What is anxiety?
Bourne (2005) describes it this way: “Anxiety affects your whole being. It is a physiological, behavioral, and psychological reaction all at once. On a physiological level, anxiety may include bodily reactions such as rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, queasiness, dry mouth, or sweating. On a behavioral level, it can sabotage your ability to act, express yourself, or deal with everyday situations. Psychologically, anxiety is a subjective state of apprehension and uneasiness. In its most extreme form, it can cause you to feel detached from yourself and even fearful of dying or going crazy.”
Anxiety vs. Anxiety Disorders: All of us get anxious from time to time; it’s part of being human. Bourne identifies these three main components of an anxiety disorder: anxiety that is more intense, prolonged and interferes significantly with your life.
What’s helpful? Effective treatment needs to address the three components of anxiety. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is an effective and common approach to treat anxiety.
- Check with your family physician to rule out any medical reasons for your symptoms.
- Deep breathing exercises • Regular exercise
- Nutrition and diet: In particular, try to reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake.
- Meditation, relaxation: These are some of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety by helping you achieve greater calmness immediately as well as over the long-term.
- Avoid the avoidance! Although it feels good at the moment to avoid what makes you anxious, avoidance actually reinforces the anxiety and isn’t helpful in the long run. It’s important to gradually but consistently confront your fears. After you’ve gained some confidence in your deep breathing skills and ability to challenge your catastrophizing thoughts, you can then apply these skills to situations where you tend to feel anxious.
- Find ways to not be anxious about the anxiety. Often once anxiety symptoms start, people become anxious about the anxiety, making the experience worse. Finding ways of tolerating the anxiety symptoms (e.g., deep breathing, quick relaxation) helps to take the edge off the symptoms and allows you to remember other coping skills to use.
- Challenge unhelpful thoughts. For example, although you are feeling panicky, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have a heart attack while driving over the bridge and cause a multi-car accident. It’s more likely that you’ll feel anxious only for a few minutes and continue to drive well. You can also think of challenging the anxiety in the moment – stand up to it and don’t let it restrict your life.
- Learn to identify feelings that may be under the anxiety. Long-standing anxiety often has an interpersonal precipitant, for example, increased distance in a current relationship may remind you of previous rejection by a loved one. Your anxiety is a sign for you to protect yourself, and will continue over time if your solution avoids the relationship issue (e.g., distancing yourself in return, becoming aggressive or overly attentive).
- Assertiveness and relationship skills to help you to better express your feelings.
More information and helpful resources:
- Bourne , E.J. (2005). The anxiety and phobia workbook, 4th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
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