Taking a Look at Problem Anxiety
Anxiety can be an uncomfortable notion. Symptoms flare suddenly and are alarming and overwhelming. When panicky, a person’s fears peak at the possibility of dying. When worrying, no other focus seems possible. In the phobic state, fear is paralysing. Yet, anxiety is a normal emotion, essential for adaptive functioning.
As an alerting emotion, anxiety ensures that you’re well-prepared, ‘switched on’ and focused. Without adaptive anxiety, you have trouble concentrating, are unable to prepare well for high-risk situations, and the appraisals you make might be threat-laden and exaggerated. This increases doubt, worry, fear and uncertainty that ultimately lead to distortions in how you see yourself, the world around you and your future.
Abnormal anxiety takes a particular role in your experiences. The mind can take you ahead to what is coming up, which might create a problem of anticipatory anxiety. The agitated and anxious mind will catastrophise about what could happen, or what is actually happening when your expected outcome does not occur.
For example, if the visitor has not arrived, then there must have been an accident. The anxious mind will predict catastrophe, worry about unpredictable outcomes and see things as worse than they really are. Here we look at some ways to cope with being a problem worrier:
Develop skills that put fears and doubts in perspective. It’s true that everybody worries about their health, finances, children and current affairs. But a problem worrier worries more intensely for longer parts of the day, even though they sense that their worrying is bad for their health and enjoyment. This kind of worry is best managed by increasing your tolerance for feeling fear and uncertainty. Fear, doubt, uncertainty and worry are part of your experience, so you need to develop skills that put such fears and doubts in perspective.
Be aware of over-analysing. Self-awareness during an interaction with another person shows that the relationship style of the problem worrier is very complex. At one level, there’s an exchange between two people who are sharing their experiences; at another level, there’s questioning, reviewing and ‘in your head’ analysis of the experience.
Problem worriers may have self-talk such as, ‘Am I sounding interesting?’, ‘Is the person getting as much out of this exchange as I am?’, or ‘I’m getting nervous about whether the person accepts me.’ This kind of self-talk prevents the problem worrier from fully engaging in the interaction.
Get your personal critical review in check. Problem worriers have real difficulty with their own critical review after an experience with another. Such a review is likely to be judgemental and self-critical with internal questions such as, ‘I should not have said that… I am no good at these social situations’, or ‘I should not have come’.
While it’s normal to review the day’s experiences, it’s more productive if such a review takes a learning stance. ‘Did I notice during the function if there was any shift in my level of tension?’, ‘Did I have an escape attitude, looking for the first opportunity to leave the function?’, ‘Being more aware of the “in your head” factor, was I able to listen to the other person in a mindful way?’
The learning stance enables you to review that the anxious mind will lead to symptoms that are 100 per cent the product of the worrying mind. The person might learn that the feared outcomes are less severe and less likely than predicted. Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) strategies, anxiety symptoms can turn out to be tolerable, harmless and reversible.
A broad base approach where your support team provides various strategies, medication, cognitive and behavioural skills will increase your ability to adapt, resolve problem anxiety and build your resilience capacity. It takes a willingness to face what is fearful, to just sit with anxious feelings, and to stop using avoidance, escape and reassurance-seeking behaviours that actually block you from learning that you’re safe.