Self-Help for Anxiety
What is anxiety? Anxiety is a normal human emotion that urges us to act in order to keep us safe. Anxiety in the clinical sense comes in a variety of different forms, but all forms have some key characteristics:
- Intense feelings and a belief of being in danger
- The intensity of the feelings are disproportionate to the actual level of threat
- Avoidance of the people, environments, or situations that trigger this experience
Most people experiencing clinical anxiety will often share other characteristics, as well:
- Sensitivity to the feelings of anxiety
- Be more focused on the future (e.g., "What if" thinking)
- Overestimate threats and expect the worst to happen (i.e., "Catastrophizing")
Do I have anxiety? Maybe a better question to ask is, "How much is anxiety limiting me?":
- What would you be doing if the intensity of your anxiety decreased?
- What would your life look like without anxiety?
- How would your career life change?
- How would your personal life change?
- How would your day-to-day life change?
- How would it impact your overall well-being?
If your life would improve, working on your anxiety is worthwhile.
Here are the basics of anxiety and how to overcome it:
- Anxiety overestimates threats and underestimates our ability to cope.
- Anxiety tells us to avoid situations that trigger our anxiety. The more we avoid, the more our brain rewards us for avoiding the "threat" and the more it punishes us in triggering situations. Anxiety is maintained and reinforced the more we avoid. It's a vicious cycle.
- The feeling of anxiety is not the issue. How we respond to anxiety is the issue.
- Anxiety keeps our focus on the internal and on the future: on our thoughts about the future, "What if" thinking and "Catastrophizing" thinking, body sensations.
- We need to redirect our focus to the external and to the present: Just on the facts, not our thoughts and judgements about the facts. Just on what we hear and observe. Not on our body sensations and not trying to interpret what those sensations mean.
- Anxiety tells us to wait to proceed until we FEEL right or it FEELS safe. This is backwards and anxiety's lie.
- As long as we're not in real danger (99% of the time we're not), we proceed DESPITE the anxiety. Then the feelings of safety and comfort will follow.
- To overcome anxiety, we need to override our misfiring, anxious brain by taking practical steps to place ourselves in the very situations our brain tells us to avoid. The more we go against our misfiring brain, the more it will learn, and the less it will misfire. As a result, our anxiety decreases.