HOW THOUGHTS CAN INCREASE ANXIETY.

The thoughts we have play a major part in increasing our anxiety. Two examples may make it clear that thoughts can add to anxiety and lead to it getting out of control.

Mrs Brown was alarmed to find herself feeling dizzy while waiting at a bus stop. Then she noticed her heart was pounding and her legs felt as if they were giving way. Because the symptoms came out of the blue, she was terrified that she was about to collapse, or even die, and she continued to feel frightened until safely home. After that, just thinking about going out made her feel nervous, and sometimes brought the dizzy feelings back.

Mr Jones noticed that he felt very tense and irritated when there was a lot of work to be done, and it took him a long time to unwind afterwards. He went to his doctor after starting to get headaches every evening, and although the doctor could not find anything wrong, the patient started to worry that some disease might have been missed. This worry made it even more difficult to relax after work.

Although these problems seem quite difficult, both were caused by a combination “of worry and physical tension. Because the feelings did not seem to make any sense, both people started to worry about thoughts and these only made things worse.

They both began to become anxious about being anxious, or to worry more about the symptoms than the background stress that originally causes those symptoms. Research suggests that many people who suffer from anxiety make matters worse for themselves by misinterpreting these physical symptoms. Common misinterpretations include:

  • “I’m going to have a heart attack”
  • “I’m going to die”
  • “I’m going to be completely out of control”
  • “I’m going to embarrass myself terribly”
  • “I’m damaging my health”.

All these thoughts are very frightening and tend to keep the physical and anxiety well stocked up. It must be remembered that these thoughts are also inaccurate distortions of what is actually happening.  The vicious circle of worrying thoughts and physical symptoms is illustrated below.

 Sometimes we are not fully aware that these frightening thoughts are flashing through our mind.

They occur very quickly and often just below the level of consciousness. It is important to try and identify these thoughts and recognise the role they play in creating and maintaining anxiety.

 

 

HOW AVOIDANCE INCREASES ANXIETY

Avoidance is an important concept to help us understand why are anxiety is maintained and often increases. Take the situation of someone with agoraphobic tendencies who rush home after feeling panicky in a supermarket. A number of things happen. First of all their immediate anxiety goes down. Second, the unconscious messages that are played our are “the only way I can cope with the situation to avoid them“.  Finally, when facing the same situation e.g. a visit to the  supermarket, the ‘future’ anxiety will arise more quickly and more severely.

This applies to the agoraphobic with panic attacks, but it also applies to be obsessive checker (OCD), who avoids anxiety by giving into the compulsion to check the door locks etc. Each time we avoid the situation and our anxieties successfully, we make it more likely for the next time the fear situation arises we will avoid this again.

What would happen if you remain in the situation you fear? Would your anxiety increase, stay the same, or decrease?  Most people would reply when asked the question it would increase or stay the same. They generally fear that if their anxiety goes on or increases, something terrible will happen.  They may pass out, collapse, have a heart attack, or go mad. On the graph they imagine the line going up and up to the top of the page and beyond.  But this belief is not correct.  In reality of the anxiety is left to subside without ruination, over time it will decrease of its own accord and will settle.  In reality though if you leave the situation too quick you will never find yourself

This applies to the agoraphobic with panic attacks, but it also applies to be obsessive checker (OCD), who avoids anxiety by giving into the compulsion to check the door locks etc. Each time we avoid the situation and our anxieties successfully, we make it more likely for the next time the fear situation arises we will avoid this again.

What would happen if you remain in the situation you fear? Would your anxiety increase, stay the same, or decrease?  Most people would reply when asked the question it would increase or stay the same. They generally fear that if their anciety goes on or increases, something terrible will happen.  They may pass out, collapse, have a heart attack, or go mad. On the graph they imagine the line going up and up to the top of the page and beyond.  But this belief is not correct.  In reality of the anxiety is left to subside without ruination, over time it will decrease of its own accord and will settle.  In reality though if you leave the situation too quick you will never find yourself

WHAT CAN I DO TO GET BETTER

  1. 1. Understand the process and how anxiety persists because of a spiralling vicious circle between physical symptoms, worrying thoughts and changes in behaviour.
  2. 2. Break into this vicious circle by learning new skills:
    • Physical symptoms can be reduced by learning relaxation or controlled breathing.
    • Mental symptoms ie. Worry, can be combated by a combination of identifying and challenging worrying thoughts and replacing them with positive ones, and/or distracting yourself
    • Behavioural changes can be altered by deliberating changing your behaviour and going back into difficult situations in a gradual step-by-step fashion.

3.  Make alterations to your lifestyle and so manage successfully the amount of stress you put yourself under. This might involve learning to be more assertive, managing your time better, breaking unhelpful habits or learning other new skills.

Jonathan

Author Jonathan

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