If you experience anxiety, you no doubt do everything within your power to keep it under control. You most likely plan ahead ways to cope at particular events and try very hard to “keep it together”. After all, anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling that you’d rather avoid. However, without realising, you may be doing (or not doing) some things that make anxiety worse.
Given anxiety is an “icky” and uncomfortable feeling; you may try to avoid situations that make you feel nervous or anxious. You may avoid going to certain events, like parties or work functions. You may avoid doing particular things, such as driving some places, going to the supermarket, or public speaking. You could even avoid talking sometimes in social situations. If you feel nervous about an upcoming exam or work project, you may avoid getting started and procrastinate. The problem is, the more you avoid these situations; the more anxious you will feel! (Read more on avoidance behaviours in Small Steps Towards Improving How You Deal with Anxiety at Work).
To minimise anxiety, you may plan or do things to minimise your anxiety, which are called Safety Behaviours. For example, you may sit near the door in a cafe, so you can easily escape if you feel really anxious. Or, you may plan ahead to use an “important phone call” or “toilet” excuse to exit conversations at social events that provoke anxiety. Or, perhaps you bring certain things with you to events/places, like medication to manage your anxiety or your cell phone to use as a prop if you need to avoid talking. Safety behaviours reinforce the idea that the situation is dangerous, which in turn reinforces anxiety.
Focusing on Anxiety
Naturally when we “hate” anxiety, we tend to focus on it. After all, we desperately want to get rid of it! By fearing anxiety, however, you are telling yourself that it is dangerous and perpetuating the anxiety itself.
Another subtle contributor to anxiety is breathing quickly when you are anxious. That is, if you breathe fast when you are anxious and do not take proper deep breaths, then your anxiety will worsen. Your body and mind interprets quick breathing as a signal that there is danger, and releases adrenaline to increase your anxiety levels. If you continue to breathe quickly, you can also hyperventilate, which then causes panic (panic occurs when oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are imbalanced).
When you feel insecure or scared you may seek reassurance from loved ones or the Internet (“Dr Google” may be familiar). However, reassurance seeking also worsens anxiety. One would think that by seeking reassurance you are finding comfort and safety. However, reassurance seeking means you are validating your fears, as you are giving them time and energy. As well, reassurance seeking does not address our deeper underlying fears.
Worry – ruminating about problems or potential problems in an attempt to prevent or problem solve them. Worry avoids actually processing the emotional side of your fears. Worry contains you to using cognitive processes to deal with your fears, and does not allow you to “feel” them as well. When you feel your fears, you can ride them like a wave, which eventually turns into tiny ripples. By worrying, your fears tend to stick around for longer.
Treatment for Anxiety
There are several well-researched therapies proven to be effective in the treatment of anxiety. The type of therapy used by a psychologist depends mostly on the type of anxiety (e.g. General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Obsessions and Compulsions, Panic Attacks and Agoraphobia, and PTSD) an individual suffers. However, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for Anxiety is currently the main therapy treatment used for anxiety, as it has ample of research that demonstrates its effectiveness and is a short-term focused treatment.
How can Peaceful Mind Psychology Help?
We are warm and empathic psychologists based in Melbourne, who are experienced and trained in treating anxiety with CBT therapies among other types of evidence-based therapies. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.