ANXIETY | May 25

How to Find and Eliminate Your Anxiety Triggers   

The Olivia Benson Technique 

BENJAMIN FOLEY

Is there a show that you watched so much growing up that the characters were practically family members? 

For me, that show was Law & Order SVU. I would watch episode after episode of pure SVU brilliance, until I had watched each episode of the series multiple times.

In retrospect, SVU probably wasn’t the best show for a 12 year old to be watching, but it has given me insight into how to heal my stress and anxiety, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.

Olivia Benson, the lead female detective and all-around badass, was my favorite character. Ice-T was a close second with his shocking ability to be dumbfounded by even the smallest of details, but Olivia was the best.

Ms. Benson always found the villain. She was tough, emotional and fierce. Her style was often against the norm. She would become emotionally attached to the victims. She would learn about who they were and what conditions they lived it. She knew everything about their life as a means to crack the case.

Her strategy was not objective, but immersive. Although this occasionally created problems for Olivia, in the end it always left her feeling extraordinarily proud when she found the bad guy.

You may be asking, how the hell does this relate to healing my anxiety? I’m getting there, I promise.

In order to solve the case (i.e. cure your anxiety), you must be like Olivia, willing to ruthlessly analyze the details of your life in order to discover the culprit causing your anxiety. 

The problem most people have with managing their stress and anxiety is that you believe it is out of your control. You believe that it is a life-sentence that has been brought to you and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You think esoterically about why you were chosen to carry this burden, instead of analyzing the things in your environment that could be causing the imbalance.

But, by following Olivia’s lead you can learn to stop viewing your anxiety as something brought upon you by the gods, and start looking deeply into your life to discover what inputs are causing the negative output, and then tack action to remove them. 

This is what I call the Olivia Benson technique. The technique requires you to take a deep look at everything you are inputting into your life. Foods, music, TV, drinks, books, et cetera to highlight the things in your environment that may be causing your negative emotions.

Anxiety is not a burden gifted to you by the gods. The cause can usually be found by looking at how you are living your life and removing anything that is causing it to be in misalignment.

The Olivia Benson strategy helped me determine my biggest triggers, which led to me being able to manage my anxiety without medication.

However, like all advice, this technique is something that has worked for me that I wanted to share with you. I have seen many people use this exact same technique and have the same results as I did, but by no means is it the only method to heal.

Test it for yourself and see if it works in your life. If it doesn’t, move on to another tactic.

The purpose of sharing the Olivia Benson technique with you is to empower you to take control of your mental wellbeing. You have all the tools you need to start feeling better and living a full life.

Now, let's get started. 

THE TECHNIQUE TO FIND YOUR ANXIETY TRIGGERS

As an investigator of your internal life, you must be willing to ruthlessly analyze everything you consume in order to find the culprit. What you input into your body, whether it be food, movies, or books, lead to a particular output.

The Olivia Benson process will help you objectively look at your inputs to highlight the areas of your life that are in misalignment and therefore should be removed. When you find a trigger or stressor that is no longer serving your goal of living fully, remove it for seven full days. After a week without it, slowly start bringing it back into your life.

The technique is simple. Get out a piece of paper. Draw four lines and at the top of each column write down a category topic (listed below). Now, list every single thing that falls into that category that you are currently consuming on a consistent basis.

Get granular here. List anything and everything that you consume. Don’t worry about whether you think it could be creating anxiety. Just list it.

Okay, now that you have your list of inputs begin to ruthlessly analyze whether those inputs COULD be causing heightened stress or anxiety. Do not overanalyze here. Go with your gut.

Now that you have highlighted some things in each category that could potentially be causing some anxiety, see if you could try to remove that input from your life for a full seven days. Sometimes the things that we consume cannot be deleted (advertising on our commute, email for work, etc.) and that is okay, but be aware of how those inputs are affected your mood.

Once you have selected a few to remove, write them down on a piece of paper and hang it somewhere that you can see it every single morning.

Pro-tip: Enlist 3-5 friends to help you on this journey. Tell them what you are giving up and why and have them hold you accountable to keeping them out of your life for an entire week. 

After the week is over, analyze if removing these inputs made any change on your anxiety levels. If so, remove them entirely from your life. If not, slowly re-introduce them and be very aware of whether they start to affect your anxiety. If they do, think long and hard about whether you want to keep them in your life.

You can use an app like Stigma to track your daily mood, with short notes.

Keep doing this practice every week. Try to give up things that you don’t think would have an impact. Try different combinations. 

Be ruthless. No input is holy here. If you want to live a life beyond anxiety, you will have to give up something in your life.

But let me ask you this, what is a life of calm worth to you?

I hope it's worth everything. If so, don't fear what you are giving up, instead think about your life without anxiety and the joy and beauty that it will bring.

CATEGORIES

The following list of categories is not comprehensive, but it will give you a good basis to start your analysis. Add or subtract your categories when applicable. 

What do you eat?

Gluten, diary, and sugar are all things that I was consuming on a regular basis. I never thought they could have an effect on my anxiety levels. However, once I tested taking them out of my diet for seven days then slowly reintroducing them, I realized what I was eating was causing my body to be inflamed and anxious.

Since then, I have removed almost all sugar, dairy, and gluten from my diet.

What do you consistently consume? When was the last time you removed it from your diet for seven days?

