(This is part 2 of a series on how our minds work when we experience anxiety. You can view part 1 here)
Some people feel medium and even high levels of anxiety all the time…
Which means they are ALWAYS in the state of looking for a threat to fix. Remember that is what anxiety is? “Something is wrong, find it and fix it…”
So the soul is in a constant state of being SOOO sure that there is a threat – danger is approaching – but it cant find anything… but the body is still feeling the anxiety, so it is certain there must be a threat (or the anxiety would not be there).
At lower levels, this is some form of an anxiety disorder in which a person is, at a low level, always on the look-out for a threat. Their soul literally finds some relief in coming across an reason for the anxiety! Make sense?
Yes, it is the cart before the horse, but any horse might explain why the cart is present! Feel that headache? It must be brain cancer. Can’t see the kids? They must have been kidnapped! Do you immediately jump to the worst possible outcome? You probably have at least a low-level anxiety issue.
Again, the pressure for this situation becomes how to explain the anxiety!
So, in the most serious cases – OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), the person feels strong imminent threats everywhere – no matter how absurd, they feel them – and then they are obsessively looking for a way to fix the perceived possible threat.
Anxiety’s thought processTypical anxiety should cycle like this:
I feel the anxiety setting on.
There isn’t anything obvious. No threat. False alarm.
Anxiety begins to fade… slowly, in case something really is there.
But the disorder or dysfunction:
I feel anxiety
There isn’t any threat.
The feeling doesn’t fade at all.
Why? There must be a reason…
I still don’t see a reason, but the pencils on my desk aren’t straight…
It can’t be the pencils, but I didn’t notice them.
You know, if I don’t fix the pencils, my entire life could swing out of order too…
Someone near me could get sick or die…
I bet it is the pencils, because I am feeling more anxiety than ever…
I am really concerned about the pencils now, so I better change them.
I change the pencils. There is an immediate change in THE ANXIETY (notice there was never actually a threat at all. The threat was finally just attributed to something).
I feel anxiety
Maybe I ran over someone and that is why I am feeling this.
I don’t remember running over someone, but then why am I thinking about it?
I bet I ran over someone and that is why I am feeling all this anxiety.
I better go check.
Ok, I feel better, I didn’t find a body of anyone I ran over.
But I am starting to feel anxious again –
What if I ran over someone for real when I went back to check?
I am really anxious about it, so I better check!
Why running away does not work
It is deeply ingrained in our genes to make anxious feelings go away. When things are working the way they are supposed to, you can see why it is so vital! There is a threat and we MUST NOT allow our attention to be moved on to something else until we uncover and deal with it. Life may depend on it!
However, when anxiety feelings are broken, the compulsion to make them go away is no less powerful. I suspect that most drug use, much of pornography usage, and virtually all social drinking, is nothing more than the medicating of low to high levels of anxiety. Certainly virtually all Marijuana usage is.
We want the anxiety to go away. If it won’t, there is a strong drive in us to do whatever we need to make it go away.
Fortunately, there are some key ways to deal with anxiety when we feel it (when we suspect we don’t need to be – remember, if you are danger, you NEED anxiety!)…
In dealing with anxiety, there are some simple keys:
The most important one is this: giving in to anxiety in order to make it go away will make it worse over time. Remember going off of a high dive the first time? If you climbed back down, then it became harder the next time. The anxiety was stronger – you had fed it. If you faced and felt it, and jumped, then the next time was easier. You have faced it and were fine… and it lost some power
Face anxieties whenever there is no real threat.
Toss the pencils onto the floor and leave. Will you feel awful all of the way home? Yes. Will you feel anxious and ill? Probably. However, in an hour or less, you will probably feel almost better… and your body will have learned that leaving the pencils out didn’t cause a catastrophe.
Other basics, like learning to breathe – long slow steady breaths with your lips pursed out like in a kiss – are best. Any breathing is good, but this kind of intentional breathing has been effective anti-anxiety for thousands of years.
Also, exercise is good for dealing well with anxiety. Working too – physical labor. Obviously, these two also engage the body and allow it to come down from and use up the energy created in anxiety. For many of the same reasons, healthy sexual interaction, playing, and laughing also have many of the same effects. Further all of these also release chemicals that are the “anti-dotes” to the chemicals connected to anxiety.
Sometimes distractions (aside from those above) for the mind as well can help – reading, especially good fiction, is one. Obviously, anxiety producing books might not be the best choice, but a gripping tale can take our minds off of the perceived, if imaginary, threats.Movies, television, and video games can also be distractions, but also I believe there may be a connection between idle activities and heightened anxiety… especially anxiety based media. I think this is part of why after watching a show or playing a video game, we often feel tense, irritable, and impatient. There has been ample evidence that engaging in these kinds of media right before trying to sleep is not a good idea, so I would think they might not be the best choice…So read a book.
Prayer has also been shown to be a general anti-anxiety. Talking to a great God can take our focus from the pinpricks of worry – as well as hand over our cares to Him, since He cares for us. So, prayer is effective in multiple ways in dealing with anxiety. So is journaling. Writing down the racing thoughts, or the thing we are anxious about making sure we remember, can solve a lot of our anxieties!
Calming traditions can help too. For many, sipping coffee (be aware that too much caffeine can cause anxiety and is probably one of the main causes of anxiety that could be dealt with easily)… anyway, sipping coffee, sitting at the table, reading the paper or The Bible, etc. can be a very de-stressing activity done every day. Consider how you can take time to be still, since I am confident that except in the most severe cases, our lack of stillness is a main cause of anxiety.
However, in the very serious cases, more help may be needed.
There are good books out on anxiety, and one that delves into the habits and patterns that develop is Brain Lock.
Further, talk-therapies, like individual counseling can be great tools for dealing with anxiety. If you are here and need to talk through things, I recommend the counselors who work in my office, all of whom are equipped to help with anxiety issues.
Ready to Talk? So Are We.
You’re not alone and we would love to join you as you take steps toward a stronger, healthier future.
I believe we all need a safe place to explore the issues that may be preventing us from experiencing a full and satisfying life. My greatest reward as a therapist is helping my clients examine ways to make the changes in their lives that will allow them to look forward to the future with hope. I am a bilingual (Spanish-English) LPC.