There are various categories of techniques for overcoming anxiety. You have spiritual techniques, cognitive exposure techniques, truth-based techniques, semantic techniques, and many more.
But the one type of technique that is very useful to start off with is what's known as an "uncovering technique."
When we are gripped by panic or anxiety it is difficult to cultivate the mindfulness to look within at the deeper causes and processes at work. We go through life jumping from one anxious incident to the next for months or years without really knowing why we are feeling this way.
How can you truly work on your anxiety if you don't even know why you're truly experiencing that reaction? This is why uncovering techniques are so useful.
And one of the best uncovering techniques is known as the "What If" technique.
The "What If" Technique
The "What If" Technique comes from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is an effective, science-backed therapeutic system inspired by Stoic philosophy.
Even though the methodology of this technique is very simple, its power should not be underestimated. In fact, most Stoic techniques are deceptively simple but yield profound results when actually practiced.
At the root of our anxieties and self-defeating beliefs in general, there is often a terrifying fantasy. When you eventually confront this fantasy you will be able to overcome it. But very often this fantasy is elusive and hidden deep within the subconscious.
For example, one might have self-defeating anxieties, about their partner leaving them. Any time there is even a mild suggestion of abandonment, the anxiety may flare-up. If you were to ask the person why they feel this way they might reply:
"I don't know. I just have anxiety about my partner leaving me."
But what the person experiencing this anxiety doesn't quite realize is that there is a very specific and often deep-rooted terrifying fantasy that is causing this fear. It could be related to a childhood incident, or other past trauma, for example.
How to Do The "What If" Technique
Write down the anxious thought you are having.
Ask yourself the following questions:
"What if this were true? What’s the worst thing that could happen? What am I the most afraid of?”
A new fantasy will pop into your mind. Make a note of it.
Repeat the process with the new anxiety and ask: “What if this happened? What am I the most afraid of?”
Repeat several times to get closer to the core fantasy that’s triggering your fears.
Try the meditation included in this post as many times as you need to gain familiarity with the technique. When you feel comfortable with it, you can practice it either in your mind or by writing it out when an anxious episode arises.
Over time, as you start to really see what's going on beneath the surface, and "know yourself" the light of awareness all by itself will take the sting away from the anxieties. But when you combine other techniques with your new understandings, you will make even faster progress.