You are familiar with feeling anxious at various times. ‘Feeling anxious’ can be described as having a queasy stomach, heart flutter, dizziness, uneasiness or breathlessness. Your spontaneous response will be to ignore these signs or have “a plan” to get rid of the “funny” feeling, like going on social media. You will not confide in your friends or your loved ones, as you consider these symptoms as too trivial to even pay heed. At the most, you might take some over-the-counter medication to help with this feeling of discomfort.
The experience of having anxiety is unique for each one of us. The intensity, frequency and duration of these symptoms depend on each individual’s coping skills. For some of us, this feeling lasts momentarily, and we can ignore it. But, at times having intense discomfort becomes overwhelming, which creates more anxiety. We may seek medical help to rule out any serious physical health problems.
Here, I will be using two vignettes of how our coping skills can stop the downward spiralling of our anxiety.
For the young athlete, they may resume their hockey practice after feeling nauseous. Very soon, this athlete may even forget that they are feeling unwell. In the young athlete’s case, they “forget” about their queasy stomach by doing intense physical activity as they have immediate goals of doing their best for their team. It leads to a chain of positive behaviours, as the athlete can minimize the impact of having a queasy stomach. The triggers which may have led to them being anxious very soon diminish in intensity and do not have any “control” over their wellbeing.
In this case, the athlete has a plan which helps them focus and take immediate remedial measures to control their anxiety.
The second vignette is of a timid individual who starts eating chocolates to fight off their “queasy” feeling in their stomach. They now feel sad, as they have gained extra pounds. Very soon, this person starts avoiding their friends as they think that all will make fun of her; starts isolating themselves. They break off with their partner and are unable to carry out their regular duties. This individual can be diagnosed with having a social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety disorder can be understood as excessive fear or anxiety of being in social situations, where the affected individual feels that they will be judged negatively by others.
In this case, the individual is rapidly spiralling downwards as they have started isolating themselves, lost their support system and have physical health problems.
Avoidant behaviours are self-rewarding, as they do alleviate anxiety momentarily. We all know of one person who misses out on regular health checkups. These individuals can be health care professionals, police officers or security guards. These men and women are willing to do their best to save other people’s lives but fail to consult their doctor. They give their reasons as being “afraid” to face the reality of their poor health.
Anxiety is a conditioned or learned response to a previously neutral stimulus. In these scenarios, we see the various coping skills individuals use to feel better. The problem arises when individuals use maladaptive measures to resolve their anxiety, which very soon starts affecting their overall functioning and interpersonal relationships; affects their self-efficacy or the individual’s belief in self.
In cognitive behaviour therapy, an activity schedule is when the psychologist and the client work together to assign homework assignments like taking short walks at the individual’s leisure. If the person has physical mobility issues, they can be asked to prepare a favourite dish. Again, any failure in not doing the homework can be a learning process for the client.
Cognitive reframing will help you to identify and accept your physiological reactions to stress. Gradually, you will be able to make a checklist of the triggers which lead to these symptoms. So, as soon as you feel sick to your stomach or feel overwhelmed, you can start deep breathing, meditation, or any physical exercise. You can also have an escape plan to leave a situation before your anxiety accelerates out of control.
“Living well with anxiety” will be your new mantra.
This article adapted from my article published in the Telegraph-Journal.
The picture is from Mind Matters A.S. Consulting;
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and should not substitute for consultations with a qualified professional.