BEATING ANXIETY: Part 1
Anxiety is a serious and very debilitating psychological disorder that makes life very difficult for millions of people in the UK today. It’s also very curable if treated properly. That’s why I’m going to blog about this modern day scourge. This month I am going to talk about how to reduce your background level of anxiety. Learning how to do this is an easily acquirable skill. It’s also an easy to apply self-management technique that can benefit anybody. You don’t have to suffer clinical levels of anxiety; you just have to want a less stressful life. Next month I am going to deal with how to manage your situational anxieties and specific phobias. The following month I am going to talk about how to permanently eliminate specific irrational anxieties and fears and how to stop reacting to your triggers.
Anxiety can seriously disrupt your life. Panic attacks can stop you functioning normally. Irrational fears and phobias can make your existence chaotic. In other words, when anxiety strikes, you don’t rule your fears – your fears rule you. If you suffer from chronic anxiety then your life is getting, or has already got, seriously out of control. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Psychotherapy, especially if it includes a good dose of cognitive-behavioural therapy, (CBT), can provide quick and effective help. The CBT part rapidly helps you to get back in control of you. The personal therapy part helps you to understand why you got so anxious in the first place. Applied properly, these therapeutic techniques are so effective that if you don’t notice an improvement in the first 2 or 3 sessions then go to another therapist. Find somebody who knows what they are doing!
The best treatment for anxiety is essentially self-treatment but don’t worry – you don’t have to do it all by yourself. For the best and fastest results getting some professional help, at least to begin with, certainly pays off. This is where psychotherapy comes in. The psychotherapist’s first job is to teach clients how to manage their anxiety and how to regain control of their lives. The therapist’s second job is help clients find out why they ever lost control in the first place and how to deal with the root causes.
Anxiety affects people through two interacting nervous systems, one in the body and the other in the mind. There are physical or bodily symptoms, (rapid pulse, sweating, over-breathing, tummy ‘butterflies’, dizziness, feeling faint, pins and needles, etc., etc.). There are mental symptoms / conscious feelings, (fear, dread, panic, irrationality, etc., etc.). Of course we all experience anxiety from time to time. It’s a perfectly normal reaction to some of life’s events – we get hyped up and then we calm down again. However, those who suffer from clinical levels of excess anxiety are partly wound-up all the time. They don’t realise this of course because being hyper has become part of their normality and they have got so used to being tense that they stop noticing it. This means that when they hit a stressful situation, their reaction is much more severe than other people’s. They don’t go from 0 to 5; they start from 5 and rapidly go to 10. Therefore, it would obviously help anxiety suffers if they could significantly lower their background levels of anxiety and also learn how to lessen their reactions to any particular stressful situation. In other words it’s all about self-management and regaining control.
As I have said, the symptoms of anxiety exist at a conscious level in your mind, (worries, fears, anxieties, stresses, and so on). Calming down by telling yourself to be more sensible sounds like a good idea. However, in practice it’s hard to do and anyway, your worries usually soon come back again. All the anxiety symptoms in your body, (rapid pulse, over-breathing, sweatiness, fainting, and so on), are all regulated by the body’s automatic, (autonomic), nervous systems. At first glance it might seem that controlling your body’s automatic systems is impossible. After all, you don’t tell your heart when to beat or your body when to perspire. However, actually there is a sure-fire technique available to calm down these physical symptoms. The good news is that calming down the autonomic side of your worries always leads to a calming down of the conscious side of your anxieties too. The even better news is if you regularly practice these techniques, (at least once daily), you will significantly reduce your ongoing background levels of anxiety and so become much better at handling stressful situations generally.
So what is this ‘magic’ method for reducing anxiety? It is very simple. All you need to do is to engage in a planned programme of Relaxation Therapy, (RT). Of course, you can buy DVDs and self-help books that tell you how to do this but I don’t recommend them. That is because they are inevitably ‘one size fits all’ manuals. To make RT work properly you need to find out which specific method/regime works best for you. You also need to get that regime precisely fine-tuned to your own specific needs and circumstances. This is where psychotherapy can help. A good psychotherapist will be able to work with you to devise the RT program that is right for you and to help you to use it properly so that you gain maximum benefit. Then, like any skill, from learning to ride a bike to becoming a great pianist – it’s ‘practice, practice, practice’.
Now, as well as claiming that using RT like this is a good thing by itself I’m also claiming that RT is so much more than just another way of ‘going with the flow’ or ‘chillaxing’. It’s also a very effective curative tool that can help you overcome your anxieties, fears, and phobias. RT will give you back control of your life – it can be that powerful. I’ll tell you more about all that over the next two months. Look out for parts 2 & 3 of this blog.
Important Note: Although Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is usually classified as being one of the Anxiety Disorders, treating OCD sufferers with Relaxation Therapy, or CBT generally, can often be counter-productive. If you suffer from OCD get professional advice before embarking on any sort of self-management program.