Research into anxiety has found there are specific maintaining factors involved, we can use this when we begin thinking about how to treat anxiety and learn how to break the cycle.
Chronic worries running through their mind – no matter how hard you try not to worry or not think about things these thoughts keep popping into the mind against your will
• Worries about what we value – we usually worry about whatever is important to us in that time in our life and may change as we go through life. For instance; someone may be excessively worried during school about performance, then relationships, then work, then home/security in the family
• Uncontrollable anxiety – having a strong desire to be in control of emotions yet feeling as though anxiety and worry has taken control over them and there is nothing that can stop it
• Physical effect – anxiety causes nervousness, nausea, dry throat, tension, restlessness, heart racing, headaches
• Hating uncertainty – wanting to know what is going to happen in the future, predicting things that may or may not happen, finding the experience of “not knowing” very difficult indeed
• Sleep disturbance – having trouble falling asleep, maintaining sleep because their mind is constantly ticking over. In addition to sleep deprivation, anxiety can make us exhausted and so have a need to take naps during the day.
1. Real vs Hypothetical Worries
Everyone will worry in their lives, it’s normal to worry. However, if you struggle with excessive worry it is often found that you are worrying about things that may or may not happen, future events, or things that may go wrong. These are known as hypothetical worries.
Real or practical worries – things that are happening right now that we can do something about by some problem solving.
Hypothetical worries – thoughts about what may happen and usually are worst case scenario.
E.g – theres a clunky noise on the car.
Real worry “oh there’s a problem with the car, I will have to take it to the garage to get checked
Hypothetical worry – “my car is going to break down, I’ll be stranded, I’ll have to miss work,
when I take it to the garage they will tell me there’s something seriously wrong and it will cost
me a fortune, I will have to put this all on my credit card, I’ll never pay it off”.
How to manage worry
In order to begin to overcome worry the first step is to learn how to recognise when we worry is it real or hypothetical.
Label your worries
Simply labelling these thoughts as “oh there’s all my hypothetical worries again, off I go!” will help interrupt the stream of thoughts and allow you distance yourself from the anxiety a little. Once you can do this, we can learn how to rationalise things a little better.
Worst case scenario
We tend to go into Worst case scenario, but I wonder do these worst case scenarios ever really happen? A good question to ask yourself then is; What’s the most likely thing to happen?
2. What is unhelpful and unhelpful when managing anxiety?
Approach versus avoidant behaviour
The second key area is to recognise all the unhelpful attempts you use when you are worried, all the approach vs avoidance strategies. These may feel like they are helping in the moment however we have found that this actually makes us more exhausted in addition to keeping the problem going as we gradually reduce our tolerance of anxiety so smaller and smaller things will cause us an extreme anxiety response.
It’s a good idea to start recognising “what is it that I want to do to feel better” and if you can slowly reduce the amount of excessive behaviours you carry out. For instance, using the child at a play example, it may be a good start to reduce asking other people .ie other mums and teachers for advice and information. Try and reassure yourself rather than
relying on other people.
Make a list of all the things you tend to do and see what things you can start to reduce a little.
See it as an experiment over the next few weeks to keep it more fun and engaging.
For instance , “I will deliberately not check and re-check my emails before sending”
“I will deliberately not ask my partner if I’ve made the right decision”
The way this will help is it will start to build your tolerance of uncertainty; a key maintaining factor involved in GAD.
Allergy metaphor – if you were allergic to pollen and suffered hay fever it would take the smallest amount of pollen to set off a bad reaction – sneezing, stinging eyes etc. The same is true for GAD sufferers, that it only takes a small amount of uncertainty in our lives to set off our worry allergy.
So for example, someone with GAD will worry a great deal about their plane crashing as there is a small possibility that it “may” happen.
To help stop worry and anxiety then we could either a) increase our certainty of situations i.e know 100% all the time what will happen, or b) increase our ability to tolerate uncertainty. All the behaviours you do when you are anxious are an attempt to increase certainty, by reducing this down you will allow yourself to build your tolerance of uncertainty.
3) The final part involves looking at another maintaining factor which is your beliefs about worry. People who worry tend to have a belief about worry for instance “worry helps me prepare for the worst” or “worry helps me to get things done”.
For this we just need to spend some time questioning the usefulness of worry and whether we can learn to live a life where we can have a more acceptable level of worry rather than excessive worry.
Although you might feel alone in your struggle against anxious moods, the reality is that many people experience these moods either from time to time, or on a more regular basis. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in every 5 experience significantly anxious mood at some time in their life.
Anxiety can effect any kind of person at any stage of their life, whether they are an introvert or an extrovert, socially active or shy, youthful or elderly, male or female, wealthy or poor. Whatever your distinction, you can become anxious.
That means that any person you know is also fair game. So remember, you are not alone.