Have you ever had a dream that you were falling endlessly through the air? When you wake up you feel the very real physical effects of panic and fear stimulated by the dream. Your heart is pounding, you are sweating, breathing heavily, and maybe even shaking.
Now imagine having that feeling come upon you any time of day, without any reason at all. That is how you feel when you suffer from anxiety. These physical effects are only a few of the distressing symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety is actually a natural fear reaction; the problem is that this fear is stimulated by an unspecific cause or it is an overreaction to a minor incident. When people are faced with an immediate threat—like an intruder entering their home—a fight-or-flight reaction is triggered. This is the body’s way of protecting itself from the threat. Your mind causes a release of adrenaline and other hormones. These increase your heart rate, pump sugars into your muscles, and increase your airflow. With these instant physical changes, your body is now prepared to flee (run) or fight.
People with anxiety have this same response when there is no perceivable outside threat. For them, the threat comes from within, when their mind creates an intense fear. With anxiety, even though the cause of fear is not real, the physical experience of being afraid is real. The experience is as real to that person as if an external threat actually did exist.
Many people confuse anxiety with stress. This is because stress and anxiety result in the same physical/bodily response: fight or flight. The difference is that stress has a real source that people can identify, whereas anxiety is the sensation of fear without a real source that others see or understand. We often misuse the word “anxious” when we say things like,
I am feeling anxious about how the boss will react to the mistake. In this case, the source of fear is real: there was indeed a mistake made, and it is reasonable to expect that the boss may be upset. The boss's probable reaction to the mistake is a source of stress. On the other hand, if you had extreme anxiety as described in the paragraphs above, when you went to work, you might feel afraid about your boss's reaction even when no mistake had been made.
40 million Americans report suffering from anxiety every year.
There are several types of anxiety disorders but the two most common are “generalized anxiety disorder” (G.A.D) and “panic disorder”. Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic feeling of worry and fear. This feeling can come and go with greater or lesser intensity but is a fairly constant companion in your life. If you have this disorder, you worry a great deal and even though you can logically dismiss your reason for worrying, your mind seems intent on latching onto something to be anxious about. You may, for example, become overly concerned with everyday matters.
Unlike generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks. These are marked by the sudden and intense onset of all the physical symptoms of extreme stress or danger. This includes the chemical dump of adrenalin that sets your heart beating wildly, your palms sweating, and your breathing accelerating. Your muscles will tense and you may start hyperventilating. You may or may not have been feeling anxious before the panic attack. Whatever the case, the onset is sudden and there is no rational reason explaining why you are suddenly in a physical state of utter fear. This disorder is also characterized by a persistent worry when another panic attack might come.
Whether your type of anxiety is generalized anxiety, panic attacks, or both does not matter so much for this guided solution. The treatment for both types of anxiety is the same. With some understanding and some practical strategies, you can find relief.
If you have not already done so, please take the anxiety self-evaluation now. This assessment includes 20 questions and is designed to help you see how anxiety is affecting your life.Take an Evaluation
Understanding the problem is sometimes half the solution, and that will be the case in learning to end your anxiety. The better you understand your anxiety, what triggers it, the symptoms, and the effects, the easier it will be to start managing your symptoms. In this step we are going to work to raise your awareness and understanding of your anxiety and its role in your life.
This exercise, “Recognizing My Anxiety Symptoms,” will help you identify the symptoms of anxiety that affect you.
You now have a list of the symptoms that most affect you. Together as a whole, this creates a “picture” of what happens to your mind and body when suffering from an anxiety attack. This picture (while it is probably unpleasant) is unique to you. You can’t easily fix that which you can’t understand. By looking at your anxiety closely, you gain an understanding of its role in your life. By doing this, you create a clear, objective view of your anxiety and you can begin to formulate a plan to change it.
