A couple months ago I had a debilitating hypochondria attack that lasted a week. I thought I was going to die of a rare disease. I wrote about a previous attack in A Dead Bat In Paraguay, where I described moments of terror in between obsessive checking of symptoms and health resources. In both cases I couldn’t stop negative health thoughts from entering my head, even though I knew they were unreasonable. An above-average intelligence offered me no immunity and probably made me even more susceptible.
During this recent attack my sister said, “Why don’t you read a book about it.”
“A book?” I replied.
“Yeah you know—words and paper.”
I went to Amazon and read reviews on several. I eventually settled on The Worry Cure by Robet Leahy. My attack subsided by the time it came to my door. It’s definitely a self-help book and I felt hesitant to begin reading. I’m a highly experienced man of the world—how much more can I possibly learn? Several weeks passed before I cracked it open.
The book takes a cognitive approach at addressing the anxiety problem (cognitive therapy is the mainstream term for “NLP”). It says that the way you think is flawed, and the only way to get rid of phobias, anxiety, or other mental issues is to change your belief system. Replace the faulty beliefs with the correct ones, and voila, the desired change should result.
Here’s a couple of things I learned from the book about my problem:
- Obsessive checking on the internet and seeking reassurance from family or friends that I wasn’t going to die soon only had a temporary benefit, and kept the attack going. I wanted to be an expert on health to rule out possible problems.
- It’s impossible to be 100% certain of your health status. No reasonable person is an expert on every little symptom and disease.
- During an attack, I was overestimating my risk of having something serious. I only read about the deadliest outcomes that were most improbable.
- Death can be delayed, never denied. One day you will get sick with something that millions of other people have been through. You will adapt and life will go on (hopefully). You must accept that you are mortal.
You may be able to see how these statements can be spun around on other sources of anxiety. Let’s apply them to social anxiety for guys who are too scared to approach:
- Obsessive preparation and reading of pickup advice in an attempt to gain control of future approaches, which doesn’t reduce the anxiety when it’s actually time to approach.
- It’s impossible to be 100% certain that a girl won’t reject you. No man is everything to every girl.
- When you are about to approach a girl, you overestimate the chance of getting rejected outright. You imagine the worst possible outcome.
- Rejection can be delayed, never denied. Millions of men get rejected every day. You will get over it and life will go on. You must accept that most girls don’t want to be with you.
One thing I liked about the book is that it doesn’t only detail health anxiety, but other areas as well (work, relationships, money, and social interactions). Second to approach anxiety, relationship anxiety in the form of jealousy and a fear of getting dumped is a popular topic of guys who email me. They are unreasonably scared of losing their girl, doing things that, ironically, are more likely to push those girls away.
The book offers mental techniques to reduce anxiety. I’ll share two:
- Practice your fear. For 20 minutes a day, repeat the feared thought in your head (i.e. “I probably have cancer” or “The next girl I talk to will reject me”). Make the thought intense, vivid and full of doom. What happens is you begin to accept the negative outcome and get bored of it. I know this works because it’s a strategy I’ve shared to help guys approach girls, but something I didn’t use when it came to health. (The funny thing about anxiety is that it can be crippling in one area but completely absent in another. A successful businessman can make important presentations in front of dozens of people but can’t approach a girl if his life depended on it. We use different strategies for different things.)
- Test your predictions. Look back to when you had anxiety about something in the past. Did it turn out to be true? How correct were you? Obviously I’ve been wrong every time I had a hypochondria attack. I’m batting 0%, so there is no reason to believe any future attack unless a doctor properly diagnoses me. Even guys with approach anxiety have had prior interactions with girls. How did those go? Were rejections as awful as you thought? Or was the rejection rather benign?
Realize there is a difference between run-of-the-mill nervousness and genuine approach anxiety. It’s very normal if you hesitate before approaches or notice your heart picking up in speed. It’s okay if you chicken out every now and then because in the end you’re not a robot. Even I get a little nervous if I haven’t approached in a while or if I’m in a new environment. In these cases I don’t think you need to read this book.
But if the thought of approaching fills you with dread and you’ve gone out several times without doing what you’ve intended to do, in spite of how much you’ve prepared yourself or how much encouragement your wingman was giving you, then I think this book will help. If you follow its solutions I think you’ll notice a difference in about a month. I’d lend you my copy but my sister is reading it right now.