MENTAL TOUGHNESS FOR ANXIETY
Anxiety - Nothing to fear but fear itself?
Common causes of anxiety include:
We have all suffered from anxiety at some point. Anxiety is that feeling of fear, dread, worry and apprehension, when we perceive that something bad might happen or something that we value is threatened. Anxiety can dramatically limit our lives and restrict our world. If we do not confront our fears we may never overcome them or learn to accept a world that contains uncertainties. Anxiety is a lack of confidence in coping with a perceived threat or low confidence in how safe we generally feel in the world.
Anxiety is a given of existence.
The only certainties in life are death and paradoxically, uncertainty. We are
free to make choices and are responsible for those choices. This in itself is a
source of anxiety as we have to choose. Even not making a choice - is still a
choice. The key is to use our anxiety in a positive way to make authentic choices
that we are happy with and then take action.
Threats to our material safety: For example, having money worries, being in debt and fears of redundancy or unemployment.
Threats to our physical safety: For example, being alone in an unfamiliar neighbourhood at night or our car breaking down on the motorway.
Threats to our social safety: For example, confronting someone about a faulty product, or being disapproved of by others for speaking our minds.
Threats to our self confidence: Including failing at a task or doubting our abilities and competence. For example completing a project at work or taking an exam.
Threats to our self-esteem: For example, giving a presentation, making a speech or attending a performance appraisal at work.
Threats to our self-image: Including how others perceive our physical and personal traits, such as whether we are attractive or intelligent. For example, when we meet people for the first time or enter a crowded room.
The above examples are temporary threats and are referred to as "state anxiety", as after the threat has gone, the anxiety disappears. State anxiety may last a few minutes, for days, weeks and sometimes months. If we know that we are to give a speech, take an exam or attend an interview within a few months, we may feel anxious until that time. If we suddenly get an invite to see the boss about a late report, our heart and stomach may sink; if we get an acceptable extension to the deadline our anxiety will pass. If we have unfinished business such as needing to confront a colleague about their work or lack of personal hygiene then our avoidance will extend our anxiety. What causes us to feel anxious will vary from one person to another, some people may feel anxious about their finances but are fine giving presentations, whereas some people are anxious about what others think of them but have less anxiety regarding dangerous sports and physical danger.
Some people are more predisposed to being anxious and perceive a wide range of situations as threatening; anxiety is part of their inherent character and personality. This predisposition to anxiety is termed "trait anxiety" and is linked to low confidence. If we have trait anxiety we tend to view the world as generally unsafe, believe that bad things are likely to happen and assume the worst in every day situations. For example, we may constantly ask ourselves "what if?" questions and focus on possible dangers such as "What if nobody talks to me?", " What if my partner gets sick?" We may have learned trait anxiety from our early experiences if our carers where overprotective, perfectionist or overly critical. A traumatic experience such as being humiliated, a physical attack, burglary or accident, may make us feel that our world is less safe and cause us to lose our confidence and be more anxious. Our genes may also predispose us to anxiety. However, having trait anxiety doesn't mean that we cannot change.
Phobias are a more specific form of anxiety such as a fear of spiders, dogs or heights. Many people have social anxieties such as a fear of public speaking (one of the most common) and a fear of personal interactions with others or shyness. Phobias can be extremely disruptive and cause difficulties and restrictions to our careers and personal lives.
Anxiety is often the cause of physical, psychological and behavioural stress responses such as panic attacks, nausea, increased heart rate, sweating, irritability, frustration, avoidance, increased smoking and drinking. There is more on "fight or flight" stress responses here.
Anxiety causes us to avoid or escape situations where we feel unpleasant and have little confidence. We may seek escapism through alcohol, smoking or recreational drugs and although these may bring short-term relief and boost our confidence; in the long-term they may add to our problems. In order to avoid anxiety we may avoid situations in our work or personal lives, thereby creating limits on what we can achieve. For example we may avoid work that involves public speaking or being away from home. In our personal lives we may avoid social gatherings or unfamiliar environments.
The methods I employ to treat anxiety are listed below. Of course, the methods used will depend on your individual needs and be agreed by you.
Even though we may know consciously and rationally that our fears are unfounded and that we are in no real danger, our unconscious minds are over-protecting us. Our unconscious minds contain our protective and survival instincts. Using hypnotherapy we can update the unconscious mind so that we can make a rational decision between what is safe or not and increase our confidence. We can use self-hypnosis techniques to rehearse situations we feel are threatening, such as giving a presentation or using public transport seeing ourselves taking action with confidence.
What we fear is stored in our minds as mental images; we can use mental rehearsal techniques as "mental exposure" to our fears, this reduces anxiety and helps us to prepare adaptive responses. For example, rather than picturing an unfriendly and critical audience for our presentation, we can rehearse speaking clearly with confidence and performing competently.
Physical and Mental Relaxation
Anxiety switches on our "fight or flight" stress response; those feelings of nausea accompanied by increased heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, short breathing and confusion. By learning and practising relaxation techniques we can switch on our relaxation response, which is the exact opposite; we can slow down our heart rate to normal, breathe easily, reduce muscle tension and think clearly. When we feel mentally and physically relaxed, we will be more self-assured and act with confidence.
Rational thinking is based on the coaching approaches of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)
Anxiety can interfere with our thinking and limit our confidence, concentration and attention. Conversely our thinking can also cause us to become anxious. For example, we may overestimate or exaggerate the chances that something awful will happen and predict the worst. Further, if we have perfectionist beliefs and are over-critical of ourselves this will also increase our anxiety. Using rational thinking we can dispute thinking that is causing, or adding to our anxiety and keep negatives in perspective. Rational thinking enables us to be more accepting of ourselves and to live with acceptable levels of uncertainty and unpredictability in our world. Should bad things happen we will have more confidence in ourselves that we will cope and survive.
Behavioural disputing is a means of testing whether our thinking is accurate or exaggerated and whether our predictions and assumptions are correct. For example, in situations where we fear disapproval by confronting someone, we can check whether complaining and standing up for our rights is that awful. Confidence comes from successfully confronting our fears; even though there may be some discomfort at first, we will build up our resilience to it and our confidence will increase.
If we do not confront our fears, then we will never learn to overcome them; our avoidance reinforces our fears. However, this does not mean that we have to go for an "all or nothing" or extreme approach. Using graded exposure, we can build up our levels of confidence, gradually. For example, by travelling a few stops on the tube with a friend and then alone or attending social events for a short time and then longer. We can also prepare mentally using exposure imagery to increase our confidence and success. The more experience we have, the more confidence we build. Graded exposure also means that our work together is evidence based and we will know if we are making progress or need to change our approach.
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Mental Toughness Coaching, Training & Hypnotherapy London
10 Harley Street, London, W1G 9PF.
Tel: 020 7467 8548
© Phil Pearl DCH DHP MCH GHR Reg.
Mental Toughness. Resilience. Confidence.
Life Coaching. CBT Coaching. Existential Coaching. Hypnotherapy.