So there you are in the middle of a business meeting, Wal-Mart, a shopping mall, your kids’ school play, and out of nowhere, it hits. It’s the feeling you hope will pass soon and that no one will notice. Many individuals suffer in silence, harboring feelings of embarrassment or lack of control. The culprit: anxiety.
Anxiety can be triggered by events or situations; however, it can also strike without cause. Symptoms vary for each individual and often with each attack. Anxiety can cause feelings of tightness in the chest, breathlessness, dizziness, confusion, racing heartbeat, upset stomach, and that feeling of just wanting to escape. It’s no wonder anxiety is so frightening and becomes debilitating to individuals.
It’s important to know that finding and understanding the root cause of anxiety often makes it easier to handle. Many therapists agree that this is essential for moving forward. In my experience, asking individuals to identify the thought or feeling that preceded the anxiety is often a great place to start. It may also be beneficial to think about what the environment was like.
If anxiety seems to strike frequently or there seems to be no identifiable cause, keep an anxiety journal. Chart when the anxiety takes place, write down as much information as possible, and rate the anxiety on a scale of 1-10. Charting the anxiety may provide information about the cause and may show a distinct pattern.
Once the cause is identified, try challenging the thought. If it is a fear of danger, stop and ask if you are in real danger. It should be noted that understanding the root cause may make anxiety easier to deal with, but it does not necessarily make it go away. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, don’t be ashamed to seek help.
For many individuals, finding treatment for anxiety is important. There are several options for treating anxiety – herbal or naturopathic remedies, medication, therapy, or combinations of those. A skilled doctor or therapist can guide an individual in finding the best treatment. Treatment enables to individual to make the necessary lifestyle changes to better deal with anxiety.
In addition to treatment options there are also ways to help yourself. Anxiety is often triggered by perception. Perception can be altered by retraining the brain and challenging negative thoughts. This can be done in two ways: replacing the negative thought with a positive one or questioning the negative thought.
For example, if the negative, anxiety-producing thought is “I’m going to perform horribly on my test tomorrow,” immediately replace that thought with “I will excel on my test tomorrow.” If done consistently, it will become second nature and often curb the anxiety before it gets out of control.
Questioning the negative thought forces you to challenge your thoughts and change your perspective. Examples of these types of questions are:
- Is there a better way to look at this situation?
- Is this something that can actually happen?
- Will worrying about this help me in any way?
You can also take yourself out of the role of the worrier, and imagine how you would advise someone else in the same situation. Would you tell them to worry? Would you tell them that they have no reason to be concerned? How would you help them to have a more positive perspective?
You also can help yourself by acknowledging that your anxiety does exist. Don’t try to ignore the anxious thoughts and feelings; this often makes it worse. Embrace them for what they are – thoughts and feelings. Try to remember to react rationally and think of ways to deal calmly with the situation. Stay in the present. It is easy to say to yourself “oh no, it’s happening again and it will be awful.” It is also easy to get stuck on a negative thought. Be mindful of where you are in that moment. Find a focal point and breathe. Imagine your body calming down and the negative feeling going away.
These are not particularly easy tasks. They take practice. Explore your options and find what works best for you. It may be a matter of trial and error. This change is unlikely to occur overnight, but if you are consistent you will see some benefits.
It should be noted that many symptoms of anxiety can be caused by a serious medical condition, improper diet, or medication side effects. If you are experiencing physical symptoms, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. It is better to be safe than sorry. A doctor can rule out possible physical problems, and if you are truly experiencing anxiety, you can begin the journey to overcome it.