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Relax, Your Worries Are Rarely Worth The Anxiety

By Shaun Carney
The Age, (date unknown)

Anxiety is the feeling we experience when we anticipate a possibly unpleasant event. This unpleasant emotional state is characterized by tension, nervousness, heart palpitations, tremor, nausea, dizziness, inability to think clearly and, on some occasions, inability to even speak. Other symptoms may include backache and diarrhea.

All of us have felt intensely anxious at times and it is estimated that about four per cent of the population suffers from chronic anxiety disorders, with women outnumbering men two-to-one.

Professor Aaron Beck from the University of Pennsylvania claims that people with anxiety problems have unrealistic fears because they misjudge the danger associated with a particular situation. This is usually due to one or more of the following:

  • Overestimating the chance of a dangerous event, eg. “The bus in which I am being driven s likely to crash.”
  • Overestimating the severity of the feared even, eg. “If I lose my job I will be finished and I can’t see anything else for me.”
  • Underestimating coping resources (what you can do to help yourself).
  • Underestimating rescue factors (what other people can do to help you).

The behaviours following anxiety include: restlessness, insomnia, inability to work and/or to relate to others. It is important to note that the feelings and the unpleasant bodily sensations generated by our thoughts become the source of more negative thoughts and an ever-worsening cycle is set up.

Dr Albert Ellis, founder of Rational-Emotive Therapy, was one of the first of the psychologists to advocate disputing irrational thinking. Typical irrational beliefs which cause disturbance include:

  • If something is, or may be, dangerous or fearsome, one should be terribly concerned about it and keep dwelling on the possibility of it occurring.
  • Human unhappiness is externally caused and people have little or no ability to control their sorrows or disturbances.
  • It is easier to avoid than to face certain life difficulties and self-responsibilities.

These self-defeating thoughts need to be disputed and challenged by the technique known as self-talk. Self-talk is literally answering your internal critic and disputing the negative thoughts when they enter your head. Let us assume you may be retrenched because of an economic downturn.

  • “I am a failure if I lose my job.”
  • “How am I going to survive if I lose this job.”
  • What will my friends think if I am out of work.”

Countering, anxiety-reducing self talk would be:

  • “I may fail to hold this job but I myself am not a failure; it is not the worst thing that can happen to me and I can stand it.”
  • Thousands of others have survived periods of unemployment and if it is forced on me I will look for another job and try to develop new skills.”
  • “So what if they think badly of me? I would like them to approve of me but I cannot demand their approval.”

Muscle relaxing is another widely used technique to help manage anxiety. It has been used for hundreds of years by various individuals in conjunction with meditation. You sit quietly in a comfortable position, close your eyes and then progressively tighten and relax the muscles of your body in a sequence beginning with your feet then progress to the muscles in your legs, thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, arms, hands, neck and face. Now try to relax your whole body and notice any part which is still tense and try to relax it.

Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out say the word “relax” silently to yourself, breathe in, breathe out, then say “relax”. Breathe easily and naturally.

In your mind’s eye imagine a pleasant scene, something from the past which you particularly enjoyed, or some future event which you are looking forward to. Continue the imagery and breathing for 10 to 20 minutes. When finished, sit quietly for a few minutes with your eyes closed and then with your eyes open. Try to do this on a regular basis and if possible, once a day.

When you suddenly become anxious or panic stricken because of something that has happened, it is difficult to think clearly. It is even more difficult to act appropriately and for this reason you should learn beforehand what course of action to take. The key to switching off an anxiety state is to accept it fully; remaining in the present and accepting your anxiety will help it to disappear. Use the five-step AWARE strategy (below) to eliminate anxiety:

  • Agree to receive your anxiety. Say to yourself, “I’ll accept and deal with this!” Your feelings of dread at the thought of it coming upon you again will only worsen by resisting. Instead, flow with it. Don’t make it responsible for how you think, feel and act.
  • Watch your anxiety. Think of yourself outside your body as an independent observer watching what is happening. Note how your anxiety level rises and falls. Remember you are not your anxiety. The more you can separate yourself from the experience the more you can watch it.
  • Act as if the anxiety is not there. Pretend the situation is normal. Act as if you are not anxious. Go with it. Slow down if you have to, breathe slowly and normally, but keep going.
  • Repeat the steps: accept your anxiety, watch your anxiety, act as if the anxiety was not there. Flow with the anxiety until it subsides to a comfortable level, which it will if you can continue to accept, agree, watch and act on it. Just keep repeating these steps.
  • Expect the best. What you worry about the most rarely happens. Don’t be distressed the next time you experience anxiety; instead surprise yourself with your ability to handle it. As long as you live there will be some anxiety in your life. To accept this fact puts you in a better position to cope with anxiety when it occurs.

As part of the AWARE strategy it is suggested that you monitor each anxiety state by keeping a diary. Jot down a few notes and rate your anxiety on a 0-100 scale. This helps you to separate yourself fro your anxiety – to become an independent observer.

There are a number of helpful anti-anxiety medications available through your doctor. Also many people drink, smoke or take street drugs to relieve anxiety; these methods all have risks that are well known. Medications can relieve acute anxiety states but if the problem lies in the way one thinks about the world, too often in terms of catastrophies, then that is where the solution ultimately lies.

More articles:  1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 . 7 . 8 . 9 . 10 . 11 . 12 . 13