Normal anxiety or Neurotic anxiety?
There really is a big difference between normal anxiety and neurotic anxiety. These tips for overcoming anxiety start with understanding the difference. With healthy fear thoughts are realistic and alert us to danger that we need to deal with. Some anxiety is normal when preparing for up-coming exams, giving a public address, and all those other nerve wracking events! In these cases a bit of anxiety can be helpful to get us well prepared!However neurotic anxiety is another story and is actually extremely unhelpful
Overcoming Anxiety through Understanding Anxiety
Try to get an understanding of the root of your anxiety. This is a good start to overcoming anxiety. Neurotic anxiety and panic, can result from:
- Repressed anger
- Unexpressed wishes or desires or unexpressed negative feelings about some problem in your life.
Before you say that this doesn’t apply to you give it some thought. For a person who suffers from anxiety these sorts of feelings usually seem unacceptable and are often denied.
Reluctance to express anger, wishes or desires is due to the underlying belief that you don’t have permission to feel the way you do. A person who is constantly criticized and put down, often stops expressing their needs and feelings. Many children are taught that their feelings don’t count. They soon learn that it’s unsafe to express their feelings or needs and that other people’s feelings are more important. The thinking becomes ‘it’s better not to express myself as I might upset someone and hurt their feelings’. The resulting unacceptable feelings of resentment and frustration then get released in the form of anxiety.
Some anxiety can be released in physical symptoms, such as a spastic colon. These symptoms can convince an anxious person that their anxiety is medical and seek out medical advice rather than face the reality of a psychological problem. Medical problems rarely cause symptoms of anxiety and panic. Going from doctor to doctor seeking a medical cause is a costly route to take, but it seems more acceptable and distracts one from looking at and dealing with the emotional problems.However dealing with the anxiety often follows with a relief of the physical symptoms.
What am I really upset about?
This is the question you need to ask yourself because as you confront the real issue your anxiety will diminish.
6 WAYS TO FIGHT YOUR FEARS AND WIN!
1. Cost benefit analysis
First question to ask yourself about overcoming anxiety is whether you want to get over your phobia. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of worrying and avoiding whatever you fear. Then make a list of the advantages of and disadvantages of confronting your fears. Weigh up both the lists.
2. Experimental Method
The commonest unrealistic thoughts during an anxiety attack are:
- I may be cracking up
- I may be having a heart attack
- I may be losing control
- I may be about to faint
- Maybe I’m about to die
Because these thoughts feel so real, it doesn’t always help for someone just to tell you that you’re thinking unrealistically. It feels too real! Most people who have had a panic attack have also been to the doctor for a ECG convinced that they are about to have a heart attack, only to find out that they’ve had a panic attack and aren’t about to die!
Rather than stay with these unrealistic thoughts make an experiment to test their validity.
- ‘I may be cracking up.‘ Ask yourself ‘If I were losing control and cracking up, how would I know this for sure? Do I have any symptoms of schizophrenia now? List the symptoms on a piece of paper and see if you have any of them. When you prove that your fears aren’t valid, you will feel better. Practice what you would do if you were crazy and do this during an anxiety attack.
- ‘I may be having a heart attack.’ During a heart attack you become weak and unable to move. Therefore, stand up and walk, and then jog. If you do that you would show that you weren’t having a heart attack.
- ‘I may be losing control.’ People with panic attacks often suffer from the fear of losing control and looking foolish in front of others. An example is a fear of being in a situation that you cannot easily escape from – like being at the hairdresser or the dentist chair or the supermarket. You feel trapped and get a panic attack. You imagine becoming hysterical and running out of the room and making a fool of yourself in front of other people. Many anxiety ridden people believe they should be in complete control of their emotions at all times, and think that people would look down on them for feeling nervous or insecure. An anti-dote is to do what you are most afraid of so you can learn that the world doesn’t come to an end after all. Anxiety will make you resist but don’t give in to this urge. If this feeling overwhelms you while you’re driving, disprove this fear, by turning on your indicator, make a turn, turn on you windscreen wipers. All this proves that you are in control.
- ‘I may be about to faint.’ Although you might feel this way it is unlikely as you’ve got too much oxygen in your system.
- ‘Maybe I’m about to die.’ It might feel that way, but feeling something doesn’t mean that it is true! Nobody dies from a panic attack.
