Worries, fears and anxiety are familiar to all of us. Pathologically and mentally they are not destructive and most of the time these reactions are normal. They are reasonable responses to danger and stress but become a problem when they are found in excess or in unrelated situations. For example: I hear a car approaching and I’m afraid it will hit me. I fear for my life and feel anxious. This is perfectly normal and helpful if I am crossing the street. But the same is not true if I am sitting in a coffee shop.
What is stress?
Ordinary daily mild stress is essential for our survival as it prepares us to deal with stressful situations and dangers. It helps us to be organized, make plans and set goals. For example if I have an exam or a job interview, anxiety is what pushes me to read, prepare, sleep early to achieve my goal: to do well.
Anxiety is accompanied by physical and psychological symptoms. This happens due to the secretion of a hormone, adrenaline, which promotes physical and mental changes that in turn prepare us for the so-called “flight-fight response”, i.e. either face the challenge or escape from a dangerous situation. The stimulus that causes stress can be a real or imagined threat. E.g. A person with a phobia of airplanes will feel an anxiety upon booking their next flight, and will have the same reaction upon arriving at the airport and shortly before boarding. His first reaction is to run away (“escape”) from this situation because it stresses him out. If he doesn’t and persists, he will most likely experience some symptoms of anxiety.
When does it become a problem?
Too often a normal and healthy response to stress develops into a problem because the person becomes involved in a vicious cycle that recycles the stress.
These are what open the cycle of disturbance. Although physical cues such as muscle tension are normal, they can be misinterpreted. E.g. Chest pain: one may think it is a cardiac arrest, or Breathing difficulties: may lead one to think “I’m choking”. If the physical symptoms are extreme, the experience may be frightening enough to raise the fear of anxiety symptoms: the fear of fear. Persistently waiting for this experience causes more stress. These physical symptoms (tremors, shakiness, sweating, etc.), can reduce the person’s self-confidence, increase their worries and generally make the physical reactions worse.
Intensify and increase the levels of fear. Anxious situations are gradually associated with the overestimation of risk (eg ‘if I’m late I’ll lose my job’), and the underestimation of the individual’s abilities (eg ‘I won’t make it and I’ll become a quitter’). An anxious mind can be distorted, negatively biased, destructive, generalising, exaggerating and thinking only in black and white – the person cannot think of other options eg: I will either fail or I will succeed.
Extreme situations of tension can awaken unhelpful behaviors. One of the most normal reactions to a perceived danger is to avoid it. In the short term, this is functional when it comes to real risk. However, avoiding and running away from non-existent danger increases the fear because it prevents the person from learning how to manage corresponding situations. E.g. anxiety about airplanes – if I stopped traveling because of my anxiety, then the next time I have no choice I will be even more anxious because I have avoided traveling for so long and I don’t have the skills to deal with the symptoms of anxiety .
What can I do;
There are various techniques for dealing with psychological symptoms, problem behavior and physical reactions that can be found to be effective. But what may be effective for one may not be for another. The goal of Cognitive Behavioral psychotherapy is to reduce anxiety and worry by identifying, appreciating, modifying, and controlling these negative thoughts/beliefs and unhelpful behaviors. She also teaches clients how to calm down with various relaxation techniques and breathing exercises. By breaking these cycles that perpetuate problems, one can realize that they can control their stress effectively and not let it control their life.
You don’t have to go it alone, ask for help from friends or professionals.
Don’t let anxiety and stress dictate your life any longer, get started with one of our therapists today! Call 0741123944 for more information