Understand anxiety and change it to its healthier alternative for your health and wellbeing
You know that crippling feeling we get before an interview, public speaking, when waiting for some results etc? I'm talking about anxiety. Following my last blog post on anger, I'm going to begin to unpack anxiety and how we can go about changing it to its earlier counterpart.
Anxiety is a natural process that occurs when we perceive future danger. Adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, increasing the heart rate in order to supply the body with more oxygen for the fight or flight response. Unfortunately for us, this response has not completely adapted with the times and we still do experience this process even if the situation is not life or death or necessarily dangerous.
The Albert Ellis Institute says "Anxiety disorders are characterised by excessive fear and intense worry which often results in some form of physical distress such as muscle tension, increased heart-rate/respiration, chest or gastrointestinal pain/discomfort and behavioural avoidance. Anxiety disorders lead to significant impairment in a person’s social, occupational, and daily functioning”
Two fitting quotes for Anxiety are:
'Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.' - Henry Ward Beecher
'Neither comprehension nor learning can take place in an atmosphere of anxiety.' - Rose Kennedy
Anxiety also comes in different forms; they include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) presents as a generalised persistent and exaggerated nervousness that is often, in reality, non-existent in the person's environment
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterised by obsessive thoughts which are intrusive and inappropriate and consist of repetitive behaviours like hand washing etc to help reduce the anxiety
- Social Anxiety Disorder is characterised by a constant, irrational fear of situations where it could be possible to encounter judgment or criticism from other people
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is characterised by intense fear, helplessness, vulnerability and/or horror that a person experiences following an exposure to a highly traumatic event such as war or the Grenfell Tower disaster
- Panic Disorder commonly known as panic attacks. They are characterised by sudden feelings of intense fear and/or discomfort such as racing heart, sweating, chest pain, shaking. This is usually accompanied by fear of dying, feelings of detachment, fear of losing control etc
- Specific Phobia characterised by a persistent and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, animal, or activity, e.g. arachnophobia, claustrophobia etc
- Health Anxiety. People suffering from this are commonly referred to as hypochondriacs. It is a preoccupation with or worries about having a serious disease, in the absence of any medical proof.
Most of us would have either experienced some degree of one or some of these or know somebody who has. The thing with anxiety is that it blocks us from task-relevant thoughts and triggers us to overestimate and create more negative features in our minds, which does nothing but compound our state of emotional disturbance. It is also compounded by factors such as trying to stop thoughts, seeking validation for your fears, avoiding the anxiety trigger, spending time with negative people, and shallow breathing.
As the main perception when experiencing anxiety is a threat or a danger of a threat, the first thing to do is notice our thoughts when we are feeling anxious or we notice its tell tail physical symptoms such as sweating, increased heart rate, sweaty palms etc. You will more than likely notice that all your thoughts have a 'worst-case scenario' theme without any room for constructive task-relevant thoughts at all. This coincides with thoughts of wanting to retreat, tranquillise feelings through substances and seek reassurance that everything is okay.
These thoughts are irrational, unhealthy and dogmatic in nature and will always trigger unhealthy negative emotions and behaviour. The trick is to change these through thought and presence to rational, healthy and flexible ones. Not overestimating and/or creating negative features of the situation, and having more task-relevant thought with a clearer head on is a great place to start changing anxiety into healthy concern.
So next time you're going to interview for that position you really want, preparing for some public speaking or whatever gets you scared about the future, notice the emotion you're feeling, name it and change your thought processes to healthier, flexible and rational alternatives concern before you act. With a little practice, it becomes a part of your life and you reap the benefits of a greater sense of well-being.