Understanding and Overcoming White-Knuckling in Anxiety Disorders

White-Knuckling in Anxiety Disorders

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly one in five Americans suffers from anxiety disorders every year, making them a common condition in the US.

In this article, Joshua Fletcher, also known as AnxietyJosh, a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety disorders based in the United Kingdom, shed light on the topic of “white-knuckling” behaviors that make anxiety worse.

In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, Fletcher examines these behaviors and provides useful insights about how to manage anxiety through changing attitudes.

White-Knuckling Defined

Fletcher uses the phrase “white-knuckling” to describe when someone holds onto something out of nervousness or fear so hard that their knuckles turn white.

Seen mostly as a tense car passenger behavior, this is indicative of an underlying mental struggle.

He points out that there is nothing wrong with enduring truly difficult experiences; however, ‘white-knuckling’ occurs when people count down minutes until they can leave situations, they consider safe but are not really dangerous.

This takes place during everyday occurrences like parties or presentations where it causes stress and anxiety.

Symptoms That Signal White-Knuckling

In his words there are five major signs that indicate white-knuckling:

  • Repeatedly glancing at a timepiece
  • Counting down till departure
  • Position oneself near exit
  • Depending on either “safe person” or object
  • Using alcohol for navigating social situations.

He explains that these behaviors are unwittingly stimulating our body’s flight response thus telling our brain we are under threat which consequently leads to fear and anxiety.

Implications for Anxiety Disorders

Continuously counting on precautions or the presence of others in such situations unconsciously retards personal development.

It sets up a roadblock that makes it impossible for individuals to realize their inner power to deal with and move through tough situations effectively.

Fletcher stresses the damage caused by constantly white-knuckling. This repetition prevents people recovering from anxiety disorders, as they now see these everyday situations as intimidating.

It only serves to reinforce the cycle of fear responses and make the journey towards overcoming anxiety-related hurdles more difficult.

Ways to Stop Being Afraid and Regain Control

Fletcher suggests a three-step approach towards regaining control over anxiety:

Identify Problem Area: This involves determining one or a number of specific things that are causing distress for instance leaving the house, using public transport.

Create a New Response: Rather than responding out of fear, adopt a “go loose” perspective.

By avoiding compulsive actions driven by anxiety, individuals can rewire their brain’s response to gradually mitigate anxious feelings.

Embrace Exposure Therapy: According to Fletcher, if one is to cease resorting to safety behaviors such as white knuckling, it would be necessary to expose oneself to situations which cause anxiety but are considered harmless.

Compassion for self is important during this stage and people should find cognitive behavioral therapy practitioners or ACT therapists who can offer specific support.

Enlightening the Self

According to Fletcher, knowing how the body’s threat response works psychologically is helpful.

When they learn about this component of anxiety physiology, individuals become stronger in their recovery process.

In conclusion, changing the attitude and gradually confronting difficult situations through exposure therapy help overcome white-knuckling behaviors typical for the patients suffering from anxiety disorders.

Joshua Fletcher’s insights bring out why we need to recognize these threats and deal with them progressively until they lose their impact on us.

People can regain control of themselves by being compassionate with themselves, seeking professional guidance as well as being patient so that they journey towards recovery through anxiety.

This comprehensive approach hopes to empower people dealing with anxiety disorders by enabling them to face their fears, break the cycle of white-knuckling behaviors and regain control over their lives.

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  • Understanding and Overcoming White-Knuckling in Anxiety Disorders