Beyond Anxiety
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 08:23AM
Juliet Carter
We all experience anxiety to some degree. However, some of us suffer far more anxiety than others. This is unpleasant and can effect us in many ways – including our confidence, our sense of well-being, our ability to connect with others, and our openness and energy to do things we want to do.
 
Anxiety is also an underlying issue in other problems, in particular in addictions and eating disorders, depression, anger and often in relationship problems.

It’s not whether we ever feel anxious, but how we deal with it that counts. By learning new skills and awareness to reduce and manage our anxiety, we use anxiety as a path to greater emotional health and well-being. 
A BAD FEELING
Anxiety is the sense of unease and apprehension that something bad or beyond our control is about to happen. It is often described as a 'bad feeling', perhaps because is effects us on every level - physically, mentally and emotionally. 
Some of us experience anxiety for periods in life, for others it is a way of life. The most common forms of anxiety are generalized anxiety, social anxiety (see my article on Overcoming Social Anxiety) and panic attacks. Other anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A few of the most common anxiety symptoms are shown in the table below. The number, frequency and intensity of symptoms will vary from person to person - what symptoms do you get when you’re feeling anxious?

ANXIETY SYMPTOMS

Physical

Mental

Emotional

Behavioural

Muscle tension – often in the head, neck or shoulder area

Agitated thoughts - distracted, difficulty concentrating

Sense of foreboding, dread

Poor quality sleep – worry dreams, waking up at 3/4am worrying

Chest tightness

Worrying, ruminating

Restless, on edge

Increased use of stimulants e.g., Caffeine, Alcohol, Tobacco or Sugar (CATS)

Increased heart-rate, palpitations or fluttering heart

Difficulty thinking or speaking clearly, following line of thoughts

Dissatisfied, moody, irritable

Self-harming – incl. nail-biting, picking at scalp or skin etc.

Shortness of breath, difficulty getting enough breath

Spaced-out, light-headed, disoriented

Emotionally numb

Avoiding or withdrawing from people, activities or responsibilities

Butterflies, nausea or tightness in the stomach

Watchful

Depressed, shut down

Overdoing – constant activity, distraction. Controlling behaviour

KNOCK-ON EFFECTS

Most people seek help for anxiety because of their somatic symptoms – they feel horrible physically and mentally. Often we get stuck in a negative cycle where anxiety prevents us from getting enough good quality sleep, making it harder to look after ourselves. Over time, we get used to feeling constantly agitated and on edge.
  
However, it’s not just the symptoms themselves, but our feelings and reactions to our symptoms that can be troubling.

For example, we may feel frightened by our anxiety symptoms, fearing they’re related to a more serious underlying physical or mental illness, though this is rarely the case. We may worry or obsess about things in an effort to manage our anxious feelings, even when we know this isn’t helping and want to stop.

Anxiety can switch on negative views about our self. Fuelled by negative self-talk, we buy into our anxious feeling that we’re inadequate or not good enough in some way. We may then avoid or withdraw from activities or situations we might otherwise enjoy or benefit from.
  
It is often to cope with anxious feelings that we start to use food, alcohol, drugs or relationships which over time, can take on a life of their own and become addictions.

Anxiety can keep us also stuck in harmful patterns in relationships. For example, anxiety can make us avoid intimacy. Conversely, we can become over-attached and hooked into how others feel about us, making us feel more powerless and reinforcing our anxiety.

OVERCARE VERSUS TRUE CARE
One way to think about the cause of anxiety is as a form of overcare. When our basic human need to care gets out of balance, we can end up either overcaring or not caring enough.

Overcare happens when we become overidentified or overattached to the things we care about – whether it’s a relationship, a work issue, how we look, or what might happen.
   
When we overidentify with something, our self-worth is tied to our performance in that area, and we invest too much effort and energy into this. But this comes at the price of connecting with our feelings and values, which are the basis of a less conditional, more real sense of self-worth.
In what areas of your life do you tend to care too much?
The problem of overcare is explored by spiritual writers such as Thomas Merton who writes, ‘It is care that makes the world opaque – and our task it to get rid of this.’ TS Elliot asks, ‘Teach us to care and not to care.
 
HOW PSYCHOTHERAPY AND THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE CAN HELP
Psychotherapy and the Alexander Technique are two approaches that can help to move beyond anxiety and towards emotional health and physical well-being.
I offer psychotherapy and the Alexander Technique both separately and, where suitable, as a combined approach. A course of sessions can help you to:
  • Learn to manage your anxiety symptoms – The first phase of recovery from anxiety is about learning to manage anxiety symptoms, so that you have more control over your arousal level. Psychotherapy offers many effective techniques, including specific breathing, guided imagery and cognitive exercises. The Alexander Technique is a body-oriented approach that, similar to meditation, re-trains the mind and body to a calmer state. 
  • Resolve negative feelings – Most of us tend to deny, avoid or react to our more difficult feelings – such as anger, hurt or sadness. We may even have negative feelings about our negative feelings. Therapy provides the guidance and support to access and learn to ‘be with’ the more vulnerable parts of our personality in order for them to heal and come back into relationship with our adult self.  
  • Improve your confidence and self esteem – Anxiety can switch on negative views about our self, how we’re perceived by others and our situation in life. It is often the younger parts of ourself that did not get needs met, rather than our adult self, that experiences anxiety. Therapy can help us make the connection between our present experience, and that of younger parts of ourself, in order for us to re-parent and re-build trust and confidence in ourself and renewed self-worth.
Article originally appeared on Psychotherapy and Alexander Technique (http://www.julietcarter.com/).
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