Anxiety as a Process

May 01, 2022

Do you feel like your mind is racing? Do you have difficulties concentrating? Are you finding it hard to slow down? Are your thoughts incessantly going around in your brain? Are you feeling tight in your stomach at the thought of something that hasn’t happened yet? Do you wake up in the middle of the night, and find it hard to go back to sleep? Do you feel uneasy, out of the blue, for now apparent reason? Do you feel apprehensive or powerless? Do you feel like something bad is about to happen? Do you feel like you can’t relax, to “smell the roses”?

Well, these are all symptoms of Anxiety, a condition that affects 1 in 4 Australians at some stage in our life.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural body response to a threat, or a perceived threat. It is associated with our fight/flight autonomic response system, which allows us to take quick action to evade a dangerous situation. This causes an instant release of adrenaline into your blood stream, which results in sudden increase in heart rate, a rush of blood to your arms and legs, rapid breathing, narrow eyes-focus, a burst of energy and a sense of danger.

This response is very natural, when a ‘real’ threat appears. Like when you have to jump out of the way of an out-of-control car. Or when you jump sideways or you run, a second after almost stepping on a snake.

But this heightened state of arousal in the body is supposed to go away, and allow the body to return to a normal, calm, state, once the danger has passed. However, a large percentage of people maintain this heightened state of arousal long after the threat has passed, and are even constantly in this state, all the time. Prolonged periods of stress can have significant and potentially
irreversible consequences for our long-term health.

There is some evidence that indicates that anxiety may cause: digestive issues, skin conditions, sleep disturbances and even more serious issues like neurological conditions and cancer. It can, also, lead to taking on unhelpful coping-behaviours, such as smoking, excessive drinking or other addictive or obsessive behaviours.

It is important to recognize the symptoms of anxiety, and to take action to bring balance, calm and clarity into your system.

Strategic Psychotherapy is a solution-oriented form of therapy which is focused on, not just making you ‘feel’ better, but on helping you ‘do’ better: When you are doing better, you are feeling better!

What is Anxiety?

The common types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder: worrying about a range of ordinary issues such as health, work or finances.
  • Social phobia or social anxiety disorder: A disorder that causes people to avoid social or performance situations for fear of being embarrassed, judged or rejected.
  • Panic disorder: Regular panic attacks, which are sudden intense episodes of irrational fear, shortness of breath, dizziness and other physical symptoms.
  • Agoraphobia: Avoiding certain situations due to fear of having a panic attack (agoraphobia is often associated with panic disorder).
  • Specific phobias: Irrational fears that only apply to one particular situation, such as a fear of animals, insects, places, activities or people. For example, claustrophobia is a specific fear of enclosed or confined spaces.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Unwanted thoughts and impulses (obsessions), causing repetitive, routine behaviours (compulsions) as a way of coping with anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): When feelings of fear or avoidance do not fade after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic life event. It involves upsetting memories, flashbacks, nightmares and difficulties sleeping.
What causes Anxiety?

It is not clearly understood what causes Anxiety, and how much of it we inherit in our genes, how much of it is learnt and how much is because of our environment.

Risk factors for anxiety include:

  • family history — you are more likely to develop anxiety if you have a family history of anxiety or other mental health issues (though it doesn’t mean if there are mental health issues in your family you will develop anxiety)
  • having another mental health issue
  • ongoing stressful situations, such as job issues or changes, unstable accommodation, family or relationship breakdown and grief
  • any kind of abuse (such as physical, sexual, verbal or domestic abuse)
  • life-threatening events
  • pregnancy and childbirth
  • physical health issues such as asthmadiabetesheart disease or hormonal issues, such as thyroid problems
  • substance use — particularly cannabis, amphetamines, alcohol and sedatives — or withdrawing from drugs and alcohol
  • consuming caffeine, as well as some non-prescription and herbal medicines
  • having a certain personality type, such as being a perfectionist, having low self-esteem or needing to be in control

Everyone is different and often a combination of factors contributes to developing an anxiety disorder.

Treatments for Anxiety

Which anxiety treatments will work for you depends on you, what type of anxiety disorder you have, and how severe it is. Mild anxiety may be helped by making lifestyle changes such as regular physical exercise, whereas more severe cases may require more complex interventions, such as seeing a therapist, a doctor or a specialist.

The key to understanding Anxiety is to understand that anxiety is not a ‘thing’, it is a ‘process’! It is not something that you are, it is something that you ‘run’! You ‘run’ anxiety, because you base your mental processes on a number of cognitive distortions*, which have the same outcome – the symptoms of anxiety – in every person, regardless of their unique set of circumstances.

Basically, every person that runs anxiety tends to:

  • over-analyse things (For example, people feel that the more they think about something the more they can, somehow, control it. However, ‘thinking about it’ is not ‘doing something about it’.)
  • have a negative future orientation, to catastrophise into the future, and assume that things are likely to go wrong rather than well;
  • intolerant of ambiguities, to be uncomfortable with the uncertainties of life
  • be internally-oriented, to spend a lot of time in their own head, ruminating, not able to let go of their thoughts
  • rely on their feelings as an indicator of what is ‘real’. (For example, they say “I feel it, so it must be real/true”.)
  • be avoidant, to adopt behaviour and actions that help them escape from their internal conflict;
  • find it hard to compartmentalize, to ‘park’ their thoughts and feelings, to let go
  • be perfectionistic, to expect a lot from themselves, to be quite hard and critical of themselves
  • have a high need for control of their life (because they feel not in control of their life);
  • put others first, to take responsibility for the wellbeing of others

In strategic psychotherapy, we pull apart each of these cognitive distortions, so that you have a chance to replace them with more adequate and realistic responses for the situations that you find yourself in.

In clinical hypnosis, you are guided into a state of trance, through which you will be able to connect with your own internal resources. This will allow you to see a different perspective of the situation, and to choose better ways of dealing with that situation.

It is important that you do your research, and that you find an experienced accredited clinical hypnotherapist to help you on your journey.

(* Cognitive distortions are automatic negative and, to a great extent, illogical thoughts. A person might say “If that happens, I will not be able to cope with it”. This is an example of a cognitive distortion called “catastrophising”, in which the person is projecting into the future an exaggerated and, to a significant extent, illogical outcome, as though it is perfectly logical to arrive at that conclusion. Basically, the person overestimates the level of risk, and underestimates their personal resources.)

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