We all experience anxiety from time to time, and that’s normal. But some people experience it constantly and excessively, and this already reduces the quality of life. Let’s find out how to reduce anxiety with the help of therapy and self-help techniques.
People sometimes confuse fear with anxiety — these feelings are indeed similar. A person’s muscles tense up, breathing becomes rapid, and attention is focused on one object or phenomenon. But there is a difference, and a significant one at that. First, let’s understand the terminology:
- Fear is a reaction to an existing external threat. For example, a person walks down the street and sees an aggressive pack of stray dogs and feels fear because they are a danger.
- Anxiety is a similarly felt reaction, but the threat exists only in the person’s mind. He walks through town and remembers that he recently read about a dog attack. And immediately he becomes alarmed; even though he doesn’t see any dogs, well, they could be around the corner! The person feels something similar to fear, although in reality, there is nothing to indicate the validity of this fear.
Anxiety is a psychological trait, a tendency to be anxious. The person is constantly replaying negative scenarios in his head and worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. On the street, he looks out for dogs; in the forest, he thinks about bears; on news.22bet.com, he is afraid that the favorite will lose to the worst team; on a date, he imagines that the partner will soon be disappointed in him and will leave him.
Anxiety is not a “bad” or meaningless emotion. It’s an adaptive mechanism that helps us prepare for a potentially stressful situation. A subjective threat doesn’t always mean a false threat.
An anxious person tends to overestimate the severity and likelihood of bad events. For example, he gets a new task at work and immediately imagines how he will fail to cope with it, and then he will be fired. In fact, this is unlikely to happen. If something doesn’t work out, you can always ask for help from colleagues. Moreover, people are usually not fired because of one misstep. But a person is caught in a vicious circle: because of anxiety, his level of concentration decreases, and the probability of making a mistake really increases. Asking for help can be scary because of the obsessive thought, “What will colleagues think?”. Then the anxious person really doesn’t do a good job, gets negative feedback, and the behavior takes hold.
Sometimes anxiety can become chronic and turn into one of the anxiety disorders. Such disorders are common, but they are recognized and diagnosed much less often. This is a serious and dangerous condition: there are sleep and appetite disorders, tension, and irritability. You can no longer control your anxiety. It settles in all areas of life and begins to control you. High levels of anxiety make you avoid new things and prevent you from working, building relationships, and living life to the fullest. Here are some of the groups of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent anxiety and constant nervous tension. It’s a pathologic state of worry about all sorts of life events or phenomena that is present on over half of the days for over 6 months. The focus is not on a single episode — people with GAD have many causes for anxiety, and these tend to be intermittent. Stress is caused by literally everything — relationships, work, finances, safety, and health. Anxiety is hard to control and is accompanied by symptoms, such as restless sleep, easy fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating and muscle tension (3 or more symptoms are enough to make a diagnosis). GAD severely reduces quality of life and is usually chronic.
- Social phobia can be described by a deep sense of fear and anxiety that a person experiences in social contacts (all or some specific ones). He is afraid of being humiliated, ridiculed, embarrassed, afraid of being put in a stupid or tense situation, of not living up to expectations, or of being the object of other people’s scrutiny. Phobias in general cause a person to avoid trigger situations because the danger becomes hyperbolized in their mind. When confronted with a trigger, a socially anxious person often feels increased sweating, a rush of blood to the face, tremors in his voice, tinnitus, and nausea. It becomes difficult for him to control his train of thought and formulate sentences. Most people tend to recognize later that their reaction has no rational basis, but this realization doesn’t help them cope with their emotions.
- Adaptation disorder is a pathological condition characterized by an inability to cope with a stressful situation or undesirable life changes. The stressor may be a single episode (e.g., the death of a loved one or the loss of a job), a series of such episodes (several unsuccessful relationships that ended in a painful breakup), or a long stressful situation (caring for a sick relative). It can be difficult to diagnose, as the individual way of living with grief must be considered — we all become depressed to some extent when we go through difficult times or face difficult life situations. An adjustment disorder is only considered a reaction when it goes beyond what is expected, but it can sometimes be difficult to define what that is.
An anxiety attack cannot be controlled by willpower, even if you realize that your reaction is excessive and doesn’t correspond to the real danger. There are techniques that can help you stop the flow of anxious thoughts and regain your self-control. Here are some of them:
Research says that negative emotions are experienced more easily when put into words. When we talk to another person about a situation that is bothering us, we often have to “translate” our mental thoughts from our internal language to a common language. Literally explain automatic thoughts so that the other person sees the whole picture. Sometimes it gets easier at this stage because the focus of attention shifts or we find that the automatic thoughts don’t stand the test of reality.
Talking to someone who is calm, attentive to your feelings, and supportive helps reduce anxiety and calm you down. The important thing is that the person you are talking to doesn’t devalue your worries or give in to excessive worrying.
Freewriting is actively used when working with depression, psychological trauma, and anxiety disorders. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write whatever comes to mind without editing, rereading, clarifying wording, or paying attention to typos and punctuation. When the time is up, give yourself time to take a break, and then, in a relaxed state, go back to your notes. Look at them with fresh eyes — what thoughts seem important? Maybe some questions have already been answered?
According to research, during an anxiety or panic attack, a person’s breathing becomes frequent, shallow, and intermittent. But the attack can be stopped if you simulate resting breathing — measured and deep. Do 5-8 cycles according to the scheme: 4 seconds for inhalation, 6-7 seconds for pause, and 4 for exhalation. If holding your breath is uncomfortable, you can skip this point, but the exhalation should be longer than the inhalation.