We talked last week about anxiety and the cycle of this disorder which gets stronger and stronger over time and it affects your social and work life. Most people with anxiety choose to avoid situations or people that might trigger their anxiety, and in doing so they only reinforce that cycle because next time it will be even harder to try and face those situations, symptoms will exacerbate and avoiding it becomes a habit.
The question is, what’s there left to do and how do you start to break that cycle? I must say it’s not easy to do. You’ve got used to avoiding things and now you have to break that habit and replace it with a healthy one. To help you understand it better, picture someone eating junk food for a long time. At one point they might want to stop. The hard part starts now: first, they have to establish what kind of food they are allowed to eat and how much of it, then they can even start exercising and bring their body in a state of being active and getting stronger. In both cases, the unhealthy pattern is replaced by a healthy one and it doesn’t happen straight away. It’s a process and it takes time, but self-discipline and motivation will take you there.
Anxiety is often associated with fast and shallow breathing. This type of breathing contributes to the sensation of anxiety and teaches your body to react in a certain way. When your body reacts in a certain way your mind is trying to make sense of what’s happening and will start making assumptions. Now remember: these assumptions are not accurate because your brain associates your anxiety with the place you’re at, people you’re with, and so on. Next time you’ll be in the same place your body will react and feel anxious and your negative thoughts will become a pattern that will be triggered whenever you’ll feel anxious from now on.
The therapy that has proven to be really effective with anxiety is by far CBT, because it teaches you in a structured way to pay attention to your emotions, thoughts and the way you behave. CBT gives you an insight on how all these are connected and how they keep reinforcing each other unless you reverse the pattern. The main focus is to challenge your negative thoughts and replace them with balanced ones that are more accurate and anchored in reality. The tendency of anxious people is to overreact and generalize. Challenging your thoughts puts you in a position of reassessing yourself and the situation that triggers your anxiety. There are many online tools that teach you how to keep a record of your daily thoughts and show you step by step how to assert yourself and the circumstances you’re in.
Beside CBT, breathing techniques are also very helpful. Why? On a physical level breathing has an impact of either making your heart beat faster and pumping more blood, or making it beat at a more relaxed pace which gives your body a calming and relaxed feeling. When we are anxious or angry our body reacts and our muscles tend to become tense. That does have a negative impact on your body, your well-being and overall feeling, which may result in feeling tired and stressed. The breathing technique teaches you how to relax in a progressive manner and it starts with your neck muscles and continues with the shoulders, arms, back, legs, hips, legs and so an.
You can use CBT and relaxation techniques together or just one of them. Most of the time people integrate them and use them together. If anxiety persists, I believe it is important to explore that in a therapeutic setting and dig deep into your inner self to really find out what the cause of it is. A therapist can help you go through that journey of self-discovery, supporting and helping you see things from a different perspective.