Your anxiety may have some unique components but there are many characteristics common to all anxiety attacks. Read the following article by Dr. MK Downing and better understand elements common to most people who suffer from anxiety.Read Article
You have to know what to focus on—what to work toward—to make the changes you want. If you think about your anxiety and all your awful no-good feelings, then you will feel awful. In the same vain, if you focus on what you want then you will start to move in the direction of creating that reality. If you think about feeling good and set that as the goal you want, then you will find yourself starting to feel better. This next exercise is intended to help you create that goal.
Take out the list you printed in the first exercise. You are going to use it in this one. The goal of this exercise, “A Picture of Myself Without Anxiety,” is to help you understand what you are working toward in managing your anxiety.
Understanding what anxiety does to you does not necessarily answer some real fundamental questions, like “Where does my anxiety come from?” There are several contributors or sources of anxiety:
There are some things you cannot change—like trauma from your past or your genetic makeup—but you can change many things that create anxiety. You can effectively change your negative thoughts and your body’s reaction to anxiety and live your life without the fear that anxiety creates.
In this guided solution, we will first work through some practical ways that you can quickly address your mind and body’s reactions to anxiety. When your body is geared up for fight-or-flight, you will need to learn how to calm yourself. Because you cannot be stressed and relaxed at the same time, by learning to quiet your body you will also be learning to shut down your anxiety.
Then we will look at some ways you can change your thinking and remove those negative thoughts that cause anxiety. By changing the way you think, your mind can learn to foster feelings of calm and confidence instead of fear and anxiety.
“The Root Cause of Anxiety” - Audio by Dr. Rich Varlinksy PhD
“Anxiety, Fear, and Failure: Breaking the Cycle (Part 1)” - Article by Dr. Rich Varlinsky PhD
Having completed the anxiety self-evaluation and identified the symptoms of anxiety in your life, the next step is to learn ways to feel better now! Have you noticed that when you feel anxious your muscles become tense? Simply telling yourself to relax and let go of all that tension is virtually impossible. This exercise is unique in that it will help you relax both your mind and your body by taking advantage of your muscles’ tension. The technique is called a progressive relaxation, and it is a wonderful place to start.
The progressive relaxation technique will not only relax your muscles, but you should find your breathing slows and your mind becomes quieter. Progressive relaxation helps you recognize and focus on the way your body and mind feel when they are relaxed versus when they are anxious.
This exercise, “Progressive Relaxation,” will reduce your anxiety by using your muscles’ tension to create a calming effect on your body.
Just as you are aware of your muscle tension when you become anxious you may also notice your breathing changes too. Some people will start to breathe very rapidly and even begin to hyperventilate. Of course, this only reinforces the fear and the feelings of anxiety. Others stop breathing normally and hold their breath as their diaphragm muscles tense. Again this only makes our bodies more tense and anxious.
If your breathing changes when you are anxious, you can practice breathing correctly and change your anxiety. By consciously breathing deep, relaxing breaths and focusing on the act of breathing, you can get your body to become more relaxed. There are tested and trusted techniques for reducing anxiety using breathing. While doing this will focus mainly on your breathing, you will notice that it has profound calming effects on your entire body and mind.
In this audio Brett Williams will walk you through a deep breathing exercise that will help you relax your body and settle your mind when you feel anxious.Listen Now
Although these physical practices focus on your body’s reaction to anxiety, one of the main advantages to doing these exercises is how it calms the anxiety in your mind. When you are anxious, you may find your mind racing, overly alert, or unable to concentrate on anything other than the anxiety itself. Trying to focus on anything may seem overwhelming. Calming your mind and allowing it to focus can bring great relief from anxiety.
The following very simple exercise, “Breathing in Sets,” comes from the Zen tradition of meditation and will calm your mind (and your body) by training it to focus.
