BEATING ANXIETY: Part 2
Last month I blogged about how anxiety affects us all and about how sometimes it can get out of hand and start to disrupt, even destroy, our lives. As lots of people know only too well, anxiety can be extremely debilitative – psychologically, physiologically, and socially. It can cause us all sorts of personal and behavioural difficulties. That is why I am going to use this month’s blog to talk about anxiety management – about how to ‘tame the tiger’. In other words I’m going to tell you how to govern your anxiety and better still, how to stop your anxiety governing you. For many anxiety sufferers, simply learning how to govern, or manage, their condition is as far as they want to go. However, some sufferers want to try and achieve a more permanent ‘fix’. Therefore, next month, we will be going beyond just managing our anxieties and looking at how to work towards eliminating them altogether.
So – anxiety management – what’s that all about? People learn to be anxious for all sorts of reasons. For some people their anxiety problems might have arisen as the immediate psychological outcome of a major, one-off, traumatic event, (being assaulted, witnessing an armed robbery, being in a car crash, and so on). For other people their anxiety problems might have built up over time, layer by layer, sneakily and unseen. Even people who are supposedly ‘hardened’ to trauma and supposedly ‘resistant’ to its pernicious effects can be caught out in this way. For example, members of the armed forces or civilian emergency workers who are routinely exposed to serious threat might, over months or years, gradually build up debilitating stress levels that remain unnoticed for a long time.
It’s not only life’s ‘big dramas’ that traumatise us. Very often, the causes of a person’s anxieties don’t appear to be all that traumatic, at least at first glance. People can get over-stressed for all sorts of apparently ‘non-dramatic’ reasons. Often harmful levels of stress/trauma might creep in over time as a series a series of apparently ‘harmless’ minor events unfold (pressures at work; frustrating commuting; ongoing family worries, financial difficulties, and so on). Without anyone noticing, the results of these ‘micro-traumas’ gradually, almost imperceptibly, build up to clinical levels of anxiety. Nevertheless, whatever causes are, (short-term or long-term; historical or current), if people’s anxieties are now significantly disrupting their lives then they need professional help. They need to consult a suitably trained psychotherapist. To see how psychotherapists might treat anxiety let’s take the following illustrative scenario.
Let’s pretend that you have routinely have to attend business meetings where you are usually required to contribute to the discussions or to make presentations. Recently, doing this has become quite a trial for you. You used to be perfectly OK in meetings but over the last 6 months things have started to unravel a bit and nowadays you find that attending meetings is becoming scarier and scarier. It’s got so bad that sometimes you get so panicky that it’s all you can do to stop yourself running out of the meeting room and throwing up. How might all of this come about? Well, as it happens, about 12 months ago there was talk of redundancies at your workplace and there were rumours that your managers were checking out people in order to decide who would be worth keeping. This made you feel ‘under the microscope’ and that in turn made you want to hide and to be as inconspicuous as possible. Providentially, your anxiety/worries about redundancy are over now but somehow your newfound anxieties about attending meetings seem to have replaced them. Now it could be that some sort of traditional psychotherapy that addresses the possible origins of your insecurities might help. The problem here is that this sort of therapy can take months, years even, but you want to get better quickly. This is when any competent therapist will introduce you to some of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, (CBT), methods that are known to provide anxiety suffers with more immediate relief. OK, as CBT’s critics always claim, it is true that these sorts of self-management techniques usually only relieve the symptoms of anxiety. They don’t help with its underlying causes. However, if CBT makes you feel better quickly then who cares? Symptom relief is great!
So, how does it work? Well, the first step, as always, is get your overall high levels of background anxiety reduced by regularly carrying out your daily Relaxation Therapy program. (I told you all about RT in last month’s blog – click the ‘My Blogs’ button on the navigator bar above or go to www.normanclaringbull.co.uk/myblogs). Next, let’s look at a likely scenario. Say you have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. How can you ‘program’ yourself to be able to endure attending? Firstly, just before the meeting find somewhere private and do 10 minutes RT, (this is in addition to your routine daily RT practice). Then during the meeting, whenever you feel your anxiety levels increasing, simply use the 3-Second Technique. This is a sort of psychological ‘first aid’ that you can easily do anywhere, anytime, and without anybody noticing. You can find out more about the 3-Second method in any of my books, (www.normanclaringbull.co.uk/mybooks). Use these methods and you will stay sufficiently in control of yourself to be able to ‘tough your way through’. You will be able to stay in the meeting and you will be able to contribute when necessary. I don’t say that you will like it or that it will be a breeze but I do so say that you will be able to do it. I don’t say you won’t have any more problems about going to meetings but I do say that over time you will get better and better at overcoming those problems The more times you do this then the easier attending meetings will become. Managing your fears can often really be that simple; not easy but definitely simple and, most importantly of all – it works!
Next month I’ll be looking at how to deal with the more intractable types of anxiety – the situationally-specific fears and phobias that can overwhelm us.