Anxiety can creep up on you and it certainly doesn’t feel good. It’s that racing heart, the sweaty palms, tension and shakiness in the body, the signs that something is not right and it feels like terrible. Yes, that wonderful emotion that seems to come at the time when it is the last thing you want. The most terrible part about it is that it is often likely to happen when it is really important to seem calm cool and collected. For example, when you are on a date and you want to make a good impression, or perhaps an interview or exam when you know it is vital that you perform at your best. At times when you most feel the need to appear to be wonderful, the anxiety can cause you to act like a complete and utter tragedy.
Many people experience almost constant levels of anxiety without even knowing it. Drinking and drugs, or constant distraction with work are other ways that people often use to manage this constant anxiety. There are better ways.
Most people have experienced anxiety on steroids… the dreaded panic. It can feel quite hideous when the anxiety symptoms become accelerated until you can actually think that you are losing control, feel that you are going to faint, and can get physical pains. The experience can often be so intense that people can have a strong fear that they will have another panic attack, and this fear can lead to another one actually occurring. Panic attacks are often caused by feeling anxious, and then thinking about how anxious you are getting, and then actually getting anxious about being anxious
Anxiety has a good reason for being. It is a way of our bodies and minds acting very quickly to what seems like a threat. Your blood supply is diverted away from your digestive system and other organs, and goes towards the major muscle groups. Our bodies are filled with the speed-like hormone, adrenaline. This is so that we can fight something that is trying to kill us, or run rapidly away. Now this was a perfect thing million of years ago when our hairy ancestors were wandering the jungles with clubs. However, intense anxiety is not such an appropriate response in the board room of a company while being interviewed by people in suits.
We do actually need some arousal to perform with anything. If you have no arousal, you won’t achieve much at all, and with too much, you start becoming anxious, and increasingly loose the plot. So it’s useful to be able to tell where you are on the scale of anxiety when you want to perform well.
If you are feeling overly anxious or panicky, the first thing to do is to remember to breathe. Count as you take deep slow breaths. If you are in the middle of panic, then look at something outside yourself and look at it very closely and think about it in detail. This is important as it gets you focussed away from the thoughts and perceptions that are causing the anxiety in the first place and also makes sure you have a good supply of oxygen.
After this, become aware of the fact that it is usually not what is happening to you that is causing your anxiety, but the way you are interpreting what is going on. Think about the things you are thinking of when you made yourself anxious. It is usually about the fact that the situation is absolutely terrible and a catastrophe and that you cannot cope with it, or can’t stand it. Challenge these thoughts by asking questions such as “Where is the evidence that I actually can’t stand it? ….I have ‘stood it’ in the past. How does my worst fear rate against being severely disabled in a car accident and dying a slow painful death, is it as catastrophic as I’m imagining?”
Taking time out for you as a priority, gentle exercise such as walking a few times a week, and a good relaxation tape can also help ease long term anxiety. When relaxing, don’t put effort into it, let yourself feel relaxed. The more you try and relax, the more anxious you’ll get.
If you find you are unable to deal with anxiety or feel that it may be due to difficult events in the past, a counsellor/psychologist may be of some benefit.
Clinical Psychologist Annabelle Young has extensive experience in working with people with depression, anxiety (including panic), adjustment difficulties, stress, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder, low self-esteem, grief and loss, interpersonal difficulties, as well as alcohol and drug use issues.