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Life without anxiety can start today

26.02.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

“About five years ago, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This did not come as much of a surprise to me, since 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 instinct for self-preservation. It is a very important condition for development and survival of our species. Anxiety can help us avoid the situations that can be dangerous or life-threatening, which 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, and that makes our lives extremely stressful.

According to WHO, 265 million people around the world are affected by anxiety disorder, 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
  3. Typical signs of high anxiety
  4. Answering the questions
  5. Check-list: learn your anxiety level

Is anxiety always harmful?

There are two types of anxiety: [1]

Type 1. Adaptive, or reasonable anxiety. It is a response to an actual danger or changes: upcoming exams, job change, moving houses, 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 your everyday life.

Causes of anxiety

increased anxiety

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

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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 startle 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 so our anxiety does. Problems may arise if our brain perceives the situation mistakenly at the second stage.

Threat evaluation. Is the situation dangerous?
No.
Anxiety level goes down.
Yes.
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, anxiety remains, followed by physical over-excitation.

Yes, that pine cone 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 the 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 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 consider any situation to be dangerous, even if there is no real threat. Our imagination only enables these phobias, offering the most bizarre developments of the situation, like a broken chain or a falling fence.р.

Mindset that leads to anxiety

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

SituationUsual thoughtsEmotions
Need to ask someone about somethingWhat will they think about me? They will think I’m obtrusive and obnoxious!Anxiety, fear
A new task at workI won’t make it, I always fail important and difficult tasksDepression, uneasiness, sadness
An annoying situation, for example, a passing car splashed some water on you during rainWhy me? I’m such a loser!Anger at oneself, depression
Not doing the planned activitiesI wasted another day, life passes by and I’m not moving anywhere!Depression, sadness, anxiety about future
Ate too much or skipped workoutI have no willpower, I will never make it, I was meant to do everything perfectly and on time, or there is no useAnxiety, despair, occasional self-hate
Yelled at a childI am an awful parent, my child hates me now, I’ve ruined everythingDespair, 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 needed 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. Secretion of stress hormone cortisol can lead to the sense of exhaustion. If you are always anxious, your body produces a lot of this hormone, and your brain gets exhausted from it.
  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 something.
  4. Irritability. Our brain already expects a threat, so it has less 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 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 wake up 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, 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 lead to dizziness, poor sleep etc.

Answering the questions

No one, of course, decides to be afraid all the time, worry and avoid all the unknown and 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 the 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 a person. 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 be different.

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

2. 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 is your anxiety.

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 anxiety level. In order to come to a specific conclusion, you need to pass several tests and get your results from a professional. A qualified psychologist will consider both your answers and the context: your personality traits, your lifestyle etc.

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

Working with children has its peculiarities indeed. 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, down to elementary school age: drawing tests, associations etc. A child should be seen by a child psychologist who can take the child’s age and development features into account.

4. 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 brave enough to consult one. The very fact of an upcoming visit and the need for 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 the examples of thoughts that a person experiences while planning a visit to a psychologist or a therapist.

Of course, there are also cases when a person 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 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 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 independent work or weekly 1-hour consultations with a specialist.

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

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

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

There are a couple of simple ways to reduce 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, do this as often as possible. After you encounter a situation you used to avoid, you will see that it is not dangerous an inch.
  2. Do not worry about your anxiety. Many people feel anxious about real situations, and also fear that other people will notice their state.

Oh no, everyone will see my hands tremble, what will they think? I’m sweating so much, what a shame!

According to research, people that consider their physical signs (faster heart rate, tremor and sweating) to be a response to external sources, like noise, tend to be less anxious and behave in a relaxed manned, even with tremor and sweating.

  1. Do not forget that 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 that 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 successful flights every day).
  3. Listen to music.  It will not help you much under affect, but it can be a great way to handle occasional anxiety, for example, before an exam or a 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, 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 your 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 better chances at getting rid of it.

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

Check-list: learn your anxiety level

worry

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 wrong way
3.I’m afraid of speaking in front of an audience. I think that everyone will see that I am nervous and think bad 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, height, spiders etc.)
6.I am always worried about myself and my relatives, so it’s hard for me to read 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 fear, I cannot even find their source sometimes

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 to 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 getting rid of anxiety with our по 7Spsy technique.

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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.

References:

  1. Psihologicheskij leksikon. Enciklopedicheskij slovar’ v 6 tomah / red.-sost. L. A. Karpenko; pod obshch. red. A. V. Petrovskogo.
  2. Kognitivno-povedencheskaya terapiya dlya preodoleniya trevozhnosti, straha, bespokojstva i paniki. M. Makkej, M. Skin, P. Fanning.
  3. Devid Berns, Horoshee samochuvstvie. Novaya terapiya nastroenij.
  4. Walter Kennon, Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear, and rage.