Experiencing some level of anxiety is normal in daily living. There may even been times when it actually is a protective factor from harmful situations. Anxiety might even be compared to a fire detector that helps alert a person to danger that’s near. When there is no fire detected but the alarm is sounding off. This means the fire detector has become overly sensitive and needs adjustment. In the same way, when we see ourselves reacting in absence of a real threat, it is a tell tale sign that our anxiety is getting out of hand.
Highly anxious individuals have thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that become so intense they interfere with daily activities, and may be disproportionate to the actual danger. Sometimes these situations may even lead to episodes of sudden intense feelings of fear and being overwhelmed like a panic attack, or may cause the person to avoid places, people or situations, to prevent these feelings from arising again. (Mayo Clinic Staff, n.d.)
Highly anxious individuals have thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that become so intense they interfere with daily activities, and may be disproportionate to the actual danger.
Living with high levels of anxiety over time can become mentally and physically debilitating, to the point of making the body physically sick. Thoughts then, including what we think and believe, help create and manifest our reality. What we focus and hold onto in our minds, plant the seeds of what a person eventually may live out. Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has contributed significantly to the field of neuropsychology and in his book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain, discusses his research findings that the frontal lobes of the brain are involved in both higher level thought and emotion, suggesting thinking does affect how we feel and vice versa (Breazeale, 2013). This suggests that if either or both emotions and thinking trajectories are changed, even slightly, large gains can be made.
Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and ancient inspiration for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been quoted to say, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” Although thinking the right thoughts to make a happy life may be an acceptable start to a happy life and for better somatic health, I believe it is far from a complete solution for overcoming anxiety. A more holistic approach to help someone navigate through anxiety when it is getting out of hand should consider the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health of the individual in totality. Anxiety can affects us as a whole, and there are signs to tell us when anxiety is getting out of hand.
Image Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/dsm-5-criteria-for-generalized-anxiety-disorder-1393147
There are ways to cope better with anxiety. Most short-term strategies we can find online include self-care activities such as practicing slow breathing, journalling, finding peer support, keeping a healthy lifestyle by sleeping enough, exercising and eating well (Mind, n.d.). For some, practicing such self-care activities help them to manage their anxiety better. However, for others, these coping skills does not seem to be helpful. It could neither stop their downward spiral of negative thinking, nor could it take away their source of anxiety (Pahr, n.d). According to California therapist, Melinda Haynes, some may feel guilty or unworthy in taking time to practice self-care (Pahr, n.d). A deeper insight of why this might be happening is because anxiety has been internalised and personified, as if it is a part of us.
Counselling can help with streamlining the process by identifying the triggers, maintaining long-term strategies to help cope with anxiety when it is getting out of hand. One approach applied in counselling that can pivotally help someone facing anxiety issues is Narrative Therapy. This approach offers many helpful ways in attending to those who are facing anxiety. If anxiety has been a struggle for a long time, its easy to label oneself as an anxious person, moving toward an assumption that anxiety is part of personal identity. This concept of self, limits the chances of improving the situation. This is where Narrative Therapy comes in and begins to challenge the belief that problems and other parts of the person’s identity, are located completely within their own physicality. Instead, it’s helpful to view problems and identity as produced or created, at least in part, within the external environment as well, where a person lives and acts. Essentially, personal value and identity (created relationally) is set apart from the problem.
"Externalizing the problems helps one see that they are not the problem, the problem is the problem."
Narrative therapists often say, you are not the problem, the problem is the problem. One technique that helps with this process is called “Externalizing the Problem”.
Externalizing the problem, is a collaborative work that assists the person in extracting the problem from their own identity in an effort to make gains toward a more objective perspective on the problem, and their relationship to it. Even more, the process of objectifying or even personifying the problem, detaches the issue from their identity so the associated shame and self-judgment that may potentiate, gives the individual a safer emotional space to talk through what defines and contains the problem. A brief example of the process follows. After some discussion, a client decides to call her anxiety “The Thief”. This personification of all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions help to explore the situation without blaming or shaming herself or others. Within this conversation some question examples might include: When the Thief visits, how do you know he is present? Can you describe what he looks like and sounds like? Second, the problem may also be explored in how it is effecting different areas of life and relationships. Questions that might be asked include: What do you think the Thief wants from you? What plans does the Thief have for your future? When the Thief is present does it have you talking differently to certain people? Importantly, responses to these questions help define the problem-saturated story and facilitate acting against the power of the problem. (Hedtke, 2014)
This personification of all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions help to explore the situation without blaming or shaming herself or others.
Finally, going through this process in therapy will not magically eliminate the complexities of anxiety overnight. However, it does have the potential to help an individual discover more personal agency and, hopefully, a sense of control over themselves and daily living. Anxiety never takes over 100% of life, and this process helps to highlight areas where undeveloped skills can be grown, personal resources can be activated and where hope can be found. This approach offers a longer-term effect that nurtures one towards recovery and growth, which is particularly useful for someone who is easily anxious and constantly worried.
If you have met someone whose anxiety is getting out of hand, why not make time to talk to one of our counsellor. Make an appointment with us, or drop us an email to find out how counselling can help.
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Breazeale, R. (2013, February 13). The Role of the Brai