As if your anxiety is not bad enough already… What happens if you become nervous about anxiety itself?
More often, nowadays, my clients tell me about how their anxiety about anxiety adds to the original anxiety, and so escalates the discomfort; but this isn’t even the worst part.
The most destructive part of secondary anxiety is that by resisting and fearing the initial anxiety, you obscure your instinctive capacity to access your problem-solving mind.
No one sets out do this deliberately, sabotaging themselves with needless worry – secondary anxiety is a normal reaction to discomfort and situations that scare us. Still, the fear of our experience only worsens it. It doesn’t help.
Dialling down secondary anxiety can help limit the severity of your symptoms and thus allow you a better understanding of the message your primary anxiety is trying to convey.
So, what do I do now?
Sufferers of generalized anxiety tend to have increased overall levels of arousal.
When you stress mentally, your body physically prepares for war. This means that adrenalin and cortisol are being pumped around your body and you’re not giving yourself time for your body to relax and naturally remove them again.
So, your best bet is to immediately start to use relaxation methods, perhaps try a progressive muscle relaxation on for size. This is a way to take a few moments to begin to relax each part of your body, back down to a resting state again.
Really, it takes just a minute or two to get that stress and tension shifting out of your body. Here, have a listen to this – I’ll guide you through it.
Plan short-term activities that are enjoyable (take a moment to remember any activities that have been helpful in the past). We’ve all had times, places, situations, moments where we’ve felt good, relaxed, chilled or just a little more calm.
Your job now is to remember what they were, and do more of them.
If you’re not in a position to revisit a place or recreate a situation to suit, you can use your mind and dive into the memory of that good time, place, etc.
Create the situation in your mind and make it as real as possible. Remember the sights, sounds, smells, sensations and every other detail you can. Allow yourself to enjoy the experience once again.
Exercise is helpful in managing worry, as exercising releases brain chemicals that counteract anxiety and low mood. It also gives time away from worries, and works off “nervous energy.”
If you’re able, and it’s safe to do so, get a little exercise of some sort each day. It doesn’t have to be a full-on workout, but any exercise is better than none.
Once your secondary anxiety is dialled down you can begin to deconstruct the initial anxiety challenge.
Question the anxiety?
Is the thing you fear really likely to happen? How can you be sure? Is there another possible explanation or outcome? Are you trying to predict things in the distant future that you can’t possibly know anything about? If it does happen, how much will it really matter? How would someone else see this worry?
In my experience most sufferers of general anxiety commonly make two errors in thinking: they overestimate the likelihood of something bad happening; and they underestimate their ability to cope;
Challenge these worrying thoughts by learning to recognize your distressing thoughts, testing whether the thought is realistic, and identifying some more realistic alternatives.
I challenge you to imagine your original fear creating moment, but imagine everything going well. Imagine everything working out exactly as you want it to happen. You’re used to imagining this situation in the worst way, so I challenge you to imagine this situation in the very best way.
Run through the situation like it’s a movie, watch it to the end of the scene and notice how you feel about it this time; Now that you’re watching a good result. No need for the stress, the fear or the anxiety.
Speak to a professional
Often is the case that we leap towards Doctor Google, or some preachy ‘expert’ who’s been through a stressful situation, learned one technique and come out the other side. That’s great – but, we’re all different.
There are SO many different ways to adjust thoughts and experiences, it truly does take an outsider (and one who has had sufficient training in lots of methods) to suggest the most effective options to use.
Most professionals nowadays offer a free consultation, myself included, so go grab some free time with a professional and listen to what they suggest.
It’s at this point I need to stress a CRITICAL component of progress… CHANGE. Change in the way you think and do things.
To move past any anxiety challenges you have right now, requires you to do something different, to think something different, to try something different and to commit to that change.
You don’t become an Olympic athlete after one training session. You’re not an expert in a foreign language after only one lesson. It’s the same with psychological change… it takes some time, some effort and some commitment.
Although change may feel a little uncomfortable at first, it’s definitely worth it.
As always, I’m open to any questions you may have.