Anxiety – a guide
14 January 2019
The single most important thing to know about anxiety is it’s about AVOIDANCE. It persists because we try to avoid our anxiety in the first place. Avoiding it simply makes it worse; you must CONFRONT.
Types of anxiety:
- Social anxiety: excessive worry and concern about how others are perceiving or evaluating you.
- Generalised anxiety: a habit of worry. We use ‘worry’ as a way to distract ourselves from the emotions associated with whatever it is we’re worried about. It works but only short-term. Long term, we form a habit of worry that leads to high levels of anxiety and stress.
- Panic disorder: attacks are intense moments of fear or anxiety; sweating, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness. Fear of consequence of panic (going crazy, dying).
- Specific phobia: irrationally afraid that a specific thing/situation will lead to panic, not that the specific thing/situation itself is dangerous.
- OCD: obsessions are recurrent and intrusive thoughts, urges, images that cause anxiety and distress.
- PTSD: is like a phobia of memory. The person tries avoiding any kind of trigger for their past trauma which leads to isolation, depression, anxiety.
- Separation anxiety: an age-inappropriate distress that can occur in adults and children in regards to an attachment figure.
Emotions around ‘anxiety’
- Stress caused by stressors (rapid breathing, muscle tension, numbness).
- Fear: it’s temporary, based on an evaluation of danger/ a realistic threat.
- Anxiety: response to an unrealistic threat.
- Panic: burst of intense anxiety. It’s anxiety about anxiety (‘I’m going to die because my heart is beating so fast’)
- Terror, dread, angst, nervousness: are all emotional variations of fear/anxiety.
- Worry: a form of problem-solving: repetitive, fast, negative, self-evaluative but generally unproductive, unhelpful. It sustains anxiety and stress. Similar but distinct from problem solving or planning.
- You can’t have an emotion without having a ‘thought’ first – GOOD NEWS! Coz we can train ourselves into new thought habits.
Key to dealing with anxiety is:
- Building emotional strength
- Being in control of your situation
- Having a good social network
- Adopting a positive outlook
What to do:
- Be active: reduces emotional intensity.
- Take control; make lists, make plans, make goals, prioritise.
- Socialise: have a laugh, talk things through, connect to others.
- Take ‘me time’ and do things you really enjoy.
- Set goals and challenges; being curious and learning new things builds emotional resilience and confidence.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking and caffeine, they don’t help you cope.
- Help others: helping people in any way, boosts your sense of self-worth, usefulness and capability as it often puts your problems in perspective. Try anything from going out of your way to help others to volunteering.
- Worker smarter not harder and leave least important tasks to last
- Be positive: look for positives in life and things that make you grateful. Make a concerted effort to tackle negative, hopeless thoughts by analysing them and re-writing them into something positive and more useful.
- Accept things you can’t change: if there’s nothing you can do about it, forget it and focus on the things you can control and be proactive.
- Re-wire your Amygdala; this is the bit that is in ‘high alert’. It has learnt FEAR so everything is a danger or threat and it must exhaustively stay on high alert to keep you safe. By avoiding, you keep up this fear learning. By confronting, being curious, observing calmly, teaching the amygdala it’s okay, the threat isn’t real, you will get it to relax. This is Safety Learning.
- Worry-busting: we tell ourselves that worry is problem-solving (gives you the illusion of control and you can make things better) but in fact it isn’t serving this purpose at all – it’s distraction. Worry keeps the mind off the horrible feelings of anxiety. It lets us avoid them by thinking about the (perceived) problem. By avoiding feelings of anxiety we are teaching our flight/flight response that these feelings are a threat to our survival.
- Exposure therapy: deliberately and progressively more difficult confronting an irrationally feared stimuli. The idea is the feared outcome will not in fact take place. Painful for the client but often works for e.g. if you’re scared of spiders, watch videos of them, go out find them. Confront DON”T avoid.
- Thought-review: noticing and altering chronic irrational beliefs and self-talk. BOOK RECOMMENDATION: David Burns’ Feeling Good
- Mindfulness: train the mind away from analysing the problem and trying to solve it, to being observant and in the present moment. It trains us to take control over our attention.
- Relaxation: muscle relaxation; progressively tighten then relaxing core muscle groups in a bottom to top fashion.
- Deep breathing: on a 7/11 ratio (7 in and 11 out) increased oxygen to the lungs slows down breathing and counteracts the fight or flight response.
- Worksheets and exercises that re-train your brain, for e.g. Feelings are not Facts. Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions which lead to negative behaviours. Record your thoughts, write down the feelings that come with them. Reality test them. IF YOU CREATED A NEGATIVE THOUGHT, YOU CAN UNCREATE IT. Gratitude journals. Affirmations pinned to your fridge…if you’d like worksheets or more guides, please ask me.
- Tapping/havening: bring down your ‘units of distress’ with these simple tapping exercises (ask me if I haven’t taught you already)