Management of anxiety:
Helping or hindering?
Although anxiety, which may vary in intensity from mild concern to panic, may be an unpleasant emotion to experience, it is a normal human emotion. We all experience it! When we feel anxious changes may occur in our
physiological arousal (such as racing heart, rapid breathing, muscle tension, and sweaty palms),
thoughts (such as overestimating the likelihood of future difficulties and underestimating our ability to cope),
behaviours (such as avoiding anxiety provoking situations) and
related moods (such as irritability).
Anxiety generally occurs in response to concerns about future uncertainty or danger (including danger to one's self-esteem). Moderate levels can actually be useful as anxiety may improve your performance (if you don't really care about the outcome of an activity in which you are engaging you are unlikely to put much effort into it). Even high levels of anxiety can be helpful given the right circumstances. An example of this is when you are in physical danger. Imagine you are walking down a dark street and someone approaches you from behind. Your body would initiate a number of changes designed to protect you, to assist you to fight the threat or run away from it (commonly known as the “fight or flight response”). For example, your heart and breathing rates would increase so that your body is able to pump extra oxygen to the muscles. These physiological changes improve your ability to survive such dangerous situations.
Although everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their life, around 1 in 12 people experience it to the degree that it causes significant disruption to their life. Common causes of such high levels of anxiety include fears of having a heart attack or going crazy, of embarrassing oneself or being judged negatively by others, of harm befalling oneself or one's loved ones, and of unwanted memories of past traumatic experiences.
What can you do if anxiety is causing disruption to your life? Rest assured, there are a number of things that you can do to gain control over it.
Firstly, it is important to remind yourself that anxiety is a normal emotion, that everyone experiences it and that it exists to assist you.
Next, regularly engage in physical exercise and schedule time to involve yourself in activities that you find relaxing. Such activities differ between people, but common ones include reading, listening to music, or going for a walk. Try to learn applied relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation, or practice meditation. Remember to be patient – relaxation is like any other skill, it takes practice.
Learn effective problem-solving techniques, including clearly defining the problem, brainstorming possible solutions, examining each of the possible solutions for their pros and cons, choosing a solution, developing an action plan, and evaluating the outcome after implemention.
In addition, become skilled at challenging any unrealistic or unhelpful thoughts you may be having. Try to look at situations in different ways, for example by thinking about the best possible outcome in a situation, rather than just the worst one. Look at the evidence for a particular thought, rather than just believing it straight away. Thoughts are just ideas that we have, they are not always correct.
Try to gradually confront your fears. Although avoiding anxiety-provoking situations may relieve your anxiety in the short-term, it tends to maintain anxiety in the long-term. Imagine a man being afraid of water. If he avoids the water he will never learn that he can be in or near it and not be in danger. In order to overcome his anxiety he may stand close to the water at first, and remain there until his anxiety has significantly decreased. Following this, he may put just his ankles in the water, and stay at that point until his anxiety has decreased. Following on from this he could gradually increase the amount of his body that is under water until he is able to put his head under the water and not feel anxious. You could do something similar with your fears.
The above techniques are proven to be helpful in assisting people to overcome anxiety. However, at times they can be difficult to implement without assistance. If this is the case, or i f your anxiety is severe, it may be worthwhile speaking to your doctor or contacting me on 1800 768 411.