3. Confront your fears
Avoidance is tempting as it provides immediate relief but it’s not a good coping style. Unfortunately, the sources of anxiety will not go away until we confront them. If you don’t confront them you can never properly relax because you are constantly on guard for when a source of anxiety will appear. For example, how did you learn to swim, to drive a car etc. – you just faced it. Let’s look at some specific methods.
- Flooding. Throw yourself into the situation until it no longer disturbs you. If we force ourselves to confront giving public talks, meeting new people, and going to places we previously avoided, we discover that they aren’t so terrifying. We find out through direct experience that our reasons for anxiety are exaggerated. When we use flooding we must be committed to stick with it and resist our temptation to escape. If we run away before forcing ourselves to become desensitised, our immediate relief will reinforce the urge to be an avoider.
An example – A fear of elevators : If you are afraid of elevators, you could get on an elevator and ride it up and down as long as necessary until your anxiety goes away. No matter how terrified you get, stay on the elevator. Don’t get off until your fears have vanished. Instead of trying to control your anxiety, surrender to your symptoms and let them run their course. If you stick it out you will discover that there are no terrible consequences after all.
Repeat to yourself `This attack cannot go on forever. No matter how bad it gets, it will eventually go away, and I can take it. It will not destroy me, I am not on the edge of a nervous breakdown, even though it feels that way. I will sit here and confront my worst fear …. I will defeat them and become stronger …. ‘ Talk to your symptoms – ‘Go ahead and do your worst. This is your big chance. I am not going to run away from you any longer. I have not committed any crime, and I have the right to sit here as long as I want.’ This is called flooding (with the unbearable symptoms).
- Implosion If you do ‘the flooding’ in your head it is called implosion. As you allow yourself to become anxious, you keep on reminding yourself that even though anxiety is not pleasant, it is not fatal. If you are a chronic worrier, you should schedule your implosion sessions for specific times and places every day. Try to stop your thoughts at other times.
- Gradual exposure. Sometimes flooding or implosion can just seem like too much. In that case you can start with gradual exposure. Imagine you have a fear of driving and so the plan is to eventually driving to the local mall on your own. Break this into smaller tasks, like initially driving down the road and back again. Slowly increase your personal challenge.
- Partnership method. Many of these techniques can be easier to achieve with a partner. For example planning to meet a friend at the end of your destination can give a sense of accountability and you are less likely not to stick to your gradual exposure plan.
4. Keep records or a daily mood log
- date, time of day and situation of the anxiety event
- rate your anxiety from 1-10 with 10 being the worst
- watch your self-talk and try and identify where your thinking could be faulty.
- record the coping skills you used
- rate your anxiety again.
This should give an accurate idea of when and where you get anxious. You can then plan your coping skills and see which coping skills work. Record your progress.
5. Positive imaging
Use self-relaxation and relaxed breathing. Imagine the event that produces anxiety.
For example, if you are anxious about an upcoming meeting with the boss, make a list of the events leading up to the actual meeting with our boss. Riding to work a month before the meeting … ten minutes before meeting … entering boss’s office.. Rate them according to level of anxiety it will cause. Relax and then imagine the lowest anxiety activity and relax until anxiety is near one. Repeat
Use a mental distraction like doing a puzzle, or a rubics square. Take it out during an anxiety attack and focus all your mental energy on every detail of the game. Maybe a physical distraction will suit you better, like swimming, jogging or aerobics. Productive work could include a hobby, gardening, reading a book or even spring cleaning.
All of these will give you a sense of accomplishment and self-control when you’re feeling helpless and terrified. As a result, you calm will down and feel more relaxed.
CONFRONT THAT INNER BULLY!
The most important thing is to confront your fears persistently and courageously until they disappear. By avoiding frightening situations you simply make your problems worse. It is like running away from a bully – he will continue to chase you and frighten you. By facing your fears you learn that the catastrophe you fear will not really happen.
If you want to be, act as if you are, and you will become.
Click here to go to a very helpful article called ‘First Aid for Panic Attacks’ which gives details on how to stop a panic attack from developing.
Click here for a delightful story of overcoming fear.
Click here for an article on cognitive therapy – how to change your thinking.
Photograph by Nicola Stewart beblessedphotography.co.za