What is anxiety?
We all worry at times. Often it is over something quite specific, like taking an exam or going for an interview. In these circumstances a little anxiety can be quite helpful because it can sharpen the focus of the mind, enabling us to tackle the situation we are facing with an added determination.
For some though, anxiety can take over and when it does, it stops being helpful. If you are someone who has experienced anxiety regularly then you will know how devastating it can be. One negative thought can take root, leading to a spiral of negative thoughts and scenarios, usually at the expense of the person thinking them! It can also have a physical effect on the body such as butterflies, palpitations, headaches or cramps for example In this state of mind, it is hard to see a way out and to imagine that life will ever feel good again. It’s exhausting.
Why do we do it?
The thing about anxiety is that it is a normal and ancient human response to a stressful situation. It’s all about survival. How can that be the case I hear you ask? Well when our brain thinks that we are undergoing some sort of a threat or impending danger there is a part of our mind that leaps straight in there to protect us. One of the ways it does it, is to encourage us to imagine the worst-case scenario so that we can be prepared for the danger and we will be able to tackle the situation effectively and survive! The difference between our ancestors and us is that they usually were genuinely under threat. Nowadays the threat comes from different situations such as being made redundant, or moving home, being asked to isolate during the COVID 19 pandemic. All of these situations are not actually a true threat to life in the physical sense. But we still operate from the same part of our brain as if it were, as we did millions of years ago. When we imagine threat so the same protective response kicks in.
What can I do about it?
The first thing is to notice what negative thoughts you have on a regular basis. Once you recognize that you are having these thoughts then you can start to think about a different response to them. But when you first try doing something different don’t expect the thoughts to disappear overnight this all takes practice.
One thing you can do once you realise you are at it again is to try distraction. Distraction gives less power to the negative thought and so gives a bit of space for your brain to calm. Whether its reading a book or watching a film, just be curious and notice which activities work the best at distracting you and then do more of them. The brain loves novelty so have a few things up our sleeve!
Look at the situation you are in and ask yourself what you have control over. Those things you cannot control can be let go in favour of thinking what you do have control of. Recently I had a client tell me he was getting annoyed at people who were not social distancing. He realized he could not control what others did so he decided to let it go and focus on doing what he needed to do instead.
Finally, you can accept that you will have some negative thoughts. So don’t try and resist them and wrestle with them in your mind. All that does is create a whole bunch of pressure that you could do without it. Notice them and then perhaps try challenging some of them. Especially if you are having anxious thoughts about yourself. Look for evidence that challenges the perspective of your thinking. You might have a thought like “I can’t do this, I am useless”. I doubt very much that this thought would be remotely accurate. So look for evidence that shows you all the times in your life when you have been successful. Challenge the accuracy of the thought. Once we open the door to possibility then those negative unhelpful thoughts have much less power over you.
Or you could do what one client of mine did and that was to visualize blowing up all his negative thoughts in his mind!
Whatever you try, stick with it. It takes time and practice.
If you feel you need help then do get in touch and let’s think about getting you back to being the best version of you that you can be.