ANXIETY: ACTIONS FOR EFFECTIVE COPING, PART ONE
In our previous blog we made the distinction between avoiding stress (stress management) and empowering yourself to make stress work for you (stress enhancement). In this blog we want to consider some steps to move toward this empowerment.
Before attempting to take on a stressful event, ask yourself, “Is this a situation I can control?” There are only two things you can directly control: Your thoughts and your actions. If your problem involves the thoughts and actions of others then your answer to the question must be “no,” and you should move on to other issues in your life.
If your answer is “yes,” then ask yourself, “What specific features of the situation make me anxious and want to avoid?” List the troublesome aspects of the situation and when they occur. Then you can move on to taking action to cope with the situation. Below are some general suggestions to help you organize your thinking about taking action.
–Expect to be anxious in situations that make you uncomfortable, and prepare actions to confront the emotion. Preparation is always the key.
–Do not deny your anxiety and tell yourself, “I’ll be fine when the event takes place.” You won’t, and the anxiety will overwhelm you.
–Do not apologize to yourself or others for being emotional in certain situations. There’s no shame being nervous, in crying, or in showing other responses to your emotions. Your emotions are a part of you and not something to be ashamed of when you feel them or know they’re coming.
–Try to channel stress into productive activities. For instance, let anxiety about your surroundings make you more vigilant about what is going on around you.
–Accept emotions as a signal that something is bothering you. Identify, evaluate, and analyze the events that bring on emotions to help you confront those events.
—-Do not focus on the stress you feel. Focus on the actions you can take or not take to confront your problem. For example, “I do not enjoy my job, but I refuse to answer ads for other jobs because I’m afraid I will fail in the interview.” Now you have something specific to attack….. not the stress itself, but your reluctance to search for another job because you fear failure in an interview.
—-Modify your thinking about stressful events. Do not automatically assume an upcoming event is a threat that will show you to be incompetent or stupid. View the event as a challenge that will give you an opportunity to show your skills.
—-Develop a realistic and optimistic outlook about being able to meet challenges presented by stressful events. Substitute irrational and distorted beliefs (“I must be perfect and succeed in everything I do or I am a worthless person.”) with more realistic ones. Repeating realistic comments to yourself will strengthen your realistic outlook. (“If I fail, I will examine what I did wrong and take steps to correct my mistake so I will be less likely to fail the next time.”)
—-Continue to remind yourself that some events are beyond your control. Design your actions within the realities imposed by your control or lack of control over an event. Driving to that dreaded interview? “I have no control over how bad the traffic will be, but I can leave early when traffic is more likely to be light. I can use my relaxation methods if I feel stressed, and I can map out alternative routes in advance in case traffic backs up.”)
—-Remind yourself frequently that effort is the key to dealing with stressful events. Prepare for stressful events by practicing actions that give you a sense of personal control over yourself, not over others or over events. A student has no control over what will be on the test; the student should, therefore, diligently study all the material.
—-Do not kid yourself by saying, “This time I will be OK. I will not be anxious.” Yes you will, and the failure to prepare will be devastating.
—-Accept that stress is a normal, unavoidable aspect of life, and that feeling anxious does not make you inferior to others.
—-In confrontational situations, do not lash out in anger. Take slow, deep, steady breaths and concentrate on making calm but assertive comments, staying in control of the situation. Practice a variety of situations with a friend so your assertiveness can become more automatic. (Our next blog will go into specific breathing exercises.)
—-You can help yourself by scheduling stressful events under your control at times when you expect relatively few demands and changes in other areas of your life.
—-During the day take time for relaxing activities, even if only for a few minutes. Use a formal relaxation technique, take a walk, listen to music, or trade jokes with a friend.
—-List positive actions you can take in a variety of situations that will make you feel more satisfied. Choose actions that help you become more competitive, persistent, assertive, flexible, and creative.
—-Remember that anxiety, like all emotions, is a psychological danger signal. Just as physical pain signals that your body needs attention, anxiety says your mind needs attention.
—-Commit to important aspects of your life, such as marriage, career, children, friendships and family. A life with commitment is much less stressful than an uncommitted lifestyle.
—-Develop relationships that help you respond to stress; eliminate relationships that rob you of psychological stability and growth. You know who they are! Move on from them.
—-Avoid self-defeating responses when stressed. Excessive eating, drinking, spending, or gambling will lead to increased stress.
—-Accept the fact that change is stressful. Marriage, Christmas, having a baby, retirement, seeking a job promotion — all are stressful and require adjustment. Should you avoid them? Should you tolerate a mediocre job to avoid the stress of seeking a new and more challenging position? Should you avoid commitment in a relationship because you fear the stress of marriage? Should you avoid ending an abusive relationship because you fear the stress of “making it on your own”? Are people who resist change and avoid stress better off in the long run? If you answer “yes” to these questions, you are avoiding life, not living it.
—-As a general rule, stop trying to avoid the stress and anxiety in your life. Avoidance is a form of denial that says, “I’m going to ignore you, so please go away.” Denial and avoidance will not work because your stress will not magically disappear. When faced with stress, your best bet is to recognize it, accept it as real, and attack it. Stress is not the issue; what you do about the stress is the issue.
These steps should help you organize your thinking about anxiety issues and help you see the best ways, in general, to approach the overall problem of confronting your anxiety problems. In Part Two, our next blog, we will look at some specific techniques many clients find helpful in refocusing thinking, lowering inner tension, and dealing with anxiety in the present without worrying about the future.