How to cope with anxiety
Tension and anxiety are very common problems. The symptoms of anxiety are basically the same as fear although anxiety often has a less clear reason behind it. When you are in real danger you can usually do something about it whereas with anxiety it may often feel as if you can’t do something about it then and there.
Our bodies evolved and learned to react rapidly to immediate danger. As hunters and gatherers, a lion would create an immediate fear response. In the modern world we no longer have to deal with lions and other predators but when we feel unsafe, the same reactions still occur-fight/flight or freeze.
Some people who have a sensitive nervous system may be bothered by anxiety more than others. Typical reactions to stress involve a shaky feeling, feeling short of breath, feeling sick and so on. Although anxiety is unpleasant it is important to remember that the feelings associated are not dangerous or harmful.
Your thinking can make you more or less anxious. Our automatic thoughts naturally lead to feelings and these feelings determine our behaviour. Therefore the more anxious our thoughts, more stressed out we feel. Thoughts are not facts and can always be challenged.
How do anxious feelings start and how do they get out of control?
Here is an example:
Mrs Smith was alarmed to find herself feeling dizzy while waiting at a bus stop. Then she noticed her heart was pounding and her legs felt as if they were giving way. Because symptoms came out of the blue, she was terrified that she was about to collapse, or even die, and she went on feeling frightened until safely home. After that, just thinking about going out made her feel nervous and sometimes brought the dizzy feeling back.
How to cope with anxiety
Learn how to relax yourself physically. Taking deep breaths and counting to 10, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth can help reduce anxiety and relax your body. Calming the body physically will make it easier to calm yourself mentally.
Controlling upsetting thoughts
The type of thoughts which make anxiety worse are often difficult to spot, because with repetition they become automatic. Negative automatic thoughts come and go too rapidly for you to realise what is happening. The first thing to do is to pin down those “automatic” thoughts. Write them down somewhere and keep a record of how often they happen and what triggers these thoughts. Once you find out what type of thought makes you feel upset, you will need to spend some time finding out why this idea sets you and whether it is realistic or not. Always look for the evidence you’re thinking.
Often it turns out that these thoughts have little or no truth when they looked at more closely. The next step is to work out a different and more realistic ways of thinking about the same things and to practice using this different way of thinking every time you catch a frightening and/or automatic thought. As with relaxation, this may seem difficult at first but it will gradually become easier and more natural.
- Anxiety is the same as fear but without real danger.
- Both anxiety and fear have two parts – physical and mental.
- Anxiety gets out of control when upsetting thoughts increase body tension and vice versa.
- You can learn to cope with anxiety by using relaxation and by controlling/challenging upsetting thoughts.