Anxiety - the basics
We often use the terms 'stress, anxiety and worry' interchangeably to describe how we feel. In everyday life, it doesn’t really matter how you express it, as long as you’re able to recognize it and share/reach out.
But to understand and identify the discomfort we feel in order to work on it, it is important to use the right words.
Let’s start by reviewing our basics:
Fear: is triggered by a specific object or situation, as a result of education or experience. It is a normal reaction and its absence is a reason for concern with children.
Anxiety: is an uncomfortable state, not an illness. It is triggered by the negative anticipation of a situation perceived as a threat. Growing anxiety can lead to more severe psychological issues.
Anguish: often comes with several different manifestations: it is a rather intense feeling, felt strongly in the body (such as sweating, a racing pulse, and a feeling of suffocating). It expresses insecurity, a threat linked to an undetermined danger. Anguish is part of everyone’s life and arise early is the development of children.
We have to admit, this is an extraordinary ability we’ve developed here: scanning the environment for potential problems and worries, constantly anticipating, magnifying and amplifying obstacles, just so we’re always fully prepared for anything and everything.
Anxiety birthplace is uncertainty: when something is not sure and certain, that’s when the worries and anxiety kick in. But that’s the thing, nothing in life is certain so everything can become a source of anxiety. So what can we do about it so it doesn’t prevent us from enjoying life?
First of all, is it any useful?
Everyone experiences anxiety at one time or another. This feeling can arise in situations that the body anticipates as being disturbing and threatening: waiting for a medical test, about to take an exam, before a presentation at work...
However, a certain level of anxiety can be beneficial… yes, you read right! It can indeed help to cope with a worrying situation such as increasing athletic abilities during a sports performance or help with focus or speed during a test. Take the example of a student preparing for an exam, the adaptive reaction, once the state of anxiety linked to the fear of not succeeding has been recognised, will be to study so as to be ready for the day. Once this preparation is complete, the anxiety will diminish. But yes I agree, easier said than done…
When is my anxiety normal, and when is it pathological?
It is difficult to identify that one is suffering from anxiety or an anxiety disorder (read the article about anxiety disorder here) because anxiety manifests itself in a fairly large number of physical, cognitive, physiological and behavioural manifestations.
These symptoms can vary from person to person and are not all present at the same time:
Some of the most common symptoms are :
An anxiety reaction is considered abnormal when it occurs without apparent cause, when it clearly appears exaggerated in the context or when it becomes chronic. In particular, when the level of anxiety prevents one from doing activities, interferes with one's work, social relationships and well-being, the anxiety is considered pathological and is called an anxiety disorder.
What can I do?
Anxiety can be tackled in different ways, and even better if they’re all combined.
First, you can look after your physical wellbeing and avoid anything that would excite your body and make it more responsive to anxiety. This means avoiding caffeine, tea, energy drinks, alcohol and other stimulants for example, do cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week. Exercise is particularly important because it changes the brain's chemistry so that it secretes substances that make you feel good. Of course, eating and sleeping well because a weak and tired body doesn’t recover well. These are very good when done preventatively. And for when you are anxious, learn techniques that can quickly calm your body, such as breathing exercises, EFT/tapping, meditation, zen colouring…
One important thing to remember is that you can’t be anxious AND relaxed at the same time, it’s not mind over body here, so let’s use that to our advantage!
Then, you can learn to know yourself/your triggers and your anxiety: start making notes of when you feel anxious, the context, the people, the reason, and if you’re unsure, you can also write how it’s affecting you: in your thoughts but also in your body. These will give you very valuable insights on the patterns. By analysing and learning to recognize them, you can learn to deal with your triggers and be better prepared in anxiety-inducing situations.
When it comes to your mind, you can start by letting your friends and family - or anyone you feel would be able to hold the space for you - know what’s going on for you, especially if they’ve had similar experiences. So yes it can be scary or embarrassing to open up and be vulnerable, but sharing is a good way of unloading and connecting so you’ll feel less isolated.
If this is not enough and you’ve been dragging this anxiety for several weeks if not longer, then I’d encourage you to look for help, you can start by going to your GP, or you can look for a therapist (read the article about the different kinds of therapist here if it’s a bit unclear to you). A lot of people think asking for help is admitting a weakness, fact is whether you admit it or not, it rules (or ruins) your life, and I genuinely think that it’s actually the greatest strength one could have: to look at the problem and decide to do something about it, so many people just keep their head buried in the sand…
Talking therapies like EFT or Cognitive Behavioural hypnotherapy (CBH) are very effective for people with anxiety problems. CBH derives from CBT, and just like with CBT, it helps people to understand the link between negative thoughts and mood and how altering their behaviour can enable them to manage anxiety and feel in control.
A big part of both approaches is psycho-education, that’s when we work together on identifying the patterns, challenge unhelpful thinking, learning new gradually expose themselves to the source of their anxiety.
So first we look at your way of thinking
Because the way you feel about a situation is often associated with how you interpret events. When your self-talk is made up of worries, negative anticipations and low self-esteem, it contributes to increased anxiety. And if you are in a negative anticipation state, so is your body, sending you stress signals that can by itself trigger anxiety, can you see the vicious cycle here?
Together, we identify the patterns, analyse your thoughts and challenge what is unhelpful. Essentially we have a good spring cleaning in your mind.
And when you have learnt more about what triggers you, why it does and we’ve given you techniques to cope with which you feel comfortable then you can start challenging your avoidance habits.
Avoidance is very common with anxiety, that’s when you try to avoid situations that cause it to reduce your anxiety levels, that’s a quick way of dealing with it. But a rather unhelpful one in the long term because the more you avoid, the more difficult it becomes to approach the anxious situation in the future. So the idea is to break the cycle of constant avoidance, and we do it with gentle and gradual exposure, constantly re-evaluating how you feel before progressing. More often than not, the reality of the situation isn’t as bad as you expect, and you’ve learn some efficient and healthy coping skills so you’re better equipped to manage, and reduce, your anxiety should it arise in similar situations, or for any other life events you have to face in the future.
Anxiety may always be part of your life, because that’s the result of our beautiful evolution over all those centuries, we can’t just turn it off, but we can learn to recognize it and take distance with it, that I guarantee you we can!
I can help you, if you'd like to discuss how we can work together on tackling your anxiety, please feel free for an free initial phone/zoom call!