Learning to treat anxiety is making me a better spiritual director. I didn’t expect that. Learning David Carbonell’s (an anxiety expert) Panic Trick has been one part of this. The trick of panic is when your brain gets tricked into thinking that an experience is dangerous, when actually, that experience is merely discomfort. In treatment, I often ask clients who are experiencing anxiety symptoms like a racing heart, “is this danger or discomfort?” The goal of treatment is to change the relationship that the client has with her anxiety symptoms. Rather than fearing her symptoms, she can acknowledge them as unpleasant, but ride them out without alarm.
I made a connection when working with this idea to a concept I run into often in spiritual direction. I call it the Desire Trick. The trick of desire is when your soul gets tricked into thinking that what it desires is actually what it needs. When the soul gets tricked like this, a person’s relationship with their desire gets tweaked. Consider it; a desire to be accepted by a girlfriend becomes demanding or a desire for stability becomes a workaholic drive. Both anxiety and desire can trick people into compromising their values and ultimately, wrecking their lives. That trick can be powerful.
Unhooking from the trick takes intentionality and focus. I watch, often in awe, as anxiety clients slowly loosen their grip on the idea that their anxiety symptoms will kill them. Retraining their minds in this matter is often like steering a barge with an oar stuck in the water off the back. The challenge for any of us regarding our deepest desires can be just as sluggish and difficult. The idea of living a contented life without certain things/accomplishments/relationships, etc… is, quite simply, untenable to us! Watching the trick of desire untangle in a person’s soul is often the task in spiritual direction. Seeing this parallel has heightened my awareness that we humans so easily and so deeply attach to our thoughts and ideas. Often, that attachment gives our lives purpose and meaning, but sometimes, it is our very undoing.
To see David Carbonell talk about the Panic Trick, go to this link: