Understanding How Anxiety is Created
Humans are the only ones who can turn the stress response on by imagining threatening situations in our minds. When you worry, you are believing the “what if’s” that you tell yourself. Your fear response is activated as if there is real danger. If you were in danger the stress response would help you get out of danger. But without a real threat to deal with, you are left with excess nervous energy and nowhere to put it.
When anxiety is high, you can literally feel like you want to crawl out of your skin. So it’s understandable that most people want to avoid feeling anxious or things that trigger anxiety. In the long run, avoidance reinforces your fear that you can’t handle the situation. Unfortunately, the worry becomes more set in and your self-confidence lowers.
Imagine you are already worried whether or not someone likes you at a dinner party, and you try to get completely calm before going to the party. Or you avoid going to the party so you can calm your worry. Either way feeling allergic to the anxious feelings and sensations can add to the original worry over time.
“We’ve inherited a lifetime of challenges, it’s not about avoiding it, it’s about finding a way to manage it, and going as far as you can with it.” ~Murray Bowen, MD
So how do you carry on in spite of your fear fantasies when all you want to do is run away from your worry? Most people want to try to calm down first, but that can make you feel anxious about being anxious.By focusing more on your thinking and choices, you can turn nervous feelings into useful energy.
Managing Anxiety By Focusing on Something More
Are you are tired of letting anxiety and worry direct your life or keep you from enjoying life? Here are 5 skills you can practice to show your worry you can carry on in spite of it.
- Focus on thinking more than feelings: People can worry about almost anything and be convinced that their worry is true. It’s important to know the difference between your worry (anxiety = what if) and thinking (fact = what is), so you can choose which one you want to think and act on.
- Focus on choices more than outcome: We are all motivated to eliminate discomfort or seek pleasure. But sometimes the more we focus on wanting to overcome anxiety, the more the anxiety takes hold. Instead focus on what you want to put your mental energy into: thinking about the fear or thinking about your choices.
- Focus on the big picture more than the narrow view: When you worry, you can only see a narrow viewpoint and it’s usually negative. Take a step back and look at the whole picture. Who was involved in the problem you are worried about and what part did they play? Or would anyone be anxious about this stressful situation you are experiencing?
- Focus on tolerating anxiety more than eliminating anxiety: Focus on how long the anxiety lasts before it passes. While it may feel like you can’t handle the anxious feelings, it will pass. Think about how long you have tolerated the anxious feelings. This will help you access a different part of your brain instead of the alarm center that goes off when feeling anxious.
- Focus on goals more than avoidance: It may sound counter-intuitive, but you don’t have to be calm in order to pursue goals. In fact, some anxiety is motivating when we turn it into energy. If the goal is more important than how nervous you feel, then focus on your goal and the steps you will keep taking. Over time, you are proving to yourself that you can harness the energy to pursue your goal even if anxious.
Practicing focusing on something more than the anxiety and worry will boost your confidence over time that you can face challenges. While you may not ever be symptom free, you can rise to the challenges in life and within your mind. And live in spite of the fears by showing your worry you’re in charge.
If you find these cognitive techniques challenging but useful, it can be helpful to consult an objective person, such as a licensed counselor. Someone that won’t add to the anxiety but can coach you toward the personal growth you so desire.
Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers anxiety counseling services for men, women, and teens in Independence MO (and surrounding Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit area). If you want some self-help resources, check out my free e-book: Take Charge of Your Worry: 10 Ways to Manage Anxiety Naturally