CONTROLLING ANXIETY IN SPECIFIC SITUATIONS
As you may have discovered from your own experience, anxiety can develop almost anywhere and at any time. Therefore we need hardly emphasize the usefulness of being able to control your own level of anxiety whenever necessary.
For example, you may be very nervous in social situations. Or perhaps examinations or public speaking are an ordeal for you. Or you may be one of those people who experience anxiety in quite ordinary situations like waiting in a queue or being served in a restaurant.
If you are a very sensitive sort of person, you may experience feelings of anxiety in crowded places or when you are out of doors. And men and women with a phobia will not need us to tell them that their anxiety can sometimes be so intense that it causes mental confusion and blind panic.
In addition, the techniques described below will work even if you suddenly feel anxious but you don't know why. This last point is an interesting one, and we shall consider it at greater length.
Quite often, people who claim that they do not know why they feel anxious are able, with a little effort, to identify particular thoughts which occur immediately before feelings of alarm and anxiety.
For example, Philip, a newly-married 30-year-old freelance designer sought help because he began to experience attacks of anxiety when he was sitting at his desk working on the designs by which he earned his living.
He reported that these anxiety attacks 'appeared from nowhere' while he was doing routine work on his designs. Each one started as a slightly nervous feeling which gradually developed as he tried to ignore it until it had become quite intense. Not unnaturally, he was rather disturbed by the whole problem and sought advice because he could not tolerate the disruption it caused.
Close questioning revealed a background of fairly high anxiety. Philip had given up his secure employment two years previously and had taken the gamble of self-employment. He had actually been very successful, but he had not planned his future very thoroughly, and as the work mounted up, he felt obliged to increase his working hours and work against increasingly tight deadlines to avoid disappointing his new clients.
At the back of his mind, however, he had doubts about the wisdom of his decision in terms of future security and his relationship with his wife. The anxiety attacks seemed to develop when his mind turned over possible future problems while he was working.
That process was almost subconscious; at least, he was not fully aware of the thoughts going through his mind. Some reassurance and a realistic appraisal of his abilities quickly convinced him that he had made the right choice, and the anxiety attacks died away.
Similarly, your anxiety should lessen of its own accord if you too can identify and come to terms with stressful thoughts in that way. However, that is not the main theme of this section, where we are chiefly concerned with the problem of coping with anxiety attacks, rather than explaining why they occur.
Anxiety 'feeds' on itself. An anxious person may notice his increasing tension, nervousness and mental confusion and think: 'Why do I feel this way? What's happening?' Such worried thoughts may produce further anxiety which in turn can make the physical and mental symptoms worse.
The person then thinks: 'There's no reason to feel like this! I'm losing control!' The cycle of anxiety-tension-worry-anxiety is spiralling upwards, and it is at this stage that an anxious person may make an 'escape' from his anxiety-making situation - no matter what the cost. (The intense feelings of relief which are produced when the anxiety dissipates make almost any price seem worth paying!)
Fortunately, there are ways of controlling this anxiety. The first one is the 'emergency' five deep breaths method which we introduced as part of the self-hypnosis techniques explained here. However, taking a few deep breaths often controls anxiety, at least to a certain extent, whether or not you have tried those other techniques.
Firstly, it distracts you from your feelings of anxiety by transferring your attention on to a completely different matter, and secondly, it relaxes your body and releases tension.
This is how you can use the five deep breaths in moments of stress, alarm, arousal or anxiety during the day:
We cannot emphasize sufficiently that the more you practice this technique, the more effective it will become.
HOW TO CONTROL YOUR ANXIETY
One option, of course, is to take professional counselling and therapy. This is a potentially every helpful route for all of those who feel they need some support as they work through emotional issues. If you live in London, and would like to check this out, try the services of the counsellors at North London Counselling, who are able to provide a complete range of counselling services to support you as you work through your emotional challenges.
As we have already explained, anxiety can spiral rapidly. This tends to happen if you do not notice the initial surge of adrenalin which occurs as a natural response to worried thoughts and stressful events. By the time you realize that you are becoming tense, it often seems impossible to do anything constructive to reduce the anxiety!
The five deep breaths technique helps, but you may wish to avoid this particular aspect of the anxiety problem altogether by conditioning yourself to respond to shocks and startle (either physical or mental) with relaxation instead of greater arousal.
You can do this -in the following way. First of all, record a series of loudish noises on a tape. Here are some examples: the sound of a doorbell, a dog barking, a metal plate crashing to the floor, two wooden blocks being banged together, the sound of someone clapping his or her hands. Record these noises at one minute intervals on the tape. Then sit or lie down with the tape recorder nearby.
Shut your eyes and relax completely: this should not be difficult if you have used the self-hypnosis or relaxation techniques. Next, start the tape. At intervals, you will hear a fairly loud and unexpected noise, to which your body will react with the normal 'startle response' - a surge of adrenalin and increased arousal.
After each noise, consciously bring your body and mind back to a state of relaxation. The next noise on the tape will of course increase your arousal once again.
So you must relax once more. In other words, each time a noise startles you, bring your body back to a state of complete relaxation. You may need more time to do this at first - if so, stop the tape. It is essential to be relaxed; otherwise, you might condition yourself to respond to shocks and startle with even greater arousal than you do at the moment!
Initially, you may not be able to detect much difference in your body's response to these sudden stimuli, but if you practice this exercise over a period of several days, sooner or later you will find that your body accepts the noise as a signal to relax. When you have achieved this, you can establish the same reaction to worried thoughts. Simply relax, and think of something which makes you uneasy.
As before, notice the surge of adrenalin - and then consciously relax once again. Repeat this as often as necessary over a period of several days until your body responds to worrying and startling thoughts with relaxation and not greater arousal. As you can probably see, these two techniques are very effective methods of helping yourself to remain calm and relaxed in your everyday routine.
Sometimes the effects of anxiety are so severe that it seems uncontrollable. In reality, this is never the case, because anxiety can always be alleviated - if you know how. One very important point is this: anxiety, despite all its unpleasant mental and physical effects, is actually quite harmless. Perhaps you fear anxiety because you believe that it will harm you.
It won't, though you may find this hard to believe en you feel panic-stricken and you are immobilized in terror with your heart palpitating and your breathing upset! The techniques described below will help you to 'ride through' an anxiety attack without running away, panicking, or developing a greater fear of anxiety in the future.
1 Face your anxiety and acknowledge that it is happening. Do not try to ignore or avoid it by using a coping or defence mechanism such as throwing yourself into another activity or even simply 'running away from it'.
2 Accept your physical and emotional feelings
without self-criticism, self-condemnation or efforts to fight the anxiety.
Remember that tensing the body muscles or thinking worried thoughts such as 'Oh
God, I can't cope!' will actually increase your anxiety.
3. Relax your body. It may seem impossible to relax in the face of severe anxiety amounting perhaps to panic, but it can be done. Claire Weekes says you can 'float' past a 'whipping flash of panic' by 'taking the panic with as little resistance as possible; by waiting until the flash spends itself and then going on with the job on hand'.
You can help yourself to relax by doing it willingly, not as though it is some unavoidable, unpleasant task. You should: STOP what you are doing; consciously relax any tense parts of your body such as your shoulders, your facial muscles, your hands, and so on; breathe slowly and deeply using the five deep breaths technique as described earlier; and allow tension to dissipate each time you breathe out.
4. Do not worry about time. That is, time in any sense: the duration of an anxiety attack, an imagined need to be 'doing something else', the frequency of your anxiety attacks, or whatever. Most anxious people hope to get through difficult situations by rushing blindly at them, but such an approach only increases the likelihood that you will feel anxious. If you take life slowly and calmly, you will have much more control over the events that happen to you. So slow down, look around you, and take note of your surroundings. You may be surprised by the amount of interesting detail which you normally miss. The point is, of course, that by behaving in such a way, you help to cultivate a generally more relaxed state of mind and body.