Anxiety is a good thing — in the right dosage. If anxiety came in a pill format, we would recommend that everyone make it part of a daily vitamin routine.
We need anxiety in our lives; it serves an important purpose. Within our private practice, we’re accustomed to teaching our patients a set of skills directed at “thinking about how they think,” followed by learning how to shift one’s perspective toward a new strategy centered on changing the relationship they have with their anxiety.
Think about the last important challenge you needed to encounter in your life; something you wanted very badly to achieve. Did you experience a certain degree of anxiety associated with meeting this challenge?
Everyone needs a moderate level of anxiety in order to enhance performance levels when wanting to succeed. However, performance enhancement has its limits. When anxiety levels become too high, our skills may prove ineffective. When this occurs, we offer the following 5 tips for better managing (not eliminating) the degree of anxiety experienced, and the corresponding performance levels you will enjoy as a result.
Although we hope you will make a resolution to follow these suggestions, we also want to strongly encourage anyone who suffers from chronic anxiety to seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in treating this condition.
1. STOP FIGHTING: The default response when experiencing anxious feelings is to find a way to control or resist this negative emotional state. Remember, “what we resist, persists.” Anxiety enjoys a good fight, and as long as you continue to fight back, anxiety will continue to be a part of your life. It takes two to tango. Our advice — RESOLVE to sit this dance out. Dealing with anxiety involves employing a specific tool set, and actively resisting this emotion is not one of these tools.
2. APPROACH TRIGGERS: Those who suffer from chronic anxiety have a history of avoiding situations which they believe trigger anxious feelings. Someone who is phobic of dogs, being around small crowds, and has a fear of driving, will not be spending their free time having lunch at a public location. Our advice — RESOLVE to get in the car, drive to the location, and eat lunch there as often during each week as possible. Avoidance only serves to strengthen anxiety and fear; frequent exposure to situations that trigger anxious arousal will result in a state of habituation, and the realization that one’s catastrophic predicted outcomes did not occur.
3. LOOK FOR UNCERTAINTY: People who worry tend to predict negative outcomes associated with unexpected events; they do NOT like surprises — even good surprises! Think about why this is true. We’ll give you a hint — there are several support groups available for those who have won millions playing the lottery. Humm…? Seeking certainty in an uncertain world only serves to increase the intensity of worry. Look for, expect and embrace uncertainty when you encounter it. Most people strongly believe it is the content of their worrisome thoughts which creates feelings of anxiety. This way of thinking is not only inaccurate, but also serves to fuel the worry engine. RESOLVE that instead of striving for certainty, move toward increasing your TOLERANCE level when finding yourself in situations which are surrounded in a cloud of uncertainty.
4. DITCH REASSURANCE: You are worried that a blemish on your face may be skin cancer, so you visit your dermatologist over and over again to find out if you do in fact have cancer. Your doctor keeps stating that you do NOT have skin cancer. Although you feel less anxiety following each doctor’s appointment, the next week you schedule additional medical tests. Reassurance seeking has a short “half-life” (around 2 hours), and only serves to strengthen anxiety. Rather than continuing your chronic reassurance-seeking behaviors, RESOLVE to substitute these actions with a new perspective — one of curiosity … “I’m curious what the outcome would be if I did NOT Google a particular medical condition that is making me anxious today?”
5. TOSS THE SAFETY CRUTCHES: When people feel anxious, they tend to reach for their “safety crutches,” i.e., things they do to feel safe and secure … for the moment. Someone who is worried about having a panic attack while driving, may be certain to have medication in their glove compartment, or may drive in the right-hand lane, close to “escape exits.” Although these behaviors are designed to give the person a sense of control, the reality is that these actions only serve to strengthen one’s belief that they cannot handle difficult situations on their own. RESOLVE to toss the safety crutches, and stand up to those unpleasant (not dangerous) feelings of anxious uncertainty.
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit anxietytreatmentinclinevillage.com to learn more.