Even if it seems insane that something you eat could be the primary source of your anxiety, try it. Give it up for seven days. 

What is the worst that could happen?

What do you drink?

Alcohol and coffee are the two main liquid culprits of chronic anxiety that I have come across.

Personally, I had to remove both for a month to get back to a base level of mental clarity. After a full 30-days away from them, I re-introduced them into my life, but cautiously, and with an understanding that they were causing most of the physical symptoms of anxiety I was experiencing.

This is a crucial understanding to come to in your journey to full mental health. The vast majority of your symptoms can be attributed to something you are bringing into your environment, not something that is internally wrong with you.

If you have the flu, you won't chalk it up to being an innate, hereditary problem that needs advanced medication and years of darkness. No, you’d see the obvious, take some medicine, get some rest and drink a lot of fluids. Eventually, your health would come back, and you would be able to move on.

Why treat mental health any differently? As soon as we start treating anxiety and other mental health illnesses as just that, illness, we will start to see a steady decline in chronic cases.

You have the power to heal. Take control. Be like Olivia. Immerse yourself in the details of your life, and rip out the weeds that keep the soil unhealthy. 

What do you listen to?

What do I listen to? What impact could that possibly have on my stress and anxiety?

I thought the same thing when a mentor told me that what I let in through my ears and eyes is just as important to my mental health as what I let in through my mouth. I had never thought about whether the audiobooks, podcasts, and music I was consuming were aligned with my greatest purpose.

When I began digging for the weeds in my own life, I recognized that everyday to and from work I was listening to the same types of business books. The books themselves did not contain anything harmful or negative, but it was my reaction to them that was causing a lot of stress and anxiety. I consistently felt like I wasn’t doing enough. That I needed to be more productive. That I needed to be more successful.

It started to drain my energy and led to increasing doubt and worry about my future.

My need to be successful and to start a business was a huge contributor to my anxiety. After writing down all of the inputs I was listening to, I finally realized that the self-help books and constant need for more information were actually hurting my growth.

I haven’t completely given up this type of information, but I have drastically cut back my consumption. I have become aware that what I listen to can have an underlying effect on my mental state throughout the entire day, so I’m very strategic now about what I let in.

Is what you listen to every day making you better or worse? There is no neutral.

What are you looking at?

The average American watches five hours of television per day. Now, I’m not attempting to tell you how to live your life, but television is not created to make you happy. It is a multi-billion dollar industry designed to grab and keep your attention. Be the resistance.

Where in your life do you have expectations that never seem to be met? For me, it was my professional success. I wanted to be like Harvey Spector who was rich, powerful, and suave, all with a sense of ease. Reality check, that isn’t how life works.

The constant stream of television that I was consuming was only furthering this ideal of the perfect life as well as taking me away from doing valuable things with my time.

Although there is great television out there, make sure you try to find any correlations between the shows you watch and your expectations in real life. Make sure that what you are watching is not making your reality worse.

For example, I had a client that had a huge problem staying in relationships. After five months in every relationship, he would become bored, cite some flaw that he couldn’t live with and break up with her.

When we first did the Olivia Benson technique to unearth hidden stressors, he exposed that he was watching 4-5 hours of television a night. Every show he was watching portrayed perfect, flawless women.

As we dug deeper, we realized that he had unreal expectations of the women he was with. He was subconsciously judging reality based on what he was watching on tv and had never realized this before.

It was powerful and helped him start becoming aware of other places in his life that he was trying to match up to what he saw on the screen.

Be ruthless. If it isn’t making you more grounded and happy, cut it. It’s not worth it. Spend the extra hours working on your purpose or with people you love. These are the things that will make you have a full life. Not another episode of House of Cards. 

What are you reading? 

Similar to listening, my journey out of anxiety required me to completely change what I was reading, both in print and online. Before I analyzed my triggers, I was only reading business books and blogs, and spending all of my free time on social media.

I was constantly consuming information that was urging me to do more. That I could be more. That I could have more. If I just worked harder or tried this new hack.

It was exhausting and left me unhappy and anxious.

After using the Olivia Benson technique, I stopped reading business books and deleted my social accounts. Even though the fear of missing out was so intense, I knew I had to move past the scarcity mindset and realize that the answers to my deepest questions were not out there but were in here.

I started picking up books on mindfulness and spirituality. I read books on history. I picked up old books that no one was talking about. I forced myself to feel the fear that everyone was reading the “right” things and I wasn’t.

It was hard, and I still struggle with this when I walk through a Barnes & Noble and see the “new and noteworthy” section, feeling guilty for not reading all the books on the table. But it is in those moments that I come into the present moment and ground myself in the deep knowledge that all of lives biggest questions have no clear answer, they must be lived, as Rilke said.

Live your questions. Stop trying to find them in a book. Your healing won’t come from reading the latest book on productivity.

Dare to be different.

PUT IT IN ACTION

Now it is your turn. When was the last time you took a complete inventory of everything you are consuming on a daily basis?

In my case, I had never done an exercise like this. I thought the answer to healing my anxiety was somehow outside of me. Now that I look back I realize how easy it is to fall into this trap, but by using the Olivia Benson technique, writing out everything you are consuming, and ruthlessly weeding out all of the inputs that are not creating peace and abundance in your life, you too will realize the power that you have to heal yourself.

Be well, my brothers and sisters, and start taking control of your future. 

For more on anxiety by Ben, check out his blog here