When butterflies turn to monsters
We have all been anxious at some time in our lives. That anxiety before a big exam, worry before a presentation at work, butterflies in the tummy when facing a new situation. Yet severe anxiety is a monster, it is a demon that is a pervasive sense of dread, something that tells us it will (rather than may) go wrong. There are often strong physical symptoms, a feeling that your heart is racing, a dry mouth, a cold sweat and a tension in your body. There is a sense of loss of control and in some this leads to a panic attack where you become powerless in the face of your anxiety.
Perhaps as we think about these signs and symptoms we can see why anxious people can act in very irrational ways if pushed far enough. Left unchecked the anxiety can become worse and worse till the sufferers life is seriously affected, till the point where they may even be prisoners in their own home.
Anxiety can however be controlled - there are well established ways in which you can get relief and ways in which to control your anxiety. Your GP can often help with medication to control some of your symptoms. This is not to tranquilise you but rather to ease the symptoms while other treatments and practices can help you to feel more like yourself again. One of the things that your GP is most likely to suggest is some sort of talking therapy or counselling.
Many wonder how simply talking about your anxiety has any hope of reducing your fears, of making you better able to cope with your life. In fact the answer is surprisingly simple. The process is about having the space to look at the process of your anxiety. For example often those with severe anxiety will only be able to see the worst outcomes, yet given time and the outside perspective of a counsellor who is really engaged with your fears, you can begin to challenge and change your distorted thinking. Sometimes just the process of saying your fears out loud is enough for you to dispel them for your thinking can change in a moment, when your mind sees another perspective.
There is a story told of a man and his children riding the train and his children are being unruly running all over the carriage. It is annoying the other passengers but he does nothing about his children sitting staring out the window. Another passenger challenges him, “Don’t you think you should do something about your kids”, he says angrily. The man turns and after a pause says, “I’m sorry; I know I should, but we just came from the hospital where their mother died and I am finding it hard”.
As you read that story did you catch your thinking changing in the moment when you got a new perspective and that is some of what a talking therapy can do for you, help you to see those assumptions, challenge that distorted thinking offer yourself some compassion and work toward a position where you have caged the monster within.