Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety
Anxiety is a reaction that arises from the anticipation of an unwanted outcome or uncertainty. This reaction stimulates our emotional, physical, and cognitive functions in ways that make us uncomfortable.
Small amounts of anxiety can help warn us of danger or motivate us to increase productivity. Anxiety at much larger intensities activate our body’s in-built “fight or flight” response. This can become problematic when it leaves us in consistently heightened distress and interferes with our ability to live our life in full.
Symptoms of Anxiety
- Lack of enjoyment and satisfaction
- Low mood
- Negative thoughts such as dread, gloom, and shame
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Overly pessimistic outlook
- Racing thoughts
- Quickened heart rate/ Heart palpitations
- Difficulties breathing/chest pain
- Upset stomach/digestive issues
- Aches – headaches, body aches
- Fatigue/Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia/sleep disruption
- Dry mouth
What Causes Anxiety?
Most people can identify a source of their anxiety as:
- Feeling unable to exert sufficient control over bodily sensations, thoughts, or self-sabotaging behaviours
- Not feeling or being able to cope with current demands
- Dreading the possibility of negative events in the future
- Lack of feeling safe and secure
- Absence of any certainty in the present
However, sometimes anxiety can seemingly come out of the blue. Research shows that anxiety may also result from less conscious factors like:
- Family history of anxiety
- Co-existing mental health issues (e.g., Depression, OCD, PTSD, Feeding issues)
- Adverse events in our upbringing that have not been fully resolved
- Life-threatening events or abusive/uncaring relationships
- Physical health conditions, such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart disease or thyroid problems
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Substance use
When is Anxiety a Problem?
- It impairs the ability to work/study, complete routine tasks, and participate in activities that usually give enjoyment
- Difficulty maintaining relationships or withdrawing from social interactions
- Causes avoidance that starts leaving a negative impact
- Constantly losing focus and feeling disconnected
- Overwhelmed by negative feelings and thoughts
- Experiencing extremely uncomfortable physical sensations
Types of Anxiety Issues
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – is the tendency to be in constant worry to a point where there is belief that things can’t be okay. The worry is usually around the major domains of life such as work, finances, health, relationships, and future.
While everyone worries about the major domains in life occasionally, living life always expecting the worst before they happen can be unsatisfying. GAD is often accompanied with depression.
GAD is diagnosed when worrying happens most days and for at least six months.
Social Anxiety – is more focused on an individual’s fear of negative evaluation by others.
This fear can inhibit the ability to form meaningful relationships and pursue interests in society such as building a career, attending university, getting involved in sports or social circles, and making new connections.
Panic Disorder – involves intense episodes of fear, also known as panic attacks. They can strike seemingly out of the blue, or they may occur with incapacitating frequency. Panic attacks can last up to an hour and place the sufferer in a cycle that inhibits their ability to live their daily life.
Phobias – are extreme fear around a specific stimulus, such as heights, spiders, germs, etc.
Sudden exposure to the stimulus can result in anxiety that mirrors a panic attack.
Tips for Anxiety
If you are suffering from symptoms of anxiety, the following tips can be helpful coping skills during periods of distress:
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Keep a thought journal
Note down your worries so that you can reflect and decide what to do about them. Is the intensity of the worry appropriate to the situation?
- Put aside worry time
Set 5-10 minutes to think about your worries each day but refrain from worrying the rest of the day. This can help restrict the amount of time you think about a problem, so you aren’t worried about it all day long.
- Practice mindfulness
Accept intrusive thoughts if they are outside of your direct control and acknowledge they are there so you do not suppress them. Do not analyse them.
- The 5-4-3-2-1 technique
Bring yourself back to the present moment by paying attention and becoming aware of your senses. What are 5 things you can see? What are 4 things you can feel? What are 3 things you can hear? What are 2 things you can smell? What is 1 thing you can taste?
- When you feel an onset of anxious thoughts, start a physical activity like walking or running.
Why Seek Professional Help?
Self-managing anxiety can be challenging while we are grappling with intense emotions. It can also be a slower and painful process to learn how to manage anxiety on our own.
Untreated anxiety is characterised by negative thinking patterns and avoidance behaviours which amplifies the anxiety. This is because there is a natural tendency to reduce the anxiety in the short term through avoidance, distraction, seeking reassurance, or further introspection of worries. However, these behaviours can backfire and serve to strengthen the anxiety in the long term.
Seeking anxiety treatment should be no different to going to a doctor for the flu. Your mental well-being is crucial in being able to live a life you desire. You are talking to a professional with years of experience assisting people affected by anxiety. Keep in mind that anxiety can be treated very successfully using therapy, so you cannot go wrong by asking for help and looking into treatment options.
Key tip: A Mental Health Treatment Plan from your GP is a government subsidy that covers a large portion of the consultation fee with a psychologist.
Anxiety Treatment Options Without Medication
These treatments tend to be very effective for most anxieties:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- >Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Exposure therapy – gradual desensitisation
- Biofeedback, which helps you re-interpret bodily sensations we feel from anxiety
- Relaxation exercises and techniques
- Cognitive restructuring
- Re-evaluation of core beliefs
- Mindfulness exercises
However, because anxiety is a common emotional reaction, it can also result from, or appear together with, many other mental health concerns. A psychologist can help you examine other sources of anxiety like traumatic events, intrusive thoughts, perfectionism, or Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder, and then discuss the most suitable therapies for you.
Finding a Long Term Resolution
Anyone can experience anxiety, but if it is disrupting the ability to live daily life, please seek professional assistance.
Therapy is an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanics of anxiety. Build safe and practical mental strategies that will help you manage anxiety back to your favour.
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