Bill Knaus, Ed.D. in Science and Sensibility
How to conquer your anxieties with proven cognitive behavioral techniques
Anxiety is among the worst of feelings; some consider it the worst. If you suffer from anxiety, try these twelve interventions. Use them to feel better and to prevent anxiety from coming back.
1 Anxiety is on a time scale. When you feel beset by fear, the danger is right before you. Anxiety is different. It is an anticipation that something fearsome is about to happen. This can be seconds or months away. You still have time to prepare. Between now and then, do reality checks on your perspective. For example, can you be 100 percent sure of what you predict? If you can’t, why speculate? Here is something else to do. Make plans to combat what you fear. Here is another. Take time to think out what gives you the best chance.
2 Anxiety hinders coping with situations that evoke the feeling. Anxiety can feel so painful that you don’t think you can cope. You feel helpless. You feel vulnerable. You find refuge in any place that you can. Sadly, the relief you get from avoiding what you fear rewards avoidance. To break this vicious cycle, reward yourself for coping. For example, if you enjoy a cup of coffee, reward yourself with a cup after five minutes of working at coping with your most pressing anxiety.
3 Anxiety can mix with real and false alarms. Some events are rationally threatening. Your physician finds a lump that could be cancer. You feel anxious while you wait for the results. If you start catastrophizing about dying from cancer, you piggyback an irrational dread onto a natural concern. Catastrophizing can take this form. “I know I have cancer.” “I’m going to die.” “This is horrible.” “Woe is me.” By catastrophizing, did you eliminate the risk? I don’t think so. A better option is to suspend judgment until you get the facts.
4 Anxious thoughts, feelings, and actions work together. It is often simpler to deal with complicated processes by working on each part separately. Let’s say your anxiety thinking feels most oppressive. You believe you’ll never stop feeling anxious. You feel helpless. Can you nix this “forever anxious” belief? Use the where’s the evidence technique. Reflect and you’ll find you don’t always feel anxious. Maybe you are anxious that your anxiety will keep coming back. The where is the evidence technique gives you cause to pause to think of what you can do to prevent anxiety from coming back. Use the following eight points as an intervention and for prevention.
5 Anxiety is in your thoughts. Exaggerate a threat and you’ll feel like you think. Use this opportunity to think about your thinking. Listen to the words you use when you feel anxious. Are you dramatizing? Do you exaggerate with words like awful? You can dial down this thinking withword softening. For example, can you honestly substitute the word,unpleasant for awful? Here is another example where you exchange phrases. Do you tell yourself you are powerless to cope? Can you honestly substitute the phrase it’s challenging for me to cope for I’m powerless to cope? Practice word softening techniques when you feel anxious, and you can prevent yourself from amplifying your anxious feelings.
6 Anxiety is worse when you fear the feeling. You make yourself anxious over feeling anxious. You believe you can’t control your anxious feelings, and you feel worse. Test three phrases for creating a different perspective and see if this helps: “The feelings are what they are.” “I don’t have to like them.” “I can tolerate what I don’t like.” (Tolerance lessens tensions.)
7 Anxiety affects what you do. Anxiety numbs your drive to thrive, such as making new friends because you are socially anxious. Your curiosity fades. Your ambition withers. You go for what is safe. That is no way to live your life. Use a flip technique to go after what you want. Figure out three corrective steps to take. Push yourself to do them in their logical order. Decide on three more and do them in their order. See if you feel happier and more in control than you did before.
8 Anxiety powerless thinking can flow over to depression. Believe you are powerless to defeat your anxieties, and this thinking raises your chances for depression. Show yourself that you have the power to buck your anxieties and you’ll feel better about yourself and your life. (Anxiety and depression can have other common features, such as self-doubts and rumination. Disrupt one of these linked conditions and you are on your way to fixing a mixed anxiety and depression problem.)
9 Anxiety and procrastination feed resistance to change. Problems that go together have common features. In both anxiety and procrastination, you expect to meet something threatening or uncomfortable. You emotionally resist approaching and fixing the problem. You substitute discomfort dodging for corrective actions. Try a different way. Follow up and face your problem. See if both your anxiety and procrastinate lessens.
10 Anxiety distracts from building a stronger, confident, you. Doubt yourself and you’ll fear that others also will think less well of you. To compensate, you try to be perfect. Since you can’t be perfect, you are likely to feel more self-conscious and worry more. To get past this vicious cycle, approach each new experience as an experiment and not a test of your worth. See your confidence rise. See your social anxieties drop.
11 Anxiety is simple to fix. What is simple isn’t necessarily easy. Knowing what to do and doing it are different. You have to work to change your anxious thoughts. If you want to stop feeling afraid of feeling afraid, you have to work at tolerating feelings you don’t like. Relief from anxiety about fears (public speaking, confrontations, etc.) takes doing what you fear. There is no easier way that I know.
12 Anxiety won’t vanish by magic. If you have a long history of anxiety, you know that there is no magical way to get relief. If there were, you’d have found it. You still have reason to feel optimistic. Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety has strong research support. It’s the gold standard. The techniques are simple. The results are relatively durable. You can educate yourself in their use, and use what you learn.
Anxiety is not funny but humor can help put things in perspective: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” (Attributed to American author and humorist, Mark Twain.)