Dealing With Anxiety

I watched a television show where the host and a panel were discussing Anxiety.

The common ways put forward to cope with it were “smile”, “take lots of deep breaths”, “set aside some worry time” and “take prescribed medication”.

Obviously, all these will work to some degree. The feedback from viewers indicated the best results were gained from medication. For some, this did not work for them. Quite a few said nothing was working.

So, is there a better way?

Smiling, taking deep breaths, setting time aside and taking medication is described as “coping” or “managing”.

When you stop these actions, the problem returns.

It’s important to deal with the problem and focus on a solution that is going to work for you.

To do this with anxiety, let’s start by breaking it down.

One step further on from anxiety is panic.

When in a state of panic, you are feeling totally out of control. It is “life threatening”. The purpose of panic is to get you out of your current perceived danger and into a safe place. For example, a vicious dog chases you. You enter panic mode as every step is longer and faster as you endeavor to get away and be safe.

Panic serves a function: It keeps you safe. Unfortunately, it can do it too well.

Think of anxiety as feeling out of control.

While this can work well with a physical danger (like a dog barking at you), it may not serve you when people start looking at you. When you are the center of attention, your brain thinks you have no control over what people are thinking about you and you feel anxious. This feeling will generate a physical response where you leave the area to be somewhere safe.

In this safe area, you feel calm and in control.

It’s not the anxiety that has to be treated. It is the feeling out of control.

In other words, whenever you feel out of control, anxiety is the symptom you experience.

To treat feeling out of control, ask yourself what you have control over. While you may not be able to control what others are thinking, you can control your attitude to what is happening.

As an example, “John” was suffering anxiety and panic attacks. He had seen a number of therapists and was on medication yet still had the problem.

John hated enclosed places and being constrained in any way. He also hated being in the dark.

On looking for the cause, John remembered visiting his Uncle’s farm. At 8 years of age, John was quite cheeky. His Uncle, in order to have some fun, placed John in a thick potato sack and sewed across the opening at the top.

John couldn’t move. It was pitch black and he couldn’t get out.

In that moment he had a panic attack. He thought he was going to die. It lasted for about 20 seconds until his uncle released him.

In that 20 seconds, John learnt to hate enclosed spaces, being constrained and darkness. His reaction to these was panic.

He then generalizes. What happens in one experience gets transferred through to other like experiences.

In his adult life, every time he was caught in an enclosed space or it was dark or he was constrained or all of the above, his programming reacted with anxiety or panic.

While other therapists had told him to breathe through his anxiety, it didn’t work.

John was now an adult. He could view what happened at 7 in a totally different way. He didn’t have control over his uncle or the situation he was in. He did have control over his attitude to it. Through knowing his uncle loved him and wouldn’t let anything nasty happen to him, John could stay calm and relaxed and play along with the joke. He knew he would get through it.

When in an enclosed space, when it was dark and when he felt constrained, he now felt calm and relaxed. He told himself “Stay calm, relax. I am in control. I control how I feel here.”

While this may seem simplistic and easy, sometimes it is not. More work is required to help the client.

If you would like to know more about anxiety and social anxiety, please click here