“Focus on the Positive” - Audio by Dr. Rich Varlinksy PhD
“Understanding and Treating Anxiety Disorders” - Audio by Dr. Kevin Skinner LMFT
“Anxiety in the current economy ” - Question answered by Dr. Peter Lambrou PhD
“My mind is always racing. How do it calm it down? ” - Question answered by Dr. Peter Lambrou PhD
“The Power of Journaling” - Article by Dr. Kevin Skinner LMFT
To make lasting changes in your life, you need to change the causes of your anxiety. To truly change your anxiety, you need to look inside... to your thoughts. This fourth step in the anxiety guided solution will help you evaluate and change your thinking patterns.
Our thoughts are mainly how we communicate to ourselves about the events and situations around us. People with anxiety tell themselves negative stories about what’s happening around them. They are always thinking the worst.
For example, let’s say your boss walks in with a frown on his face. What do you tell yourself? If you have anxiety you would most likely think something like, “He’s angry with me. Today’s not going to be a good day.” What is the truth? Is he in a bad mood and are you going to have a bad day? We just don’t know because we don’t have enough information. But with an anxiety disorder, you tell yourself all kinds of negative things and then your body starts to react as if it is true, whether it really is or not.
From the outside looking in, the negative thoughts don’t seem logical, but to the person thinking them, they create real fear. Recognizing your negative thoughts is a good way to begin the journey to managing your anxiety. We are going help you start saying more truthful and positive things to yourself. A much more positive thought about your angry-looking boss may be, “He must have had a flat or got a ticket on the way in. Bummer for him”. As a result, your body will not have the fight-or-flight reaction that you recognize as anxiety.
The following exercise, “What Do You Tell Yourself?,” will help you recognize your negative thoughts and transform them.
One way to face your fears is by looking at the internal triggers, or your own thoughts.
The negative thoughts that you identified in the last exercise are the ones that feed your anxiety. In this step you will begin by creating a conscious plan to change those negative thoughts. When destructive thoughts creep into your mind and begin to cause those first anxious feelings, step back and look at the thoughts that are feeding the anxious feelings. See them for what they are—thoughts. Then make the effort to change them right at that moment. Here’s how.
This exercise, “Stop, Thought!,” helps you to interrupt negative thoughts when they enter your mind. Learn to stop the negative thoughts before they overwhelm you.
Because we seem to spend a lot of time with our thoughts, it’s not realistic to say, I’m never going to have negative thoughts. The reality is you probably will have them. It’s what you do with your negative thoughts that will allow you to free yourself from their harm.
In this “Conquering Negative Thoughts” exercise you will first interrupt the negative thought, then replace it with a positive (even humorous) image.
By recognizing and actively changing your mental and physical reactions to anxious feelings, you can begin to have control over your anxiety rather than be controlled by it.
“Managing Anxiety” - Article by Dr. Jared Maloff PsyD
“Anxiety Fear and Failure: Breaking the Cycle (Part 2)” - Article by Dr. Rich Varlinksy PhD
Managing anxiety is not something you do all at once. You need to work on your awareness, your reactions to your thoughts, and practice relaxing your body. These steps take time, but this guided solution should give you a start on managing your anxiety.
Use the following resources in the days, weeks, and months ahead as you consciously work on managing your anxiety so it doesn’t interfere in the way you want to live your life.
“25 Beliefs that Lead to Unhappiness (Part 1)” - Audio by Dr. MK Downing
“25 Beliefs that Lead to Unhappiness (Part 2)” - Audio by Dr. MK Downing
“Perfectionism: How to Stop Feeding Anxiety” - Article by Dr. Peter Lambrou PhD
“When Bad Things Happen” - Audio by Dr. Rozario Slack PhD, Pastor
“Anxiety and Failure” - Audio by Dr. Rich Varlinsky PhD
“Anxiety: The Disorder of Civilization and The Solution” - Article by Dr. Peter Lambrou PhD
30 Panic & Anxiety Tips and Strategies - Book
Overcoming the Fear of Fear - Book
Calming Your Anxious Mind - Book
“What the **** is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and How Can It Help Me?” - Article by Dr. Kevin Skinner LMFT