Recognising when our behaviour is due to anxiety
‘Anxiety is fear spread thin’ - C G Jung.
Most people get anxious occasionally. Most of us, these days, recognise that anxiety can affect our physical well-being as well as our mental health. And most of us know at least one person who gets anxious more often than seems healthy.
But how much anxiety is too much? How much anxiety would we have to experience to be considered to have an ‘anxiety disorder’, for instance?
Well... a diagnosis of one of the most common anxiety disorders, ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’ (GAD), is made when a person has been ‘worrying excessively about everyday problems consistently for six months or more’… That much!
The fact is that even the relatively infrequent, low-level anxiety that most people experience can cause us to indulge in self-distraction or disengagement. Left unchecked, this can lead to being what amounts to, at best, an unproductive waste of our time and energy. However, we often don’t consciously recognise the anxiety underlying our behaviour.
People with full-blown anxiety disorders exhibit a range of easily identifiable symptoms. Apart from the noticeable emotional symptoms, and a tendency towards irritability and restlessness, there are often physiological signs, such as a racing heart, sweating and shakiness. For many people though, the first conscious indication that something’s not quite right might come along when they try to change certain behaviour patterns.
Maybe you’ve made a decision to have better time-management in your life; perhaps you have some goal or target that you’re aiming for. Or, maybe you’ve become concerned (or someone else has) that certain habits seem to be developing into addictions, which are beginning to erode your self-esteem, and maybe even your health.
Many people that seek hypnotherapy have observed that they start to feel anxious if they try to break a habit. Often, this is found to be due to the simple fear of change; a very common source of anxiety. The brain has learned to view the familiar habit as ‘safe’ behaviour and wants to hold onto what it knows.
Using hypnosis, we reinforce the desire for change and enhance the belief that this is a change for the better. Once that’s accepted, habits can change very quickly.
Sometimes, however, we discover that the habit had become, in effect, a coping mechanism; a distraction from a totally unrelated anxiety. When we work to uncover and alleviate this underlying anxiety, the unwanted habit is no longer needed, and is, consequently, much more easy to let go of.
Two great questions to ask yourself about any behaviour that you wish to stop (including habitually giving your attention to certain thought-patterns) are:
"What do I get out of keeping this behaviour going?"
"What would I lose if I stopped doing it?"
These kind of questions can help you to recognise if anxiety, or the avoidance of anxiety, is driving that unwanted behaviour.
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About Paul Thomas
Paul Thomas is a hypnotherapist and life coach in Mid Wales