If you would like to get a clearer sense of how anxiety is affecting your life, you can complete a three-minute ‘Brief Anxiety Quiz’ found on the following page.
What You Can Do To Fight Back Against Anxiety
To fight back against anxiety it is helpful to know the three major ways it shows up in your life. Once you understand how it shows up, it is easier to figure out how to make it go away.
Anxiety shows up in three ways – emotions, behaviors, and thoughts.
The emotional aspect is the one that everyone first thinks of when referring to anxiety. It is the worry and fear that gnaw and grow within you when anxiety has started to take root.
Physical symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, GI upset, perspiration, fidgetiness, pacing, sleeplessness, and so forth.
The thinking, or cognitive symptoms, vary depending upon the target of the anxiety. In general, however, these thoughts focus on the catastrophic consequences of some yet to occur event.
These three facets of anxiety work together. Anxious thoughts give rise to fearful emotions that prompt you to act in certain ways. For example, if a severe storm has arisen, and your spouse is two hours late coming home from work, you may begin to wonder if he or she was in an accident. This thought gives rise to anxiety, which in turn leads you to begin to pace the floor. The thought, feeling, and behavior connect one to another.
Not only do they connect, but they also can begin to reinforce one another in ways that are not at all helpful. They become linked one to another in a pattern.
An example will help demonstrate how this works. Imagine a young couple, Brian and Alicia. They have been together for nearly a year and are extremely happy.
Brian has recently become anxious that he is not progressing fast enough in his career. He would like to marry Alicia, and prior to proposing he wants to increase his income. Brian is determined to be a good provider and feels insecure about his abilities in this regard.
This concern has grown stronger of late, and Brian has become more preoccupied as a result. The thought of “Loser” being etched across his forehead is distracting. Yes, Brian is very hard on himself.
He decides to start to work more hours in order to jump-start his career (although he already works 50 hours a week). Being a shy person, a retiring fellow, he does not tell Alicia. She’ll just ask why and then he would need to tell her about his “Loser” worries and that gets very embarrassing. Nope, he’ll just take care of this in his own way on the down-low.
Over the next several weeks Alicia frequently wonders why Brian is so distracted whenever they are together. She also begins to feel a little neglected because he is spending so much time at work. “Weird,” she thinks to herself.
Without having heard why Brian is distracted or working extra hours, Alicia has no context for understanding these changes. She assumes it must be due to his no longer finding her attractive or interesting. Alicia begins to worry about Brian’s commitment to their relationship. She would love to talk to Brian about her worries but does not want to risk being told that her suspicions are correct. That would be devastating.
Instead, Alicia decides to do a little dialing back of her own and emotionally withdraws.
As time goes by Brian assumes that Alicia’s being less attentive and affectionate is a sign that she needs more time to herself. He thinks “Perhaps I’ve pushed her too fast” and decides that he needs to respect her need for distance. He can do this by working more at the office and not bothering her by making too many demands on her time.
Of course, Alicia believes that Brian’s backing off in this way is a confirmation of his lack of interest (or self-absorption). Her anxiety and resentment grow even stronger.
She begins to wonder whether she should end the relationship before getting hurt even worse. We can see how this cycle deepens and expands as time goes on.
If we were to diagram this interaction it would look like the following:
Breaking The Anxious Pattern
Let’s look at how this sort of pattern can be changed so that happier, healthier relationships can be formed.
We’ll start with a brief one-question quiz:
The key to breaking free from this sort of destructive anxiety is:
A. Visiting a psychoanalyst five days a week, laying on the couch, and saying whatever comes to mind
B. Burning incense, chanting, drumming, eating a strictly vegan diet for six months, and wearing paisley print bell bottoms
C. Using a combination of clear communication and corrective experiences.