial journey.

Here’s the paradox: our instinct is to avoid the things that make us anxious.

Yet, like a shadow, the more we run, the larger it grows.

I sat down with Dr. John Delony, a psychologist who has spent years studying anxiety, says it best: “If you’re anxious about something and you avoid it, your body gets exactly what it wants.”

Your body is wired with an alarm system.

It’s designed to keep you safe by triggering a stress response when it senses danger.

But sometimes, this alarm system malfunctions.

It goes off when there’s no real threat, or it continues blaring long after the danger has passed.

What happens when we avoid the things that trigger this alarm?

We reinforce the belief that there is indeed danger.

We teach our bodies that the only way to be safe is to run and hide.

Think about it: have you ever avoided a difficult conversation only to have the dread intensify?

Or put off a challenging task only to have it loom larger and larger in your mind?

This is your body learning avoidance. And it’s a lesson you need to unlearn.

The Antidote: Lean Into Discomfort

The good news is you have the power to rewire this response.

It starts with understanding that anxiety is not the enemy.

It’s a messenger trying to tell you something.

And the only way to silence the message is to listen to it.

This doesn’t mean you have to dive headfirst into every fear.

It means taking small, intentional steps towards the things that make you anxious.

It means choosing discomfort over avoidance.

How Modern Life Fuels Anxiety

We live in an era of unprecedented comfort.

With a few taps on our smartphones, we can order food, summon a ride, or get anything we desire delivered to our doorstep.

We’ve engineered our lives to minimize discomfort and maximize convenience.

This might sound like a good thing, but it’s a double-edged sword.

As Dr. Delony points out, our bodies haven’t evolved to handle this level of comfort.

We’re wired for challenge, for struggle, for the kind of stressors that our ancestors faced on a daily basis.

When we remove those stressors, we disrupt our body’s natural equilibrium.

We create a void that anxiety rushes in to fill.

Think about it: how often do you feel anxious when you’re bored or idle?

How often does your mind race when you’re scrolling through social media, comparing yourself to others?

These are the symptoms of a comfort crisis.

We’ve become so accustomed to ease that even minor inconveniences trigger our stress response.

The Transactional Trap

Another factor fueling our anxiety is the transactional nature of modern life.

We’ve replaced deep, meaningful connections with superficial interactions.

We prioritize efficiency over intimacy and convenience over community.

This transactional mindset has seeped into every aspect of our lives, from work to relationships.

We’re constantly calculating the ROI of every interaction, every decision, every experience.

This constant calculation creates a state of hypervigilance.

We’re always on the lookout for threats, for opportunities, for anything that might disrupt our carefully constructed lives.

This hypervigilance is exhausting. It’s a breeding ground for anxiety.

The Antidote: Reclaim Discomfort

So, how do we break free from this comfort crisis and transactional trap?

We need to reclaim discomfort.

We need to intentionally seek out challenges that push us beyond our comfort zones.

This could mean anything from taking on a difficult project at work to starting a new hobby that scares you.

Sounds great. How do we do this?

Rewiring Your Brain: The Science of Anxiety Hacking

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty: the science behind fixing anxiety.

Surprise (not really), it’s your brain.

Neuroplasticity: Your Brain’s Superpower

Your brain is not a fixed entity.

It’s a dynamic, adaptable organ that is constantly changing and rewiring itself based on your experiences.

This is called neuroplasticity, and it’s your secret weapon in the battle against anxiety.

When you repeatedly avoid anxiety-inducing situations, you’re strengthening the neural pathways associated with fear and avoidance.

But when you confront those situations, you’re creating new neural pathways that lead to resilience and courage.

It’s like forging a new trail through a dense forest.

The more you walk that trail, the clearer and easier it becomes to navigate.

Similarly, the more you expose yourself to anxiety-inducing situations and manage your way through them, the less power those situations have over you.

The Exposure Ladder: A Framework for Facing Your Fears

One of the most effective tools for leveraging neuroplasticity is the exposure ladder.

This is a step-by-step approach to confronting your anxieties, starting with small, manageable challenges and gradually working your way up to bigger ones.

