My friend Anxiety
Bringing to you another fab article by Dr Shami on the emotion we call anxiety. Let’s take a closer look at this all too common emotion that affects many of us, how it arises and how we can change our perspective to overcome it. Acknowledging this is the pathway to transcending it. A useful acronym to bear in mind for FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. Contemplate on that as you read on…
My friend Anxiety
On average, 1 in 4 people in Australia will experience anxiety. Shocked? Or does the story sound familiar?
But what does anxiety actually mean? As I scoured through the internet, articles and self help books, I eventually stumbled across a few words which appeared to make sense of this emotion. In simple terms, the anxious feeling occurs when “the future is seen as a threat”.
In other words, the mind has “jumped to a conclusion” that the future is “the worst possible outcome” that could have ever have been imagined . The key word is “imagine”. Humans are unable to predict the future. So why do we convince ourselves that the future is bleak when we feel fearful?
We are in fact directors in the making, as we write and cast ourselves in the imaginary movie called “the worst case scenario”. Yes, it’s a story that we create in our minds. We dive deep into our creative side, collating negative outcomes, determined to win an Oscar for our starring role of “everything that could go wrong!”. Made you smile? It did for me.
Feeling worried is part of being human and necessary for our survival. Just imagine crossing the road without a sense of fear! However, living in today’s world, we have created a stronger emotion called anxiety. This gives rise to unhealthy physical and psychological symptoms such as the feeling of impending doom, sweats and a racing heart to name but a few. As we go about our daily routine, we begin to change our behaviour by avoiding the places, people or circumstances that trigger the feeling of fear. Anxiety is now an issue that requires attention.
I started to question myself as to why do we naturally “catastrophize” and fall into the loop of negativity. Why in fact are we so arrogant in our way of thinking? Can we not become flexible and realise that by training our minds to think differently, we can, one day, choose a healthier emotion called worry?
In the book “ The Resilience Factor: 7 keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles” by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shattle, 7 common thinking traps are beautifully described. I love how they call it a trap as you could say it’s an unhelpful habit which can be changed. The thinking patterns include jumping to conclusions, maximising or minimising an experience, tunnel vision which means looking at the outcome from one angle only, emotional reasoning to justify your reaction, mind reading, personalising or externalising and lastly, over generalising the scenario. I am positive I have used all of them at some stage in my life!
So to add another layer to our understanding, Martin Seligman, a renowned psychologist and author of the book “Flourish”, describes anxiety prone individuals tend to be “the me, always and everything person”. This now makes sense. Do you tend to blame yourself when negative events happen? Do you believe this awful experience will stay forever? And do you feel this outcome reflects every aspect of your life? Can we become flexible in our thinking and head closer towards the other end of the spectrum? Does this result in a different emotion?
Life is in fact more complex than we think. There are many contributory factors to an outcome. More importantly, life events are transient, constantly evolving and changing. The experience will not stay the same way forever. So those moments of feeling anxious will eventually go, in its own time. I’m celebrating already!
So in summary, emotions are transient. We have used deep seated thinking patterns or habits to tell the story of the “worst case scenario” which may trigger the powerful emotion called anxiety. Can we switch to a healthier emotion by reframing the story to “the most likely?”.
Dr Shamistra Barathan
Integrative GP, Melbourne, Australia
MBBS ( UK), MRCGP, FRACGP, DFFP, DRCOG, ACNEM Member.
This article provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this article are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, you should consult with your medical practitioner. The views expressed in this article have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the author is affiliated.