includes learning about anxiety, relaxation techniques, correct breathing techniques, exercise, learning to be assertive, building self-esteem, cognitive therapy.
Learning about anxiety
The old adage ‘knowledge is power’ applies here – learning all about stress, worry and anxiety is central to recovery. For example, education includes examining the physiology of the ‘flight-fight’ response, which is the body’s way to deal with impending danger. For people with excessive worry this response is inappropriately triggered by situations that are generally harmless. Education is an important way to promote control over symptoms.
A person who feels anxious/stressed/worried most of the time has trouble relaxing, but knowing how to release muscle tension is an important anxiety treatment.
The physical symptoms of anxiety/worry may be triggered by hyperventilation, which raises oxygen levels and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. A person who suffers from anxiety should learn how to breathe from their diaphragm, rather than their chest, to safeguard against hyperventilation. The key is allowing your belly to expand as you breathe in.
You can make sure you are breathing correctly by placing one hand on your lower abdomen and the other on your chest. Correct breathing means your abdomen moves, rather than your chest. It also helps to slow your breathing while feeling anxious. You can also try to hold your breath for a few seconds. This helps to boost carbon dioxide levels in the blood.
Cognitive therapy focuses on changing patterns of thinking and beliefs that are associated with, and trigger, anxiety. For example, a person with a social phobia may make their anxiety worse by negative thoughts such as, ‘Everyone thinks I’m boring’.
The basis of cognitive therapy is that beliefs trigger thoughts, which then trigger feelings and produce behaviours. For example, let’s say you believe (perhaps unconsciously) that you must be liked by everyone in order to feel worthwhile. If someone turns away from you in mid-conversation, you may think, ‘This person hates me’, which makes you feel anxious.
Cognitive therapy strategies include rational ‘self-talk’, reality testing, attention training, cognitive challenging and cognitive restructuring. This includes monitoring your self-talk, challenging unhelpful fears and beliefs, and testing out the reality of negative thoughts.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the ‘flight-fight’ response, which floods the body with adrenaline and other stress chemicals. Exercise burns up stress chemicals and promotes relaxation. Physical activity is another helpful way to manage anxiety. Aim to do some physical activity at least three to four times every week, and vary your activities to avoid boredom.
Learning to be assertive
Being assertive means communicating your needs, wants, feelings, beliefs and opinions to others in a direct and honest manner without intentionally hurting anyone’s feelings. A person with an anxiety disorder may have trouble being assertive because they are afraid of conflict or believe they have no right to speak up. However, relating passively to others lowers self-confidence and reinforces anxiety. Learning to behave assertively is central to developing a stronger self-esteem.
People with anxiety disorder often have low self-esteem. Feeling worthless can make the anxiety worse in many ways. It can trigger a passive style of interacting with others and foster a fear of being judged harshly. Low self-esteem may also be related to the impact of the anxiety disorder on your life. These problems may include:
Feelings of shame and guilt
Difficulties in functioning at school, work or in social situations.
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