Skills for overcoming anxiety

Anxiety is both a mental and physical state of expecting a negative outcome. Mentally, it is characterised by increased apprehension and intense worry. Physically, it activates a multitude of unpleasant, physical bodily responses to an unknown danger – whether real or imagined.

The cognitive (thoughts) of dread are in anticipation of a bad outcome. The physical sensations such as shaking and a racing heart are designed to give us discomfort. The basic function of Anxiety is to capture our attention and stimulate us to make the necessary changes to protect ourselves or what we care about. Occasional bouts of anxiety are natural and can even be productive. However, anxiety is also evoked by a particularly unhelpful way of thinking, that eventually becomes a habit.

Skills for overcoming anxiety

Learn to tolerate uncertainty.

Studies have shown that an intolerance of uncertainty is a major factor in evoking anxiety. People who believe that they can’t tolerate uncertainty often avoid situations and procrastinate. They may constantly ask for reassurance and check excessively. They will rarely ask others to carry out tasks for them, in the false belief that they need to be in control.

All bar the fact that at some point, all of us will die. Nothing else in our lives is certain. Through learning to understand that not having certainty about something, might not always be easy but it is of course tolerable. At worst it is just uncomfortab

Rumination is being repeatedly bothered by a worrisome thought. When people ruminate, their problem-solving capacity decreases.

Therefore, the best thing to do when you are ruminating is to accept that you are having thoughts no matter what they are. Learn to recognise that your thoughts might not be true/accurate. Don’t try and block them out but instead allow them to pass in their own time. Trying to block out distressing thoughts will just cause increased intensity and intrusions of the thoughts you’re trying not to have.

If you can learn to recognise when you’re ruminating, you can use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques and mindfulness techniques to help you stop ruminating.

The ability to recognise distorted thoughts

Thought distortions include – making excessively negative predictions. Catastrophising, using statements such as “it would so terrible! or “I just couldn’t cope!”. Demanding outcomes “shoulds” and “musts” Making judgements of yourself or others that are black and white rather than shades of grey.

The key is recognising thought distortions is to ask yourself (and say out loud) exactly what you are thinking when you feel distressed. If it is difficult to articulate or when you speak then they are likely to be thought distortions.

Accepting of yourself and your imperfections

Criticising yourself harshly when you make a mistake or when one of your personal imperfections shows up is likely to lead to rumination and avoidance coping. Research has shown that talking to yourself kindly not only helps you feel better—it also increases your motivation for self-improvement.

Practice mindfulness techniques.

Mindfulness techniques can help reduce anxiety and increase willpower. Practicing mindfulness will help you stop avoiding. Help you make better choices even when you’re feeling anxious and help you ruminate less. T

Try this 10-minute mindfulness exercise to get started.

We often start to learn mindfulness skills by focusing our attention on our breath, our bodies, the environment or activities.  Being mindful of emotions helps us to stand back from the emotion, understand it, not to fear it or struggle against it, and it can have the added benefit of reducing the distress (although the aim is to learn to accept the experience, rather than lessen the distress).

Set aside a few minutes when you can be quiet and won’t be disturbed.

Start by bringing your attention to your breath.  Notice your breathing as you slowly breathe in and out, perhaps imagining you have a balloon in your belly, noticing the sensations in your belly as the balloon inflates on the in-breath, and deflates on the out-breath.

Notice the feelings and what they feel like.

Name The Emotion

What is it?

What word best describes what you are feeling?

Angry, sad, anxious, annoyed, irritated, frustrated…?

Accept The Emotion

It’s a normal body reaction.  It can be helpful to understand how it came about – what it was, the set of circumstances that contributed to you feeling this way. 

Don’t condone or judge the emotion.  Simply let it move through you without resisting it, struggling against it, or encouraging it.

Investigate The Emotion

How intensely do you feel it? On a scale of 1-10?

How are you breathing?

What are you feeling in your body?  Where do you feel it? 

What’s your posture like when you feel this emotion? 

Where do you notice muscle tension? 

What’s your facial expression?  What does your face feel like? 

Is anything changing?  (nature, position, intensity)

What thoughts or judgements do you notice? Just notice those thoughts.  Allow them to come into your mind and allow them to pass.  Any time you find that you’re engaging with the thoughts, judging them or yourself for having them or struggling against them. Just notice this and bring your attention back to your breathing and to the physical sensations of the emotion.

If any other emotions come up, if anything changes, simply notice and repeat the steps above.  Just notice that the feelings change over time.

As you become more practiced, you can use this mindfulness technique when you feel more intense emotions.

If you would like some professional help in overcoming anxiety then contact us at CBT and Counselling Kent today. Request an appointment