Fear is when you’re afraid of something and you know what it is, anxiety is when you’re afraid of something but you don’t know what it is.
A lot of people with AS have panic disorder, social phobia, a specific phobia, OCD, or generalized anxiety disorder.
- Those who have generalized anxiety disorder get deceived into thinking they are about to be driven mad by constant worrying.
- Those with OCD get deceived into believing that a terrible calamity is in the near future.
- Those with a specific phobia (e.g., the fear of elevators) get deceived into believing that they’re going to be trapped.
- For those with social phobia, they get deceived into thinking that other people are looking down on them and will humiliate them.
- Panic disorder causes people with AS to get deceived into thinking that they’re about to die or go crazy.
Anxiety is deceiving because when we feel discomfort we get tricked into treating it like a real threat. But as the rational part of your mind knows, discomfort is not dangerous. When there is true danger at hand, we either freeze up, run, or fight back. If the threat looks faster and stronger than you, you may freeze up. If the threat looks stronger than you - but slower - you may run away from it. If the threat looks weaker than you, you may fight back. If people are your source of major “discomfort” - but your body gets tricked into believing that certain individuals are truly “dangerous,” you will either argue with them (fight), avoid them (flight), or be intimidated by them (freeze).
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Your natural instinct to protect yourself is what leads you to get deceived by anxiety. So, why haven’t you been able to see the pattern of repeated episodes of anxiety that never actually lead to the feared outcome? Since your worst-case scenarios never come to fruition, why don’t you gradually lose your unreasonable anxiety around those scenarios? There’s several reasons why.
You took protective steps - and there was no disaster. Therefore, you started believing that these steps that you took “saved” you from disaster. But these steps that you take that save you from disaster also cause you to worry more about the next dangerous episode. It convinces you that you were very vulnerable and must always protect yourself.
It’s the self-protection steps that actually maintain and strengthen the deceptiveness of anxiety. If, for example, we think we just escaped a disaster because we went back and checked the stove 10 times, then we’re going to continue to feel vulnerable and continue to feel the need for self-protection. When this happens over and over, we are going to get stuck in the habit of protecting ourselves by certain means. This is when chronic anxiety gets entrenched into your life.
We think we’re actually helping ourselves, but we’re actually getting tricked into making things worse. That’s how deceptive anxiety is.
For those of us who have chronic anxiety, we have noticed that the harder we try to escape the anxiety - the worse it gets. Thus, if the harder we try the worse it gets, then what we need to do is take another look at the protective steps we’ve been using. With high-anxiety, we’ve been deceived into trying to protect ourselves against something that isn’t dangerous, and this makes our anxiety worse over time.
Let me repeat: the harder you try, the worse it gets. Thus, it would make sense to NOT try so hard to avoid anxiety when it comes. Instead, allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, as uncomfortable as it is. Know that this feeling of "uncomfortable-ness" will be short-lived -- and it will not be life-threatening! Simply allow yourself to feel that emotional pain. Because running from it makes it worse -- it will chase after you and bring out even more fear as you “run for your life.”
==> Strategies for self-care in people on the autism spectrum can be found here...