Anxiety is essential to the human condition. The confrontation with anxiety can relieve us from boredom, sharpen the sensitivity and assure the presence of tension that is necessary to preserve human existence.
Pathological anxiety is an irrational emotional response to an imagined threat. Free-floating anxiety is like a cloud that follows the person everywhere as if on a string, casting a long shadow over existence.
Practical Coping Strategies For Anxiety
1. Ask yourself if you are denying to yourself the existence of strong forbidden sexual and aggressive urges. Try to become more well acquainted with the unconscious level of your personality. Of course, if the unconscious level is really unconscious, how can you know what is there? The unconscious level reveals itself in many ways -- through dreams, conscious fantasies, idle thoughts, traits of character, and slips of the tongue. A personal journal of thoughts and reflections helps you to become more aware of your hidden self. The purpose of making contact with the darker side of your nature is not to act on it in an irresponsible way. On the contrary, the idea is to integrate your forbidden urges into consciousness in order to bring them under rational control. An understood impulse is less threatening than an incomprehensible one.
2. Suppose that, in the near future, you will need to deal with a threatening situation such as a job interview, a party where you will know almost no one, or an important examination. Use a method called stress-inoculation training. Imagine yourself in the situation and run a mental movie. Try to make the images as vivid as possible. You will feel your anxiety rising. But each time you run the mental movie, your anxiety will diminish. You will find that the reduction of anxiety associated with the imagined situation will transfer to some extent to the real situation.
3. It has been found that relaxation of the muscles is incompatible with anxiety. A warm bath will relax your muscles. You can also use a method known as progressive relaxation. Sit in a comfortable chair or a recliner. You cannot relax a set of muscles at will, but you can tighten them up at will. So consciously tighten the muscles in one of your legs for 10 to 15 seconds. Then you will find that it is easy to let go, and they will automatically relax. Then progress to the muscles in the other leg. Working upward, relax your abdomen, each arm, each shoulder, and your neck. In this manner, you will be able to systematically relax your whole body.
4. Examine your ideas about anticipated events. What are you thinking? Are your thoughts rational or irrational? Suppose you have been asked to give a talk or presentation before a group. Are you thinking "My mind will go blank", "I'll probably make a fool of myself", "They'll all laugh at me" , or something similar? If you are, challenge these thoughts with more realistic ones such as, "I'll get through it, even if I'm not perfect", "I'll probably do as well as most of the others would do", "This whole thing really isn't that serious" or something similar.
5. Do you have an overactive imagination? Anxiety-prone people often make good creative writers and love to read fiction. Their ability to conjure up images makes them see the worst in the mind's eye, and they hypersensitize themselves to anticipated events. You can't "fight fire with fire" by willing yourself to imagine pleasant, successful outcomes. In this manner you desensitize yourself to anticipated events.
6. Learn the art of meditation. This does not have to be an esoteric eastern technique in which you should try to become a yogi. You can simply sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, think the word relax in rhythm with your respirations. Think "re-" as you breath in, and think "-lax" as you breath out. Three or four minutes of this will induce a relaxation response. The relaxation response was studied by Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School, and it is antagonistic to the fight- or-flight reaction associated with anxiety.
7. If you think that hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, might be contributing to chronic anxiety, avoid highly processed foods and foods that contain large amounts of sugars. Concentrate instead on foods high in proteins and complex carbohydrates.
8. Keep in mind that a certain amount of background anxiety is normal. This existential anxiety described by the philosopher Kierkegaard is simply one of the burdens of life and must be accepted with a certain amount of courage and serenity. Everyone feels this kind of anxiety.
If you find that you cannot cope adequately with chronic anxiety, there are a number of ways in which the professions of psychiatry and clinical psychology can help you. For example, a therapist can help you to develop greater insight into the unconscious level of your personality. The interpretation of dreams, painful memories, slips of the tongue, and traits of character can all lead to greater self-understanding. This general approach, often called a psychodynamic approach in therapy, was inspired by the early work of Freud. It is assumed that greater self-understanding tends to reduce the overall level of pathological anxiety because the troubled person is no longer completely at the mercy of unknown forces.
A common approach used in contemporary psychotherapy is to focus on irrational thoughts and explore the ways in which these inflame anxiety. The therapist points out specific ways to modify irrational thoughts, thus sprinkling some cool psychological water on the fires of fear. This general avenue goes by several names including rational-emotive therapy, cognitive-behaviour modification, and cognitive therapy. The therapist will train you to modify your own thoughts when they are unrealistic or irrational.
The therapist may use guided fantasies with positive, safe outcomes as a way of defusing the anxiety associated with anticipated disasters, emotional or physical. This technique is called systematic desensitization, and it has been found to be one of the most effective ways to diminish chronic anxiety.
A psychiatrist may prescribe an antianxiety agent, also known as a minor tranquilizer. These drugs are of great value in the treatment of chronic pathological anxiety. However, keep in mind that there is a reason they are prescription, not over-the-counter drugs. In some cases, they may have adverse side effects, and benefits always have to be weighed against biological and psychological costs. Some individuals may abuse these drugs, and this will undermine the value of the drugs as therapeutic agents. Used properly, the drugs have a place in the treatment of anxiety.