‘Mental Illness’ or simply paying attention to symptoms?

In my Smart Therapy Centre, I notice that when people get anxious they often pay attention to their anxiety thoughts because they are worried that the dreaded anxiety event might happen if they are not vigilant.

For example, if someone is anxious about having a panic attack they will continually pay attention to any sensations, emotions, thoughts, memories or images that might suggest a panic attack could be imminent.

Unfortunately, paying attention is the exact opposite of what we should be doing in this situation.  This is because, paying attention tells the brain to do exactly what it has evolved to do.  That is, paying attention to our anxiety, signals to the brain that we want to build new synapses specifically devoted to our anxiety theme, so we can learn, consolidate long-term memory and retrieve that anxiety information more readily.

Paying attention is great if we want to learn maths, geography, music or a language but it is not good if we want to get rid of anxiety.   The more we pay attention to anxiety, the more we inadvertently hook into our normal, but very powerful human learning cycle, thereby creating thousands of new synapses that over time make anxiety a larger and larger part of our mental experience.

If you want to get rid of anxiety you must show complete disinterest in it and completely take it out of your attentional focus.