What Can You Do When Anxiety Paralyzes You?

Under what conditions is anxiety most likely to paralyze you? What can you do when you're left in such a vulnerable situation? In this article, we answer these and other questions.
What Can You Do When Anxiety Paralyzes You?
Sharon Laura Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Laura Capeluto.

Last update: 22 December, 2022

Going blank before an exam, in a job interview, or if you’ve been a victim of a robbery is highly likely when you consider how the cognitive system works.

Anxiety is a natural and universal defense mechanism that usually allows you to react adaptively when you perceive a threat that compromises your integrity. Its purpose is to mobilize your body and keep it alert in order to act appropriately.

Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive psychology, described it as a fear reaction. However, what happens when anxiety exceeds certain limits?

In this case, it can stop fulfilling its adaptive function, and have dysfunctional effects on your body and mind. In effect, anxiety can paralyze you, physically, cognitively, and emotionally when you experience it at high levels.

woman with anxiety
Intrusive thoughts can fuel anxiety.

When anxiety paralyzes you

A mental block is one of the most frequent symptoms of excessive anxiety. It can manifest itself in the most varied of contexts, For example, at work, at university, among friends, and even on romantic dates. It’s a frustrating experience as you feel that your mind has gone completely blank and you’re unable to think, speak or function as usual.

Furthermore, intrusive thoughts often appear at these times and make things even more complicated. “What’s happening to me?”, “I’ve forgotten everything I studied, I’m a mess”, “I can’t concentrate”. These feelings feed and enhance your anxiety, causing you to feel like you’re stuck at a dead-end, unable to find solutions to your problem.

In these cases, you feel unable to think clearly, organize your thoughts, draw conclusions or make decisions. In turn, a mental block can be accompanied by certain bodily symptoms and sensations, such as the feeling of being immobilized.

As we mentioned earlier, anxiety predisposes you to take quick actions to try and get away from danger. However, when you’re paralyzed by anxiety, things happen to you like being unable to speak in public, having difficulty taking in and memorizing new information, or being unable to run away if you’re being chased. It’s in these kinds of contexts that, unfortunately, you can’t find solutions.

How to deal with crippling anxiety

It’s unpleasant to feel mentally blocked. Indeed, the lack of a sense of control can be really frustrating. In addition, it usually negatively affects different areas of your life. These range from your studies and professional and work growth, to bonding and affective aspects.

If you frequently experience blockages, your body and mind are trying to give you a message and it’s one that’s well worth listening to. They’re trying to tell you that you’re going too fast and not doing what you really want. You have intense pressure inside yourself and it’s time to start acting and making decisions according to what you want and need.

To reveal what you really want, it might help to ask yourself the following questions: What am I doing that I don’t want to do? At what point did I stop feeling like the real me? What demands do I need to free myself from? What emotions aren’t I allowing myself to express? Am I living how I want to live? What aspects of my life would I like to change?

Once you discover what your anxiety wants to tell you and make the necessary changes, you can escape it. Indeed, it’s possible to learn to manage your anxiety with dedication, patience, and professional and specialized support.

man with anxiety
Anxiety tells us that it’s necessary to stop and reflect on our lives.

Specific treatment

Acceptance and commitment therapy is considered to be one of the best options for treating this type of problem. It helps you identify and overcome mental blocks by accepting your emotions, without resisting them.

It involves acquiring tools to face your anxiety and enhance your feelings of well-being. There are some guidelines that can help you with these problems, while you carry out a psychological treatment. For instance, connect with your breathing, practice mindfulness, take breaks, play sports or yoga, maintain a healthy diet, and identify your thoughts and emotions.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.