Coping with anxiety
While there are different components to anxiety, is it important to understand how some people generally cope better than others with situations that provoke anxiety. In doing so, we should be able to consider how we might, as individuals, address our own anxieties.
So what makes one person able to cope with a situation without worry, stress or anxiety and another to become highly anxious and fearful? Psychologists would argue that, at the level of the individual there are, again, many different components:
- The social environment
- Life experiences
We inherit biological characteristics from our parents. Research would suggest that we also inherit some psychological characteristics as well. Psychologists debated for many years whether our personalities were mainly inherited or developed through our life experiences. The current thinking is that it is a bit of both. We are born with some innate qualities which are shaped by the culture, society and century we are born into.
When we are born, we are quite helpless and dependent on others for all our needs. The psychologist John Bowlby (1907-1990) suggested that babies will try to bond with the person closest to them in order to have their emotional and physical needs met. He argued that the quality of that bond influences how we see ourselves (e.g. loveable or not) and other people (e.g. helpful or dangerous) and how we deal with emotions.
If we have a caregiver (e.g. a mum or dad) who is emotionally connected to us and helps us regulate our emotions, we will, in time learn to do this for ourselves. If our caregiver is less able to tune into our emotional needs then we will find it more difficult to manage our emotions. Bowlby defined the different ways of managing our emotions as either secure (where we appropriately respond emotionally to situations and are able to pacify ourselves) or insecure (where we either find it difficult to express our emotions or where we become overtly distressed).
Children learn from those around them, particularly those that they are emotionally close to and spend time with. They will look to the adults around them for clues how to respond to something. Adults can help children regulate their emotions by helping them understand what is upsetting them and, through their actions, showing them how to sooth themselves, for example, if they are anxious or upset.
The way that adults respond to situations is important. If a child sees the adults closest to them fearful of specific situations then it is likely that they will also become fearful of them.
If they are fearful all the time then the child might think that the world is a very dangerous place that they can do little about. If an adult responds to a frightening situation by remaining calm, rationalising what is going on and taking control then a child watching will learn that danger can be overcome and anxiety can be managed and controlled.
The social environment
The younger we are, the more the adults in our lives will assess risk for us. The older we get, the more we will do this for ourselves. How you or others around you respond to situations is important in shaping your attitude towards anxiety for the future. How we manage our perception of risk and our ability to cope with situations is again influenced by how our caregivers do this but also how they assess risk for us and assess our ability to cope with a situation. For example, if our parents are consistently overprotective of us then we may doubt our ability to cope or may see things as more dangerous than they are.
Experiences within the family, with friends and at school all have importance in building self-esteem and confidence and, particularly where anxiety is concerned, a sense of security and autonomy.
Various childhood events such as the death of a parent or sibling, parents’ divorce, moving town or being bullied at school can impact on this. Learning to assert ourselves can play a major part in helping us control the various pressures of everyday living.
Whether they occur in childhood or adulthood, specific experiences will shape our attitudes towards certain situations. Where something bad happens the first time we do it, e.g. we crash the car the first time we drive, will bias our perception of risk towards the high end.
Again, how we respond to these experiences will shape our overall response to danger and our perception of our ability to cope. For example, the more we learn we are able to cope with bad things happening to us, the less anxious we will be about what happens.
Conversely, if we have not been able to cope with something bad happening (e.g. when our boyfriend left us, we went to pieces and were off work for two months) then that could lead to us becoming more fearful about what might happen in the future.
How can we gain control over our anxiety and begin to manage it in an appropriate way? This is a process that tackles anxiety from two sides:
1)Managing the stressors – External Factors
These are the things that create stress in our life, our work, our social life, elements external to ourselves that cause us anxiety.
2)Managing the responses – Internal Factors
Our bodies are designed to respond to stress, to give us the fuel we need to deal with a situation. By understanding more about anxiety and indeed Panic Attacks – Anxiety Attacks and their symptoms we can learn not to fear anxiety itself as much.
Please see our Anxiety Management – Managing External Stressors and Anxiety Management – Managing our Response to Stress pages to know how you too can help manage your own anxiety both the external and internal factors.
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