Opposite Action is a term I see thrown around a lot lately and one that I find very interesting. I have been applying aspects of this for some time without even realizing that is what I was doing. I want to discuss opposite action here because it some great applications to anxiety and panic attacks.
What is "Opposite Action"?
It's really a very simple concept. When you begin to feel anxious, your first instinctual reaction is usually something very counter-productive. Your primal fight-or-flight response kicks in and your actions will often fuel the panic further. By consciously taking the opposite route you have a much better chance at reducing that anxious response before it blows up into a full blown panic attack.
My number one panic trigger is interstate driving. I tend to get very anxious when driving on highways (although I absolutely love to travel. Ironic, huh?). When I start to get anxious while driving my first instincts are to turn down the radio, slow down and move into the slow lane, and get really fidgety. I start pulling on my seat-belt because the source of many of the physical symptoms of anxiety are in my chest and I feel constrained by the seat-belt. I will reach for the shifting handle even though my car has an automatic transmission. I drove a stick-shift for many years and I suppose that control gave me some comfort.
My mind now associates all of these actions with previous panic attacks. When I start to go through these actions, it is just like going through my classic panic-attack checklist. I am taking the cues one by one. Once that last check mark is put down, panic goes to work. There really is no stopping it at that point. The flood gates break down and that wave of panic comes crushing down.
By identifying these impulses and realizing that they come from the irrational part of my brain that controls panic I take first step to stopping that panic before it starts. I've learned to replace these impulses with consciously thought-out actions from a more rational part of my brain. On a recent road trip, I put this into action. Instead of turning the radio down, I turn it up and allow myself to focus more on the music, maybe change the track to something more positive. I resist the urge to fidget and become restless, instead becoming mindful of my body and allowing my muscles to relax. Instead of grabbing for the shifter or pulling on my seat-belt, I put my hands squarely on the steering wheel and keep them there. By doing this I have been able to stop the panic from progressing. I continued along on my drive with no further anxiety.
Key steps to mastering "Opposite Action"-
1. Acknowledge what you are feeling.
2. Identify what actions or reactions go with that feeling.
3. Ask yourself "do I want to stop or reduce this feeling?"
4. Figure out what the opposite action is.
5. Do that opposite action ALL THE WAY!
I would recommend going through this analysis while in a calm state of mind so that you will be prepared with the appropriate opposite actions in advance of the onset of anxiety. You aren't very likely to be thinking rationally when you are anxious.
Opposite action can be applied to many things, not just anxiety. Often we put ourselves into positions where we become our own worst enemy. It may be possible to use this technique on a wide range of feelings or emotions that you want to rid yourself of but may be feeding without even realizing it.Try this approach sometime and see if it works for you! Best of luck!