Anxiety is a problem for many of us. It responds well to psychological treatment but many anxious people refuse to seek help.
I meet a lot of people suffering from anxiety (and I mean suffering). Broken sleep, tension, feeling on edge, racing thoughts, poor sleeping, trouble eating.
Predictably their responses following three common strategies:
Hoping and praying it will go away;
Eventually telling someone when it doesn’t go away and they fear they are losing the plot and then;
Seeing their GP who might suggest medication and seeing a psychologist. It would seem that many people only take the medication option and pretend their GP didn’t mention anything about seeing the psychologist!
Anxiety is related to what is going on in your life. It requires a few simple skills to deal with (only you don’t know this yet because you are avoiding seeing a psychologist).
Aden had just started lecturing in a prestigious university. While he had some experience lecturing during his studies, the amount of lecturing in his first included courses covering material he had never really studied before.
Leading up to each lecture Aden would lose sleep, become agitated, restless and devour mountains of information. He would feel completely overwhelmed. As his new position relied on several ‘performance indicators’ which including the quality of his lecturing, he became so anxious as as to see his doctor who recommended a commonly prescribed benzodiazepine. Unfortunately while the medication sedated his body, Adam reported that his thoughts were still racing and that he felt oddly ‘rushing on the inside’ and ‘sluggish’ in his body. Not the best way to deliver a lecture.
What was Aden’s body trying to tell him? That he would die!
Embrace you Anxiety:
Inside your brain is a 24/7, 365 days a year automatic alarm system. It’s called the midbrain and it’s designed to keep you alive. When triggered it releases adrenaline and cortisol into your system to help you to do three things that will help you to stay alive:
Fight (don’t mess with me!)
Flight (run like the clappers) or
Freeze (if I stay really really still no one will even know I’m here).
The theory goes that this incredible alarm system evolved when we were literally in danger in everyday situations (lunch for a larger animal who wanted to eat us). Only trouble now is that it can be triggered while your are sitting in your car, in front of the computer or if you have a particular memory or smell.
What’s the most scariest thing in the world?
Hard to believe but for most of us, what really puts the wind up us is rejection. The more important the person is to you, the greater the fear of rejection. Hence its more likely that your 24/7 automatic alarm system will be set off if you run the risk of rejection.
Adele has been married to Colin for 17 years. Adele refuses to tell Colin how she really fears about important things to her in case there is an argument and (yes you guessed it) he REJECTS her. Adele is intelligent, capable and a part of her brain thinks arguments lead to unhappy marriages, unhappy marriages lead to separation and divorce. REJECTION. Whenever an possible argument is looming, Adele becomes agitated, has racing thoughts about a whole range of catastrophic outcomes that will result if they fight, has trouble sleeping that night and then becomes teary.
Lionel is a popular young man. He is the social organiser for his mates and some of the young women they socialise with. Everyone thinks he is a top bloke. So does Lionel however no one knows that Lionel is having trouble at work and drinking too much. He tells himself ‘no one wants to hear me whinge and whine’ but underneath that excuse is his FEAR that if he did tell one of his mates they would get up and leave faster than Usain Bolt. REJECTION. Sometimes when he is with his mates socialising, he can feel himself getting ‘worked up’. He sometimes feels pins and needles in his arms and legs and finds it difficult to concentrate on what others are saying. Lionel’s “go to” strategy is to drink more or make up a story about having to rise early in the morning and leaving the event.
Humphrey has been living with Kate for six years. In the last 18 months the sex has slackened off and from time to time (whenever Kate is out) Humphrey has been having internet sex. When asked if he had spoken to Kate about the sex issue, he emphatically said ‘of course!” It turned out however that he has only mentioned it twice in the 18 months and both times it ended in silence and both of them staying on their side of the bed. Humphrey loves Kate. He’s not sure why he has been withdrawing from her sexually and now he is terrified that she will discover his little ‘escapades’ and leave him. REJECTION. After these escapades, Humphrey feels sick in the stomach, loses his appetite and had trouble falling asleep as his mind plays out scenarios of Kate leaving.
Holly commenced at the new firm just over two years ago. It was a dream come true and she threw herself into it with gusto. The pay, the car, the people were all good. Holly was happy. Until the firm was taken over and the new managers conducted a ‘restructure’. Now Holly dreads going to work. Its become a bottomless pit of meetings and people refusing to make decisions. She spends most of her time sending emails, making phone calls to see why products haven’t arrived and invoices haven't been sent. Holly has imaginary conversations with her boss about what she would say, how she would say it though mostly she believes that if she dares to speak to her boss, she would get her marching orders. Even these imaginary conversations are enough to trigger Holly’s automatic alarm system. Sometimes she can’t seem to switch the thoughts off and the imaginary conversation just goes around and around in her head giving her a headache. It also tires her out, makes her not want to talk or socialise with friends. Recently Holly spoke to her GP about antidepressants. When distressed about her job, she tells her mum, ‘why can’t things just go back to the way they were!”
Modern life is a recurring series of potential conflicts, judgements and, evaluations. It’s one long opportunity to … yep… be REJECTED.
Take the REJECTION test!
If you think none of this applies to you, below is a simple, completely scientific (NOT!) test to see if your 24/7 alarm system is causing you anxiety.
What is the ‘stuff’ that you don’t talk about to partner/ boss/ parent/ adult child/ neighbour/ other__________?
Why don’t you?
If you’ve told yourself ‘it’s not important’ is that really true?
If it’s ‘not so important’ is it an issue for you? Why do you keep thinking about it? Does it stress you?
If you’ve told yourself ‘I don’t want to be a burden’ is that the whole story?
Are people used to seeing you with a problem or are you the person they come to with theirs?
What would happen if they knew you had problems?
Do you let people see the ‘real’ you or just the ‘edited highlights’ (the stuff you think they want to see).
If you’ve told yourself “no body wants to listen to me whinge” is that really the case?
If your friends knew you were in a difficult situation, do you really think they would tell you to shut up and stop whinging?
Take an ANXIETY test
What is it that you avoid?
Chances are you avoid things that will trigger unpleasant thoughts and unwanted emotions. You avoid things that might cause high levels of anxiety.
Avoidance and fear (anxiety) go hand in hand. Fear in modern life is almost always about being negatively judged, evaluated or thought of. Most of us don’t want to negatively viewed because the people doing the judging, evaluating, thinking might just decide to … get rid of us!
Your anxiety is trying to tell you something.
Clive Williams PhD