Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. But some people experience anxiety too much of the time, often for no real reason.
Anxiety invades their lives with distressing images, painful feelings, or thoughts of impending doom. Most are fully aware of the unpleasant feelings resulting from their anxieties, but often the anxieties themselves are subconscious. Yet these anxieties could become recognizable if they could learn to stop and reflect on them when they experience these feelings.
Over-anxious preoccupations have one thing in common – they involve irrational fears. And irrational fears often lead to anxiety attacks.
Anxiety is about something personal that may happen in the future. And the irrational fears and stressful reactions that result are attempts at readiness for something imminent and terrible that could happen.
The problem is that these thoughts and anxieties are often blown out of proportion. Yes, it’s POSSIBLE that something terrible could happen, but the PROBABILITY that something terrible will happen in the very near future is much less likely, and even unrealistic.
Your emotional system is easily tricked by your thoughts. When you think about bad things that could happen, your body can produce physical symptoms (like increased heart rate and body temperature, shallow breathing and muscle contractions) – to prepare you in case something badreally does happen.
It is the human reaction to primitive fears of imminent physical danger. But there is no emergency, other than in your thoughts. It’s as though having a feeling of dread is proof that something terrible is sure to happen, even if there is no reason to believe it.
Take Karl for example. (Karl is a composite of different men and women I have worked with in my practice, with identifying information removed). Karl was born into a family of shy, fretful people. As a child he was sensitive and easily hurt. It took some time for him to get used to going to school and playing with other children, but after a while, he became more talkative and was able to have fun with his friends. But his capacity for fun became smaller and smaller as he grew bigger.
His parents worried about everything. What if his teacher wasn’t nice to him? What if he should fall and hurt himself at school? What if he would get sick with a fever? They questioned him about the smallest details of his life, and after he answered, they would criticize him and make him feel guilty for whatever he had been perceived as doing. He soon learned to evade their questions and to keep his inner feelings to himself, even though he had learned to believe in his family’s worries.
By the time Karl was an adult, he had become an expert worrier too. He was able to find a wife and get married, but she quickly became aware of his constant doom and gloom thinking, and over-anxious reactions to many things.
Before coming to see me, Karl had been on his way to work one morning, when he suddenly thought he was having a heart attack – his heart was racing, he couldn’t catch his breath and he felt nauseous and dizzy. He went to the hospital, but after a few hours of testing, he was sent home and told that his heart was fine, but that he should see a psychologist.
Karl had developed panic attacks.
When I first met him, Karl had no idea that he was anxious. He didn’t know that he was thinking about things that got him worried to the point of alarm. He thought everyone thought the same way he did.
He had never paid attention to his inner thoughts before, that caused his constant anxious reactions.
After a few sessions, Karl told me that he was amazed by how many pessimistic thoughts he had during the day. He never knew that his subconscious feelings were negative predictions about bad things that might happen to him.
In therapy, Karl discovered that his panic attacks had begun about the same time that his wife had begun to talk about having a child. He hadn’t realized that this had greatly increased his stress level. He didn’t realize that he had been thinking about all the things that could go wrong with having a baby.
Although it was hard at first for Karl to trust that he wouldn’t again be criticized for his thoughts and feelings, he gradually learned to override his mistrust. He became less fearful about sharing his thoughts and feelings. His wife noticed that he was more talkative and seemed to be more relaxed at home.
Once Karl got a handle on his thought patterns, he learned to re-direct his thoughts when they became too overwhelming. He began to sleep better at night, and to head off pessimistic thoughts before they got out of hand.
And after a few weeks of therapy, he stopped paying so much attention to the panic attacks. In fact, he didn’t even notice until much later, that his panic attacks had disappeared.
There are many people who share Karl’s condition and who lead unnecessarily anxious and stressful lives. Is this you? Do you even know it?
Expert psychological treatment can help you deal with this kind of habitual condition, and give you the tools necessary to overcome it.