With an anxiety problem, you can't get over it without exposure. That is, allowing yourself to experience what it is you are frightened of. The more you habituate yourself to the situation you are frightened of, the quicker it begins to become easier. The level of anxiety that we are feeling due to adrenaline shooting round the body feels very uncomfortable, but it isn't actually going to hurt us. The more we experience this, the easier it becomes. The more we isolate and withdraw, the harder it becomes to do anything. More and more things become difficult and smaller acts become harder to do until you are virtually a prisoner in your own life.
We have to have an amount of anxiety - it's good for us, it protects us, it's normal. If we didn't have anxiety we would be run over the first time we crossed the road, because we wouldn't bother to get out of the way of the next car!
It's perfectly normal to have anxiety. It's when it's overwhelming and exaggerated that it gets harder. We begin to see danger when it doesn't actually exist. We look at anxiety in a negative way, fearing it and hating the thoughts and feelings round it, wishing it wasn't there. We can begin to look at anxiety in a positive way, not fearing it, or wanting to lose it, but working with it and seeing what it does with curiosity. The way we talk about it to ourselves or others can become more positive. Instead of saying, "I'm terrified of going to the shops" or "I can't bear the thought of meeting up with friends tonight" you could say, "I'm really looking forward to going out" or "I'm excited at meeting my friends".
We can begin to work out our reasons for expecting anxiety and translate it into interest or excitement. It's possible to see danger everywhere and overestimate it. We also feel we aren't going to be able to cope so the two together create more anxiety than is required. We just can't shake it off and the thoughts and feelings together produce an array of physical symptoms such as dizziness, feeling sick, heart beating fast etc. These symptoms create more worry that we are going mad or are going to die, which in turn causes more anxiety which encourages us to avoid or isolate. This is a vicious cycle that continues the anxiety. The more we try to do these things, the more it works. Start off doing it slowly, measure it, time it, make it achievable and fun. Keep a record of what you are doing. Praise yourself. Being kind to yourself is important. Be proud of what you are doing.
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About Jo Mcculloch
I'm Jo McCulloch and I work as a therapeutic counsellor. I practise an integrative method which includes a humanistic approach, psychodynamic work and CBT. I have a private practice in my own home and work with anxiety difficulties, depression, lack of self-esteem, relationship difficulties, bereavement, abuse etc. I am Accredited member of BACP.