Life without anxiety can start today

Feb 26, 2019

“About five years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This did not come as much of a surprise to me, because for the previous two decades, I had spent my time freaking out about any number of things. Some of my fears were rational, and some were less so, but all of them had one thing in common: they had a level of control over me and my day-to-day life that fell outside the range of normalcy. Since then, I’ve expended a lot of energy working out the best ways to manage my anxiety.”

– Kady Morrison, blogger and writer

Anxiety is an emotional state of acute inner agitation related to anticipation of danger. It is based on fear and the instinct for self-preservation. It is a very important condition for the development and survival of our species. Anxiety can help us to avoid the situations that can be dangerous or life-threatening. This is why we shouldn’t get rid of anxiety completely.

However, in some cases we feel these tendrils of fear too often and for no obvious reason. Because of them, we start to avoid the situations that bear no threat to us, but make our lives extremely stressful.

According to WHO, 265 million people around the world are affected by an anxiety disorder, the majority of them being women. Fortunately, it is absolutely possible to treat fear and anxiety.

Let’s look at the causes and perils of this disorder, and also learn the ways to reduce your anxiety level.

Contents:

  1. Is anxiety always harmful?
  2. Causes of anxiety
  1. Typical signs of high anxiety
  2. Answering the questions
  1. Check-list: learn your anxiety level

Is anxiety always harmful?

There are two types of anxiety: [1]

Type 1. Adaptive, or reasonable anxiety. This is a response to an actual danger or changes: upcoming exams, job change, moving house, disease of a loved one, or a real bear in a forest nearby. It is natural to get anxious about these things. If your anxiety helps you to become more active and focus on solving the problem, then rest assured: these emotions are undoubtedly useful.

However, even this type of anxiety can be maladaptive. If we worry about everything too much, it becomes harder to deal with our problems. In certain cases, maladaptive anxiety can completely block our actions. That is when we need to treat anxiety.

Type 2. High anxiety, or anxiety disorder. This can become a personality trait that will make us perceive even the safest situations as dangerous ones, putting us under constant stress. The intensity of emotion in this case does not correlate with actual danger, and our expectation of something bad happening “any moment now” can become the background of our everyday lives.

The causes of anxiety

Let’s take a closer look at the causes of anxiety to understand this disorder more fully. [2]

The process of its development can be divided into 3 stages:

Stage 1. Emergence of a threat: we start to feel anxious, our body braces itself and focuses on the stimulus.

For example, we go through the woods and hear some rustling nearby. We are startled and try to find the source of this noise, focusing on it.

Stage 2. Threat evaluation: is there anything dangerous for me here? Can I handle the situation?

What is it? A bear or a falling pine-cone?

Stage 3. Physical response: faster heart rate, the body stiffens and gets ready to react to a threat.

Stage 4. Behavior response: run, hide, flight, or any other actions to make us feel safe.

A hare won’t eat us, but bear is not something you should try to make friends with.

So, we either continue our walk or flee for safety.

Normally, the threat disappears after stage 4, and our anxiety does also. Problems may arise if our brain perceives the situation mistakenly at the second stage.

Threat evaluation. Is the situation dangerous?

No.

Yes.

Anxiety level goes down.

Anxiety level remains unchanged.

Consequence evaluation. Will there be serious consequences?

No.
Anxiety level goes down.

Yes.
Anxiety level remains unchanged.

Personal resources evaluation. Can I handle the situation? Do I have enough resources?

Yes.
Anxiety level goes down.

No.
Anxiety level remains unchanged.

Pay attention to the fact that we normally become less anxious if we assess the situation as a safe one or feel that we can handle it. If, however, we treat the situation as unsafe or unsolvable, our anxiety remains, followed by a state of physical over-excitation.

Yes, that pinecone fell into a bush. But it could’ve fallen on my head! It still can! There are so many of them hanging around!

When anxiety becomes a disorder

Modern psychology tells us, [1] that both genetics and environment (upbringing) affect the development of anxiety, with no possibility to evaluate the role of each of these factors separately.

As all personality traits can change, individual anxiety can also be treated. It is much more efficient to focus on solving a given situation, rather than searching for the cause.

Anxiety, even with genetic background, is a learned behavior pattern, a conditioned response to a situation. We learn to act in a specific way while building the usual string of associations.

It can be seen particularly well in phobias. For example, a person who is afraid of dogs will treat any dog as dangerous, even if it is tied on a chain behind a fence. Such people may consider any situation to be dangerous, even if there is no real threat. Our imagination only enables these phobias, offering the most bizarre development of the situation, like a broken chain or a falling fence.

Mindset that leads to anxiety

Thoughts that usually appear in certain situations can promote the development of anxiety and fear. [3] They are called automatic thoughts, as they appear regardless of our desires and efforts.

Situation

Usual thoughts

Emotions

Need to ask someone about something

What will they think about me? They will think I’m obtrusive and obnoxious!

Anxiety, fear

A new task at work

I won’t make it, I always fail important and difficult tasks

Depression, uneasiness, sadness

An annoying situation, for example, a passing car splashed some water on you during rain

Why me? I’m such a loser!

Anger at oneself, depression-12

Not doing the planned activities

I wasted another day, life passes by and I’m not moving anywhere!

Depression, sadness, anxiety about future

Ate too much or skipped workout

I have no willpower, I will never make it, I was meant to do everything perfectly and on time, I feel useless

Anxiety, despair, occasional self-hate

Yelled at a child

I am an awful parent, my child hates me now, I’ve ruined everything

Despair, worry about a child, occasional self-hate

Constant worrying, fear, learned behavior and automated thoughts that demoralize a person can lead to serious consequences, while anxiety can become a chronic disorder as the result.

Typical signs of high anxiety: fight, flight or stand still

Our brains know three ways to fight danger (as we have already learned, an anxious brain expects danger all the time): fight, flight or stand still. [4] You might have already seen all these types of protective behavior in animals. In times of danger they either fight back, run away, or play dead.

In order to act accordingly at the crucial moment, our body releases adrenaline, cortisol and other hormones to be on alert. These hormones activate all our senses.

In adults, high anxiety is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  1. Bad feeling: nausea, dry mouth, fast heart rate, increased blood pressure, headache, tremor, tunnel vision, excessive sweating.
  2. Sense of fatigue after even the slightest activity. The secretion of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to a sense of exhaustion. If you are always anxious, your body produces a lot of this hormone, and your brain becomes exhausted.
  3. Inability to concentrate. Anxiety reduces our ability to concentrate, and the stronger the anxiety is, the harder it is for us to focus on things.
  4. Our brain already expects a threat, so it has fewer resources to keep emotions in check. More than 90% of people with anxiety report irritability.
  5. Muscle tension. A person may start clenching their teeth or fists, bring their shoulders together etc. Such muscle activity is supposed to be related to the body’s alertness and resolve to fight danger. Even though this connection is understudied, relaxing muscles can reduce the anxiety level.
  6. Sleep disorders. Constant anxiety can make a person repeat their worrying thoughts over and over again, thus preventing themselves from falling asleep. The next morning such people start the day tired and exhausted.
  7. Extreme perfectionism. A desire to make something properly is a good personal quality. However, people with anxiety often blame themselves for any result less than ideal. They constantly remake their work, aiming for perfection.

Important note! You must not perform self-diagnosis of anxiety based on these symptoms and start treatment. You can only suspect a susceptibility to this problem, but you should first consult a medical specialist to exclude any physical disorders that may result in dizziness, poor sleep etc.

Answering the questions

No one, of course, decides to be afraid all the time and to worry and avoid all the unknown or fascinating things. We do not like this constant sense of anxiety. We all want to simply enjoy our lives, which is why it is natural to search for ways to fight anxiety. Our search inevitably leads to many questions. Let’s answer the most common ones.

  1. Can we overcome anxiety? Is it even possible?

Of course, it is. Excessive anxiety can be treated. Even though people can display similar signs, the causes are unique to an individual. Some people would like to learn how to draw but cannot start, some people are afraid of flying, while others cannot even address a shop assistant properly. In all these cases people have high anxiety, but their usual behavior and automatic thoughts will vary.

The first step in treating anxiety in adults is discovering the triggers for this condition together with the situations that affect the intensity of the state.

  1. What is that “anxiety scale” I see all the time?

An anxiety scale is based on the Spielberger test. You receive points for answering the questions, and the more points you get, the higher your anxiety level.

You can also use our abridged version of this scale to figure out if you need to pay attention to this problem. It is a simple yet quite objective test.

Important note! One test cannot be a precise measurement of your anxiety level. In order to come to a specific conclusion, you need to take several tests and get your results from a professional. A qualified psychologist will consider both your answers and the context, i.e. your personality traits, your lifestyle etc.

  1. What are the differences between treating anxiety in children and adults?

Working with children certainly has its peculiarities. The most significant difference is that children lack the ability to evaluate their emotional state and give clear answers to test questions. Specialists use different methods to diagnose anxiety in children, from teens to elementary school age. They draw upon suitable tests, associations etc. A young person should be seen by a child psychologist who can take the age and development features into account.

  1. How do I receive individual treatment, independently or with a psychologist?

Ideally, a specialist (a psychologist or a therapist) should diagnose and treat anxiety, especially an anxiety disorder. However, some people are not ready to consult one. The very fact of an upcoming visit and the need for an in-person consultation can cause high anxiety, so a person may postpone treatment for a long period of time.

What should I say? What will they think about me now that I am in this state? What if my situation is petty? What if they judge me?

These are just a few examples of the thoughts that a person may experience while planning a visit to a psychologist or a therapist.

Of course, there are also cases when an individual needs to consult a specialist who can administer medication. However, sometimes a person can reduce their anxiety level by their own means, for example, by taking a course of behavior therapy, like the 7Spsy technique, which features a special method for diagnosing anxiety.

  • You will take several tests which will help you discover your triggers, while our psychologists will create an individual course for you, in order to treat your anxiety according to your personal situation. They will help you replace your maladaptive behavior patterns for healthier ones.
  • Treatment will be supervised by a psychologist, but you will ultimately decide the time, length and means of communication.
  • It will take 2-6 weeks to learn a new pattern, which is much less than an independent course or weekly 1-hour consultations with a specialist.

If you decide to work on your constant anxiety by yourself, it may be effective but will require more effort and discipline.

The 7Spsy behavior modification course will spare you from trial and error and the long search for information. It is a complete solution that will help you to get rid of constant anxiety and learn to enjoy life once again.

  1. Is there anything to help me? Are there any mental exercises to help reduce my anxiety level?

There are a couple of simple ways to potentially reduce your anxiety level, but it’s hard to tell if they would work for your specific situation.

Anxiety treatment methods:

  1. Find the strength to face the source of your anxiety. The thing we fear the most is uncertainty. It is natural for us to get used to a certain trigger and stop fearing it, after encountering it enough times. For example, if you are afraid to ask for directions, you should do this as often as possible. After you encounter a situation you used to avoid, you will see that it is not in the least dangerous.
  2. Do not worry about your anxiety. Many people feel anxious about real situations, and also fear that other people will notice their condition.

Oh no, everyone will see my hands tremble, what will they think? I’m sweating so much, what can I do?

According to research, people who consider their physical signs (faster heart rate, tremor and sweating) to be a response to external sources, such as noise, are more likely to be less anxious and behave in a relaxed manner, even with tremor and sweating.

  1. Do not forget that the presence of worries and anxiety doesn’t mean that you must do something about it. Your hands might be trembling – let them be. It is a natural process in our bodies as they get ready to fight or flight, you don’t have to get worked up about it, it will end soon.
  2. Try to figure out if you are prone to selective perception. Anxious people often notice only the facts that confirm their fears, [3] ignoring the ones that contradict them. For example, a person afraid of flying will pay attention only to the rare reports of plane crashes, while disregarding the overall statistics (tens of thousands of successful flights every day).
  3. Listen to music. It will not be a permanent solution, but it can be a great way to handle occasional anxiety, for example, before an exam or surgery. You can choose the style you prefer but picking something that matches the rhythm of calm breathing and heartbeat can be exceptionally helpful. It will allow your brain to adjust to that rhythm and lower your anxiety level.
  4. Imagine that you are calm in a triggering situation. Sit down and imagine saying something, and nothing happens. You send your CV and feel calm. You learn to drive a car and handle the situation. Such rehearsal can make your life much easier and help you develop a relaxed attitude towards the sources of anxiety.
  5. Write down everything that happens to you. [3] When you feel anxious, take a pen and a paper (or open a text processor on your PC) and start writing. Do not pay attention to your errors, simply put down everything that worries you, as well as your emotions and the consequences you fear.

I’m worried because… I’m angry at myself because… If I don’t do this, then… If I’m afraid of trying, then…  

Our subconscious thoughts and reactions can make us anxious, but if you look at the situation closely, you may notice the absence of any real threat. This exercise will also help you to discover the habitual behavior that impedes you. For example, you may find out that you get anxious when your boss calls you. Once you notice this habit, you will have a better chance of eliminating it.

As you can see, we can control our high anxiety. You can choose any method of fighting, just remember that you can succeed. And don’t forget to measure your anxiety with our check-list

Check-list: learn your anxiety level

Our psychologists have created a short check-list for you. Read it and find out if you have a disposition to anxiety disorder.

Give yourself 1 point for the statements you agree or mostly agree with. Answers “no” and “mostly no” give you 0 points

1.

I am always nervous when other people evaluate my work, even if I feel I’ve done a good job

2.

I feel that others will stop talking to me if I behave in a certain way

3.

I’m afraid of speaking in front of an audience. I think that everyone will see that I am nervous and think badly of me

4.

I find it hard to start anything new, I feel that I will fail

5.

I have a certain phobia (of dogs, heights, spiders etc.)

6.

I am always worried about myself and my relatives, so it’s hard for me to read the news about something bad happening

7.

I often feel tense and constrained

8.

I am worried that I cannot sleep well

9.

I would like to be as successful as others

10.

I cannot always control my anxiety and fears, I cannot even identify their source sometime

Test results:

  • If you have less than 4 points, you are quite successful at keeping your anxiety in check. Our congratulations!
  • If you have at least 5 points, your high anxiety is probably affecting your quality of life. We recommend you take additional tests and find the causes of your anxiety. You can consult our psychologists, who will provide suitable tests and design a course for eliminating anxiety using our 7Spsy technique.

Please remember that a positive answer to the 5th statement can be a sign that you need anxiety treatment, regardless of your total points. Feel free to try our new method of behavior therapy to fight your anxiety.

 

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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