What is Anxiety?
Anxiety, nervousness, stress, worry – these are all words I’m sure you’re familiar with. In fact, it’s a natural human tendency to experience these emotions. Anxiety is the feeling that tells us danger is near and we need to be alert and ready to fight or flee. Unfortunately, some people experience anxiety that is unhelpful, debilitating or intense.
The good news: anxiety is treatable!
Anxiety is an interesting experience – by definition, the anxiety we experience is not always about real things. Instead, anxiety is defined as ‘a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome’. So, anxiety represents all those concerns we have about things that might happen or that we actually, when you think about, have little hard data on. There’s a myth about anxiety. Many people think that situations or events cause anxiety. Often, however, it’s our thoughts or interpretations that create the anxiety. And the good news – we can learn to have control over our own thoughts (unfortunately we haven’t yet mastered thought control of others).
“That’s all well and good, but how can I decrease my anxiety”?
Below are some tips that may help you to manage your own anxieties or those of others.
1. Stop. Take some deep breaths. When we feel anxious our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. This is responsible for increasing heart rate, giving you butterflies and making you sweat (not very sympathetic, right!). To bring about calm, it’s important to initiate the parasympathetic nervous system which deactivates anxiety. Simply stop and take some slow, deep breaths to achieve this. I like to think of the 3 fives – take 5 big deep breaths – 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out.
2. Become a thought detective – think of Sherlock Holmes but without the hat and coat, and probably without the magnifying glass. Instead of walking hand in hand with your anxious thoughts, step back from them and think about your thinking. Collect evidence that supports your anxious thought and collect evidence against the thought. By evidence I mean data and fact – the stuff the judge and jury are interested in.
3. Consider the advice you would give someone else who was feeling anxious. Perhaps give that advice to yourself. Life is full of double standards: why do we give others’ advice that we don’t take ourselves?
4. Go from ‘what if’ to ‘what is’. It suggests that something might or could happen, without certainty. Is looks at what is currently happening. You’d be surprised at what you actually see when you actually look. (I bet you 50 pretend dollars that the IS is not as bad as the IF).
5. Avoid avoidance. One of the biggest forces acting to keep your anxiety firing is avoidance. Think about the things that make you anxious. Now consider what you do to bring your anxiety down? Do you confront the thing you’re anxious about or do you retreat into hiding? If the latter was your answer then you’re engaging in avoidance behaviours. This means your body and mind only know one way to get rid of anxiety – to hide (in the corner, with your hands over your eyes and ears, rocking back and forth, humming ‘it’s going to be ok’). Have you ever listened to a song on the radio and thought ‘wow, I looove that song’. So you listen to it over and over again. After a little while, the song becomes ‘just another song’ to you. This is the process of habituation – whereby repeated exposure to something results in you getting used to it. The same applies to anxiety.
6. Think in shades of grey (and not the ‘50’ type): Often when anxiety sparks, we start thinking in very black and white terms. For example, if I send a message to a friend and don’t receive a reply I might start thinking “oh no, she hates me”. This is a very worrying and definite statement. Are there other explanations to why she hasn’t text you back? Is her phone out of battery; is she busy; did the kids change the settings and now she can’t even find the messages app?
7. Consider the cost of having your anxious thought versus the benefit of that thought. Which one weighs more heavily and do you want to keep dragging that heavy thought around? (hint: it’s usually the anxious one).
If anxiety is your best friend and you’ve forgotten what your actual best friend looks like, why not give us a call today? Our team of highly skilled and well-experienced Psychologists are here to help. Call us now and take that first step towards obtaining the life you deserve.’