Four Anti-anxiety Techniques Part 1

Anxiety is a future based emotion. It is looking into the future with a sense of dread.

Examples of situations in which you might become anxious and catastrophise include:

  • Asking for a raise at work.
  • Needing to change jobs because of unacceptable circumstances at work.
  • Needing to talk to your spouse about finances, unacceptable habits, or other topic.
  • Needing to learn to give a speech in order to advance at work, hold a volunteer office, etc.
  • Wanting to ask someone out on a date (perhaps, you are post-divorce and back in the “market”)

Using anxiety as a tool:  The key is to RESPOND (not to react) to your anxiety. This is the EUSTRESS side of anxiety.

  1. View your anxiety as a messenger telling you that action may be needed.
  1. Use your anxiety as a motivator to take action.

You use your anxiety as a tool when …

  • That report is due at work, or at school, and you stay up all night to get it done.
  • You are going on vacation in two days and you manage to clear your desk and make arrangements so you can leave without worrying about what happens while you are gone.
  • You start a new business, buy a new car, or take out a loan on a house and you read all the documents a second time to make sure that “all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed”.

I welcome your comments on the above.


Fear and Anxiety

I noted in my last post that fear and anxiety were not the same emotion.

Too often, people confuse the two emotions.  An example is the saying, “I’m afraid I might not do well on the exam next week.” Now, I am not saying we need to change the way we talk.  I am saying that if you want to learn to master your emotions, you would benefit from knowing the actual feeling you are experiencing and even using the right word to discuss it. This is so you can choose the most adaptive response to the situation you are facing and to which your feeling is alerting you.

Fear is a present “here and now” feeling.  It is the hair on the back of the neck feeling of dread you might experience if you are facing a robber who is pointing a gun at you or if you are alone in an abandoned garage and you hear footsteps, or, and this one is important, you are looking at someone who is standing in an elevator appearing to be just fine but who just doesn’t feel “right” to you.

The best advice is to always listen to your fear.  This does not mean that the guy in the elevator is a danger to you. For people who have developed a prejudice toward others, fear may come up and be totally inappropriate. All I am saying is that if you feel fear, act on the side of caution and take the next elevator.  Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear is an excellent source for information on this emotion.

Anxiety is a future based emotion the message of which is that there MAY be a threat and it MIGHT “kill” me.  Anxiety is the “butterflies” in your stomach, the sweaty palms, the nervousness, or the uneasy sense of impending doom you might experience if you have an interview coming up for a new job, you get pulled over by a policeman, you want to meet a new someone, and so forth.

There are two types of anxiety.  Eustress is the enabling form of anxiety in which you use the nervous energy of your emotion as motivation to study for the exam, prepare for the interview etc.

Distress is the disabling form of anxiety which stops you in your tracks, prevents you from taking action on your own behalf, leads you to make an excuse why you shouldn’t approach your new someone and so forth.

Mastering your anxiety involves assessing the nature of the possible threat. What would happen if the threat actually took place? Could you survive it? If you could survive it, you can move to eustress.

Another “trick” for mastering anxiety is to turn it into anticipation (or enthusiasm).  Anticipation is the flip side of anxiety.  The energy of both emotions is the same.  The message of anticipation is that if I handle this situation, good things could possible take place that I might really like.

Think about how you approach your anxiety.

If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment.

The Emotional Process Part 3

In an earlier post I mentioned the 6 primary emotions of mad (anger), sad, glad (happy), fear, disgust, and surprise.  With the exception of glad and surprise, all the primary emotions are primitive threat detectors.

Each of the primary threat detectors focuses on a different threat.  The “message” of each emotion is an alert that you may be facing a specific threat. An important part of mastering your emotions and using them as strategic tools is the ability to recognize that your emotion is alerting you to and preparing you to deal with a possible threat so that you can choose how you want to respond to the situation in which you find yourself.

Remember that the fast track message from your senses to the amygdala sets you up to react to the threat as if it was a real and valid issue that would hurt you if not eliminated. Also, remember that your initial perception may not always be accurate. The slower track message to the cortex gives you the opportunity to master the emotion.

So, let’s look at the message of each primary emotion.

The message of mad (anger) is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.  When you get angry, your attention narrows onto the “enemy”, adrenaline is released into your body, and you are ready to go to war. We will focus more on the anger mastery cycle in a future post.

The message of sad is that you have experienced a significant loss in your life.  The emotion of sadness is experienced as a loss of energy and a desire to withdraw from the situation.  If you have experienced a significant loss, it is in your best interest to take some time and process the loss so that, when you are ready, you can return to “life” and begin to move on.

In is important to keep in  mind that emotions are not experienced as an “all or nothing” phenomenon. It is not the case that the feeling is either present or absent.  You can experience the feeling as a less intense sensation that something minor has happened or as an overwhelming sensation that some major has taken place. Think about being sad that your favorite TV show has been cancelled by the network verses losing an important family heirloom or experiencing the death of a relative.

The message of fear is that you are facing a threat that will kill you unless you escape.  Fear is a present “here and now” emotion and is not the same as anxiety which is a “future based” emotion.

The message of anxiety, by the way, is that you are facing a threat which MIGHT be harmful to you.  I will talk about anxiety in a future post.

The message of disgust is that you have encountered something unpleasant, repugnant, distasteful, or offensive.  Disgust is what you experience when you taste a food that is spoiled and you recoil with an anguished look on your face.  The emotion sets you up to recoil, and expel or get away from the threat.

I hope this has been informative and I look forward to your comments.

The Emotional Process Part 2

In my last post, I spoke about the emotional process and detecting threat.

While your emotions are designed to detect threat, this doesn’t mean that an actual threat exists.

When we were living in caves, all threats were real and would kill us.  There was no ambiguity.  If it looked like a threat, it was a threat.  This type of threat is called a survival threat. Our emotions evolved to protect us from survival threats. Survival threats exist today and include being confronted by someone who wants to physically harm you, seeing a loved one whose life is at risk unless you are able to rescue them and so forth.

Problems arise because, today, most of the threats we face are psychological threats.  Psychological threats may hurt us but are not fatal or they may not be threats at all.  Threats to your ego, your values or the way you think things “should” be are psychological threats.

The emotional process involves acknowledging your feelings and the possibility that a threat actually exists, taking a deep breath before you react to both physically calm yourself down and to give you some psychological distance between you and the threat, and assessing the nature of the threat before you choose a response.

The same process occurs when you are making breakfast and you burn the toast.  Your smoke detector goes off.  Rather than call the fire department, you assess the nature of the threat the detector is warning you about, realize that there is no threat and throw the burnt toast away.  If the smoke detector went off in the middle of the night, your assessment might be very different.

When I talk about each of the primary emotions, I will tell you what the threat is and the choices you have about responding to the threat.