Living with anxiety is kind of like being on a rollercoaster blindfolded. You know those moments of adrenalin fuelled panic are coming, you just don’t know when, how bad they will be or how long they will last.
It’s something that a little under 10% of the UK population is forced to cope with on a day to day basis. That’s 6 million people who can feel, at any given moment, totally out of control of their emotions.
A feeling of anxiety itself is a natural part of our evolution. It’s that survival instinct that tells us something is wrong and it’s that intuition that allowed humanity to survive its turbulent early beginnings.
A hundred thousand years on and we’re no longer hunted by apex predators or forced to hunt for food and pelts to survive, but our core emotions haven’t changed.
The same cannot be said for the world around us. Humanity’s rate of innovation during last 100 years eclipses the 7,000 years before it and in many ways we are all struggling to keep up.
For all the technology and sophistication in our lives, our core emotions have remained utterly unchanged meaning we still feel those ‘fight or flight’ reactions to something as simple as an unpleasant email from an authority figure.
The ‘threats’ we perceive have become more benign but increased exponentially.
Everyone who suffers from severe anxiety will have different triggers. For some it’s becoming unwell. For others it can be low self-worth and public settings. The triggers are all but endless.
As are the causes.
Whilst you cannot be ‘cured’ of an anxiety disorder, there are ways and means of reducing the frequency and severity of anxiety attacks to your condition is managed.
One effective way of challenging anxious thoughts is to reflect on them. There is an important difference between reflection and internalisation. Internalising a problem puts you at the centre of it, reinforcing the view that you are the problem.
Reflection puts the focus of the anxiety front and centre, removing ‘you’ from the situation and gives the logical part of your brain the chance to come up for air.
By breaking down the anxiety you will be in a position to reflect on it. The easiest way to do this is to write down it down.
What’s On Your Mind?
When you experience intense anxiety write down what triggered it, the emotions you’re feeling and what the unhelpful thoughts are going through your mind.
Go into as much detail as you feel you need to as the better you understand the anxiety the better you can work through it.
How Likely Is It?
Write down all the ‘facts’ that support the unhelpful thought or feeling.
By doing this you get to write down all your worst fears and your logical self will naturally start to critique each of these.
Next write down all the facts that provide evidence against the unhelpful thought or feeling.
The Alternative View
Using the evidence against the unhelpful thought you should be able to build a more reasonable, realistic and balanced perspective on what you initially felt.
You can then use this to challenge the anxious thought and change it to a positive.
Once you’ve written down the evidence against the unhelpful thoughts reassess your mood and anxiety levels.
Whilst it may not eliminate the anxiety altogether it will have hopefully reduced it. If that’s not the case then it’s worth repeating the steps again to really delve into greater detail.
Be really honest with yourself not only about evidence for your anxieties but the evidence against too.
The more you repeat this process the easier it will be to reflect on the anxiety and challenge the thoughts you are having.
Practise enough and you won’t even need to write it down any more, you will be able to recognise the unhelpful thought, challenge it and move forward.
Whilst not a magic wand – because nothing is – it’s a tool from your tool box that you can carry with you wherever you go.
All you need is a notebook and a pen or if you’re technically minded a spreadsheet app on your phone.
Encompass Dorset is a registered charity working to improve the lives of people living with learning disabilities and enduring mental health issues.
Learn more about Encompass and the work we do by clicking here.