Anxiety can bring on the thought that nothing is going to get better and you’ll need to learn ways to manage anxiety. It can make it seem like the night will never end, especially when you can’t sleep. Or that nothing is going to change, especially if things haven’t been going your way. Anxiety can be an uneasy feeling in your chest or your stomach. It can be unhealthy thoughts in your mind. It can be tightness in your chest. Anxiety comes in many shapes and sizes, depending on the person. How does your anxiety manifest in you?
The real root of anxiety has to do with thinking patterns and belief systems. People go through life and have experiences and those experiences help shape thoughts and beliefs. If you grew up in a household where your parent’s belief system was that dangerous things happen to people, you probably took on the belief system that the world is dangerous, especially if something dangerous (or dangerous enough) happened to you when you were younger. It would look something like this: Your parents warned you how dangerous the monkey bars are. You decide to go on them anyways because you’re a kid and sometimes kids don’t do what their parents tell them to do. You slip on the monkey bars and bust your lip. You probably feel pretty scared about your lip and now you start to see the monkey bars as dangerous. And what also begins to happen is you start seeing many parts of the world as scary, not just the monkey bars. You continue to live your life through a lens that the world is a scary place.
When you live your life as though the world is scary, then everything tends to be scary. One of the ways to tell that you have a belief system that the world is something to be feared is the presence of catastrophizing in your life, assuming the worst in a situation or making something out to be worse than it really presents. Here’s an example of what catastrophizing looks like: Your alarm doesn’t go off in the morning and you are going to be late for work. You start to feel anxious in your stomach as your mind goes on to tell you that you are going to get fired for this. Your mind tells you this automatically, even though you are rarely late and you received a positive annual evaluation. It’s the thought that whatever is about to happen is going to be huge and it isn’t going to be good. Other examples of catastrophizing might include thinking you are going to be broke when you have to take money from savings, assuming your significant other is cheating on you if they don’t answer their phone or expecting to crash on a plane on the way to your vacation, even though statistically you are more likely to be hurt in the car on the way to the airport.
Another prevalent thinking pattern that can show up is black or white thinking. It’s where a person only sees things in terms of yes or no, black or white, on or off. This thinking does not allow for any gray area or the possibility that two things might both be correct. Sometimes things can be black and white. Imagine you are in a relationship and you get into a fight. A fight for someone who sees the world as dangerous will see a fight as something very bad or wrong. They will be worried about fighting and how it will affect the relationship. They might get really anxious thinking about having to talk to their significant other about their wants or needs because it may lead to a fight. So they go into all or nothing thinking. They assume that if they express their needs that the fight will lead to a negative outcome, instead of seeing a fight as a fight and something that can occur and can be resolved without any real danger. The danger that a fight might signal the end of a relationship is only a form of black and white thinking. What many people do then is nothing at all and they sit with the anxiety, because it feels better to deal with the anxiety then risk that something major and scary might come along. This is a prime example of why people don’t take control of their lives to make changes, doing just that is scary in and of itself.
So what do you do if you want to feel less anxious in your life? The answer is to change your thinking patterns and belief systems. Start to see situations as they really are. Begin to think in terms of gray. Challenge and change that belief system that is no longer working for you. It takes work to change unhealthy to healthy, but in the end you will feel a relief of anxiety.
We’ll pick back up on the belief system that the world is dangerous. That is the core belief system a person may have. In order to challenge and change it, you need to begin to look at the world with a different frame of reference. You need to look for ways in which the world is indeed safe. You will need to look for it high and low, and in every area of your life. Look for ways you are safe at home and at work. Ways you have been safe over the years, even in times of stress or danger. Look for ways your life can become safer. Become motivated to change any of the ways you can make their world a safer place to live in. For instance, if you feel unsafe at night because of the neighborhood you live in, consider moving to somewhere more safe. How have you been safe over the years? How can you become safer in your life today? How are you safe in your world? What are the signs you can see that the world is safe? How often do dangerous things happen to you? Do you have control over the dangerous things happening in your life?
Another surefire way to change belief systems and thinking patterns is through the usage of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is an evidenced based approach to treat anxiety and one of the major techniques taught to mental health counselors, social workers and psychologists, both in school and through workshops. The whole premise of CBT is to change your thoughts in order to change your behavior. It’s proven to work with anxiety and symptom relief can be accomplished through short-term therapy with a skilled clinician. When looking for a therapist, look for someone with a specialization in both anxiety and CBT. It should be clearly outlined on the website or marketing materials. Have you considered receiving therapy? Do you know where to find a good therapist at? Are you willing to receive CBT? What are the potential benefits to receiving therapy? Do you have any fears about going into counseling? What are you looking to get out of counseling?
Getting a self-help book can provide a supplement to therapy. One of my favorite books that I recommend is “The Feeling Good Handbook“by David Burns. There are specific chapters on anxiety and how to deal with it. There is a chapter on several types of thinking patterns, including the ones listed about. It gives you many strategies to challenge and change your thinking. It gives you information about medication, in case you are considering seeing a psychiatrist, alternative healer or going to a local vitamin shop to get natural anti-anxiety pills. This workbook is designed for you to follow it as it applies to you. It gives you activities to complete, as well as writing prompts for you to sort out how your anxiety works in your life and how the implementation of the techniques worked for you.
The good news is that anxiety is treatable. You can get symptom relief through many avenues. It’s about finding the one that works for you.
Amanda Patterson, LMHC, CAP decided to become a therapist while attending Nova Southeastern University. She saw the need to help people achieve the life they wanted to live, while creating a life of her own. She completed her master’s in Mental Health Counseling and started a career in the juvenile justice arena. Since then, she has started a private practice in Davie Florida, specializing in depression, anxiety relationship issues, and substance abuse. Amanda is a believer in holistic treatment and she practices veganism, meditation and yoga in her life. Find out more about her practice here. For a free 15-minute consultation, call or text Amanda at 954-258-8845 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.