A new look at anxiety
21st July, 20150 Comments
Written by: Martin Williams HPD, MNCH (Reg), APHP
We assume that anxiety is a negative thing, a thing to overcome, rationalised or not spoken about. Anxiety is a worry about something that might happen in the future, compared with depression which is dwelling excessively and damagingly on events from the past.
In fact, anxiety is part of the brain's 'keep you safe' system, so that what happens when you become anxious is your reaction to a hypothetical situation that the mind is posing for you to consider. That, is all that is at the root of anxiety - your reaction to the thought of or anticipation of a fictional future event.
The reason the mind throws up these wild ideas is to help train you to cope. Think about how you train for a sport or for a job - you learn the basics of what you have to do then you start getting into the 'what if' situations posed by the trainer - asking you how you would deal with this or that situation. Your mind is doing exactly the same thing. The 'what if’s' will relate to something in your life that is important to you: children, education, work, love... almost anything in which you invest time and energy. These perhaps are the things that make us feel vulnerable, the weaknesses that others could potentially exploit.
We all have priorities and vulnerabilities and since we are all different what is important to us will vary from person to person. This is why friends and family may not understand why you are getting so upset or concerned about something that is meaningful to you but unimportant to them.
So we accept that our mind has us as its main focus, keeping us safe, helping us to function in society. We also know that it is throwing the 'what if' questions to encourage us to prepare for possible future events. These 'what if' questions may relate directly to areas in which you feel vulnerable, or they could be one step removed as in what would happen to 'xyz' if 'abd' happened.
Anxiety is the disproportionate response to these questions. It is a panic response that quickly becomes embedded as the automatic response whenever you think about this potential but totally fictional future event. This is happening because we have missed out a vital step in processing the question that the mind is posing. We are jumping straight from hearing the question (or threat as you may think of it) to panic because we do not know what to do.
Sometimes we get a thought in our head and we try to dismiss it; what happens? That thought like a child screaming for attention gets bigger and bigger, demanding attention and the more we try to get away from it the worse it gets.
Equally, sometimes that same 'what if' thought, triggers such an avalanche of possible outcomes that we are totally consumed by thoughts relating to it, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and rational behaviour.
The resolution is simple but not always easy.
When the question or threat is first posed we need to recognise what it is, why it has come up and what we need to do in response to it.
Firstly we need to look at it - what is the mind showing us as a possible future event? We need to calmly look at what part of our life it might affect: kids, job, relationship etc. Then we need to scale it between one and 10, one being so unlikely to happen it is not worth worrying about, and 10 being it is very likely to happen and we need to make plans to cope when it happens.
We also need to keep in mind that very often situations resolve themselves without input from us. We also need to recognise that if the event did happen you would not be alone in dealing with it because others affected would also respond.
Being anxious is the 'I don’t know what to do' reaction, a sort of panic where all the usual, sensible systems close down and you figuratively bury your head in the sand. That is an option but rarely the best one.
Turning to face the threat, standing back and looking at the whole picture and then deciding if anything needs to be done is the way to avoid anxiety and also the way to get out of it. It allows you to see the bigger picture and to put a fence around the issue so that it is kept under control and within bounds.
Remember the 'what if' questions are your mind's way of asking you to be prepared and if necessary to plan ahead. It is unlikely that these 'what ifs' will happen but being aware that they could and that you have an understanding that will help you cope if they do is a good thing.
I said it was simple but not easy that is because having got yourself stuck the narrow lane of worrying you cant easily step back to take in the bigger picture; that is where the therapies comes in; to guide you, to help you put everything in proportion and in its place so that life is calm once more.
About the author
Stress, anxiety and depression, each of these terms describes a different condition, each needs different approaches. I will work with you to identify your condition and then get to understand you to design treatment that really fits your needs. I help you make the small adjustments that have the big effects.
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