We all need to experience some degree of anxiety at times – it would be unnatural not to feel any of its symptoms such as, racing pulse, dry mouth, sweatiness and shallow breathing, just before a big speech or exam, for instance – as it helps get us motivated to act. But excessive anxiety causes problems. Excessive anxiety may develop gradually, starting perhaps with loneliness after the loss of a loved one: being too shy to make new friends when moving somewhere new: experiencing unwelcome life changes because of chronic illness and pain: or feeling loaded down with too much responsibility – all cases of unmet emotional needs.
When people worry excessively, it is in essence because important emotional needs, such as for safety, connection or status, are not being met. That’s why the human givens approach, which focuses on helping people in distress find healthy ways to meet their emotional needs, is so effective.
For some people, anxiety can develop suddenly, after they are caught up in some tragic disaster, such as a fire or crash, or are the victims of violence, and their lives become ruled by fear. (This is known as post-traumatic stress). Anxiety may also take the form of obsessions, compulsions, phobias or the nagging feeling of foreboding – all of which are attempts to ward off a sense of threat.
Yet, as we know, some people face such circumstances without becoming overly anxious, while others end up almost crippled by anxiety. How we explain the negative events that happen to us has a considerable bearing on whether we are likely to suffer from excessive anxiety. Three particular types of thinking are especially connected with its development and its close partner, depression: how personally people take events (they think everything is their fault or that they didn’t get the job because they weren’t good enough, rather than because the competition was particularly stiff); how pervasive they think the effects will be (if they lose their job, they think everything in their world is going wrong, even though their relationship is still strong and they have their health, good friends, etc); and how permanent (they will never get another job, partner, dream house like that one etc).
People who suffer badly from anxiety also tend to have a lot of negative thoughts running through their minds that they don’t even notice (“I’ll never cope”, “it’s going to be awful”, “no one likes me”) and commonly catastrophise (“I’m going to be late. My boss will sack me!”) Changing negative self-talk and challenging catastrophic thinking help lower stress levels.
Another major cause of troublesome anxiety is negative over-imagination. Anxious people tend to spend at lot of time worrying “What if?” coming up with a whole variety of dreadful outcomes for themselves or lived ones. This keeps them in a constant state of high emotional arousal and can take the extreme forms of phobias or obsessive compulsive disorders. Learning to use the imagination positively – by calmly rehearing tried and tested techniques such as deep breathing and distracting thoughts for dealing with feared or worrisome situations – is very effective. Calming ourselves down, when anxious is extremely important because high emotional arousal makes us stupid. We literally can’t think straight and that makes the situation worse.
If you are overly anxious I can work with you to show you how to relax, so that you can bring down your arousal and stress levels, how to use your imagination positively to rehearse successful outcomes instead of bad ones. I can also help you overcome phobias, panic attacks and traumatic memories quickly and painlessly. I will encourage you to find ways to reduce your stress and focus outwards on fulfilling activities, maybe involving the wellbeing of others as well as your self – excellent ways of getting your own needs met.