For example, if public speaking is a major trigger for you, your exposure ladder might look something like this:

  1. Practice speaking in front of a mirror.
  2. Record yourself giving a presentation.
  3. Give a presentation to a trusted friend or family member.
  4. Join a public speaking group or class.
  5. Give a presentation to a small group of strangers.
  6. Give a keynote speech at a conference.

The key is to move at your own pace and not rush the process.

Each successful step reinforces the neural pathways that lead to confidence and resilience, making the next step a little easier.

Mastering the Art of Story Reframing

The second powerful tool to tackle anxiety head-on is to understand the transformative power of reframing the stories we tell ourselves — a strategy Dr. John Delony and I believe is essential for conquering anxiety.

This is a major hack.

The Stories We Live By

As humans, we are natural storytellers.

We weave narratives to make sense of our experiences, our relationships, and our place in the world.

These stories shape our beliefs, our emotions, and, ultimately, our reality.

But here’s the kicker: the stories we tell ourselves are not always accurate or helpful.

In fact, they can often be our own worst enemies, fueling anxiety, self-doubt, and limiting beliefs.

Think about it. How often do you catch yourself telling stories like these?

  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I’ll never be successful.”
  • “Everyone is judging me.”
  • “I’m going to fail.”

These negative narratives can become self-fulfilling prophecies, trapping us in a cycle of anxiety and underachievement.

But what if we could rewrite these stories?

What if we could change the narrative and create a new reality for ourselves?

This is where reframing comes in.

Cognitive Reframing: Your Mental Jiu-Jitsu

Cognitive reframing, a core technique in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is like mental jiu-jitsu.

It involves identifying negative thought patterns and consciously replacing them with more positive and empowering interpretations.

Dr. John Delony puts it bluntly, “Winning won’t make you well.”

Our minds often get caught in a loop of self-defeating narratives, focusing on failures, shortcomings, and worst-case scenarios.

These narratives can trigger and perpetuate anxiety.

But by actively challenging and reframing these stories, we can change our emotional response and create a more positive outlook.

The “What If” Technique: Flipping the Script

One powerful reframing tool is the “What If” technique.

Instead of dwelling on negative “what ifs” (What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough?), flip the script and focus on positive possibilities (What if I succeed? What if I exceed my expectations? What if this challenge leads to incredible growth?).

This simple shift in perspective can activate your brain’s reward system, releasing dopamine and other feel-good chemicals that can counteract anxiety.

It’s like shining a flashlight into the dark corners of your mind and illuminating the path toward a more hopeful future.

The ABC Model: Deconstructing Your Thoughts

Another helpful framework is the ABC Model.

This involves:

  • A: Identifying the Activating Event (the situation or trigger that sparked your anxiety).
  • B: Examining your Beliefs about the event (the negative thoughts and interpretations that fuel your anxiety).
  • C: Recognizing the Consequences of your beliefs (the emotional and behavioral reactions that result from your anxiety).

By breaking down your anxious thoughts into these components, you can gain valuable insights into the underlying beliefs that drive your anxiety.

Once you identify these beliefs, you can challenge their validity and replace them with more accurate and empowering ones.

Neuroscience of Storytelling: Rewiring Your Brain

The act of reframing your narrative isn’t just a feel-good exercise; it’s backed by neuroscience.

Research shows that our brains are wired for storytelling.

The stories we tell ourselves shape our neural pathways, influencing our emotions, behaviors, and even our physical health.

When we consciously choose to tell ourselves positive, empowering stories, we’re literally rewiring our brains for resilience and well-being.

We’re strengthening the neural connections associated with optimism, hope, and self-efficacy while weakening the connections that fuel anxiety and self-doubt.

It’s like upgrading your mental software from an outdated, anxiety-ridden operating system to a sleek, high-performance one that empowers you to face challenges with confidence and grace.

Remember, you’re not just a passive observer of your thoughts and emotions.

You’re an active participant in creating your reality.

By mastering the art of reframing, you can transform your inner narrative from one of anxiety, fear, and limitation to one of courage and possibility.

You can become the author of your own success story, and you can rewrite the ending to any chapter that doesn’t serve you.

As Dr. John Delony wisely says, “If you’re anxious about something and you avoid it, your body gets exactly what it wants.”

But if you confront your anxiety head-on, with courage and compassion, you’ll discover a whole new level of freedom and resilience.