Anxiety and panic attacks, irrational fears and phobias, OCD and depression – all of these problems
involve heightened anxiety. In overcoming them, the goal is not to get rid of all anxiety completely for to get anxious is to be human. It's
an instictual response, evolved over millions of years, that helps to keep us away from danger and prevent us from getting hurt.
To overcome these problems we need to understand why we have too much anxiety – why our self-protective instinct (anxiety) is
'kicking in' to protect us when we don't need it, when there is no threat or danger.
This knowledge changes the whole problem and allows us tackle it in a different way.
It is possible to experience anxiety without it leading to panic, obsessions, compulsions or despair; to experience it and
yet still be calm.
In fact many people do experience anxiety like this frequently (eg. at job interviews, when dating, in performance situations, during
sports and social occasions). They may feel shaky on the inside but relatively calm on the outside, this is normal, this is part of anxiety, this is how it feels.
On a popular TV quiz show, where the contestants answer questions and can
double their winnings up to a million, the quizmaster has
said to many contestants, words to the effect: "You look remarkably calm".
In nearly every instance the reply has been the same: "On the outside, yes, but
inside I'm shaking like a leaf".
When we have anxiety and panic problems, phobias, OCD or depression we believe that to have any anxiety is not
right and we start to associate it the first signs of it with something being wrong with us... this is what makes it so strong.
If ten thousand people say you are good and you feel bad about yourself... you will believe you are bad. Conversely if ten thousand people
say you are bad and you feel good about yourself... you will believe that you are good. Our reality is shaped by what we feel and
A man found an eagle's egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet
hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle
did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He
scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled and would
thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air. Years passed and the eagle
grew very old.
One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided
in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat
of its strong golden wings.The eagle looked up in awe. "Who's that?" he asked.
"That's the eagle, the king of the birds," said his neighbour. "He belongs to the
sky. We belong to the earth – we're chickens." So the eagle lived and died a
chicken, for that's what he thought he was.
To change beliefs, we have to understand how and why they developed. We have to understand our experiences, the
people involved and more importantly, the conclusions we drew about our role in them, for it's not the experiences themselves that do the
lasting damage, it's what we make of them. We have to understand how we learnt to think and behave because of our experiences. Actually, we
have to realise how they made us feel.
Anxiety Problems, Disorders and Depression
We all work the same way...
Ranging from shyness and low self-esteem to anxiety disorders and depression, each anxiety problem is unique to the individual. Expressions of social phobia vary
from person to person just as those of agoraphobia vary from panic disorder and GAD varies from OCD.
However, as unique to the individual these problems are and as different to each other they are, these problems develop for similar reasons and strengthen in a similar
way, a manner which reflects the way our mind and body works.
We are all different and yet, in one sense, we are all the same. We all have similar body structures and similar mind structures, Everyone has
the same five senses and we receive and process information through these senses and structures in a similar manner.
Therefore, it is not surprising that we all tend to deal with certain situations in roughly the same way. Persistent, regular negative life
experiences can result in anxiety disorders or depression for anyone.
Whatever the actual problem, be it excessive anxiety or panic, obsessions and compulsions, irrational fears and phobias or unremitting
despair, these problems work in basically the same way and reflect the ways that our mind and body have evolved to deal with 'bad'
Given your genetic make up, your past experiences, the knowledge you had in the past and the knowledge you
have now, your mind and body are working perfectly. However they are not working appropriately.
The Role of Insight and Behaviour
Insight and understanding are essential to overcoming anxiety problems. Any force over which we have little understanding and even less
control will always hold power over us, for it is unpredictable and could harm us and as such remains frightening.
We have to understand the problem (how it developed and why it effects us the way it does) to such an extent that we can give up the
never-ending search for reasons and answers (accept it). Only then is it possible to reduce the automatic negative thoughts, feelings
and behaviours and develop more positive ones.
However, from mild shyness throught to severe depression, something else is equally important... changing behaviour. We can't just
think our way out of these problems, to change behaviour we have to do the behaviour (it isn't possible to learn to ride a bike just by
thinking about it!)
Successfully overcoming anxiety problems requires BOTH insight and behaviour change.
SO... to overcome anxiety problems successfully, we have to:-
1. Understand anxiety and how it works. Appreciate how normal it is and that everybody gets anxious. 2. Realise that when we get anxious, our mind and body are working perfectly. The problem is not the anxiety, per se,
but what is causing it. 3. Accept that we are anxious because of our life experiences and NOT because there is something wrong
with us (See: The Power of Acceptance).
As the problem starts to fade through acceptance...
4. Develop new, more positive thoughts and beliefs. 5. Practise new, more positive behaviours.
Overcoming anxiety-related problems takes a while (just as it does to go from being totally unfit to super fit), but...