Anxiety - The unheard message
Anxiety disorders are second only to depression in the rate of diagnosis of mental health problems. Their impact upon the sufferer and those around them is often debilitating and far reaching. Interventions tend to focus upon identifying the stressor(s), enabling a better understanding of your own process of response to these, and then empowering you to manage them in ways that are more acceptable to you. The debilitating experience of anxiety is after all, usually what you want the therapy to assist you with.
Anxiety is usually based upon the fear of an unknown or ‘predicted’ future or consequence. You do not experience anxiety if your assessment of a situation does not conclude that there is a potential for something to become overly challenging for you. When your personal mechanism of managing future possibilities results in your not being able to function in the way you wish, particularly when you were previously able to, your struggle is something that may benefit from a therapeutic intervention
People generally like to understand the world as rational and predictable. Thus, we might decide that we are fearful of water, but given a frightening experience in the swimming pool when we were young, it is understandable and therefore accepted such that you are often able to manage it. Likewise, a car accident may make us frightened of getting in a vehicle, or a mugging in an underpass results in us avoiding places without a pre-identified ‘escape route’. Particularly frightening though, is when your fear apparently comes from nowhere in the form of panic attacks. The physical symptoms associated with these may well lead you to your GP where, following a series of tests you are informed that your health is good and there is no physiological reason for what you are experiencing. Such irrational fear can be even more difficult for you to understand or accept than the previous examples, where at least you will usually understand why you feel so out of control.
A further, and equally important factor that may often be overlooked however, is ‘what does this experience say to, and about me?’ This is the unheard message. Immersed in a distressing experience, you just want it to stop, to go away so that you feel ‘normal’ again. When the anxious feelings do disappear, you may be left feeling inadequate, a failure or not as good as everybody else. Clearly these ongoing, eventually internalised thoughts carry a potential to impact your self-esteem, confidence and willingness to try or take risks. Such beliefs are then constantly carried by you, just waiting to fan the flames of your anxiety the next time you experience such an episode. Effectively, the awareness of your perceived shortcomings makes you vulnerable to anxiety, and any subsequent negative experiences of anxiety reinforce those same, now accepted shortcomings in a negative and self-fulfilling cycle.
If you suffer from any form of debilitating anxiety, remember to give some thought when you are feeling OK to ‘what does my anxiety say about me?’ Often you will find that it is not just a thing or experience that you are fearful of, but the beliefs about your personal identity that your ‘anxiety’ illuminates.
Developing an awareness of the unheard message will increase the likelihood that your anxiety is effectively ‘conquered’, such that you are again able to move toward living your life in the way you wish.
- You are not your anxiety. This is just one aspect of you, and only some of the time.
- Listen for the unheard message and become aware of all the real evidence that challenges those limiting beliefs.
- Be kind to yourself. You are not a failure. You are engaged in a struggle shared by many and it can be conquered.
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About Peter Fallon
Having served as an engineer in the Royal Navy for fourteen years, I went on to train initially as a social worker, and then as a psychotherapist. This has resulted in extensive experience of working with distressed adults in both the statutory and private sectors. UKCP reg, with Masters degrees from both Southampton and Sheffield Universities.