We have looked at what is anxiety; now what Mental Healthy is interested in is how people can overcome problems. In this instance, how can they gain control over their anxiety and begin to manage it in an appropriate way.
We would generally see this as a process that tackles anxiety from two sides:
1) Managing the stressors and
2) Managing the responses.
Here we look at 2) Managing the responses, see or page on Anxiety Management – Managing External Stressors for more information on 1) Managing the stressors.
Managing the responses – Internal factors
Many people fear anxiety itself, particularly if they have experienced a panic attack. In order to fear anxiety less, it is useful to know something about the sensations generated by it and the reasons for those sensations.
Firstly, please remember: a panic attack will not kill you.
Although it feels incredibly physical and life threatening, it is not. As described earlier, it is the combined result of excess adrenalin, increased oxygen and decreased carbon dioxide in your body. The physical sensations generated include:
- Butterflies in the stomach,
- Need to go to the toilet,
- Dry throat,
- Dizziness and
- Heart palpitations.
See our Anxiety Symptoms page for full details. It can feel as if you are having a heart attack or a stroke. The fear of having a panic attack can actually bring on a panic attack. The less you fear one and the more you understand you can cope with one, the less likely you are to have one.
Recognising the signs of anxiety early, accepting them rather than fearing them and responding to them in a helpful way (e.g. unclenching your fists, taking deep breaths) can reduce anxiety and increase your sense of ability to cope with a situation. See our No More Panic page for more.
Our 'Overcoming Anxiety Programme' can help ALL sufferers of anxiety gain control over their lives.
Some people try to manage anxiety by controlling everything around them. This might be useful for a period of time while you are learning to manage the anxious feelings generated by certain situations and events. Used as a longer-term strategy, however, it is likely to lead to rigid rather than adaptive behaviour.
People who use this strategy are likely to have routines that control their everyday lives and control the lives of people around them. When the routine fails (the car fails to start at 8.05am) or they step out of the routine (e.g. go on holiday) or someone refuses to go along with their routine, then this provokes anxiety in itself.
So, how can we begin to gain control over anxiety?
Although we can control the things that happen to us to some extent, e.g. by avoiding them, if we did that with everything that made us anxious, we could end up not going outside our house, not opening our mail and not answering the door for fear of what might happen. The more we avoid anxiety, the more we limit our lives.
Avoiding the situations that make us anxious keeps the anxiety high about those situations. When we are faced with ‘having’ to do something we are afraid of, we generally try to find a way out of doing whatever it is. If we can avoid it, our anxiety will come down.
Problem is, next time we are faced with the same thing, we become anxious again and go through the same cycle. The only way to break this cycle of anxiety is to face the situation we are frightened of.
Part of our fear is about what will happen when we do this thing, e.g. drive home in the dark on our own, get on a flight to Paris. By actually driving home on our own or taking that flight we can challenge our fears. What we will find is that things are very rarely as bad as we think they are going to be.
As we said earlier, the problem is not with situations that are really dangerous and which we have good reason to be frightened of, it is with situations that are generally everyday, where the anxiety is out of proportion to the situation.
What we are assuming here is that, generally, no harm is actually going to come to you when you do the thing or face the thing you are frightened of. Your fear is based on the perception of risk, the consequences of something bad happening and your ability to cope, rather than the fact that something bad is going to happen. Facing the situation you are frightened of, whether it is holding a spider or confronting your boss, will help you understand the actual risks involved and your true ability to cope.
You CAN get back control!
Anxiety can be debilitating, intolerable and extremely distressful. Our message is clear, however, through understanding what makes you anxious, through learning that you are able to cope with anxious situations by using a variety of techniques (challenging thoughts, changing behaviours, controlling physical effects of anxiety, distracting yourself, soothing yourself etc.) you are able to reduce the level of anxiety you feel and reduce the number of things you are frightened of.
Through learning how to tolerate anxiety and not fear it, you can gain control of anxiety.
Where next? We suggest you read our No More Panic page for handy hints and tips to overcome anxiety.
Anxiety, further help
We hope you have found this information useful, please also see
What Is Anxiety
Fight or Flight
Coping with Anxiety
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
No More Panic
Anxiety and Debt
Anxiety as a Result of Domestic Abuse
Work Related Stress
Anxiety and Substance Abuse