Your question: How can I stop my anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Anxiety is necessary in small doses for our normal functioning. Although it can be annoying, we need anxiety to cope with stressful and intimidating situations. For example, anxiety is what allows you to run away from a potentially life-threatening situation and energizes you to study for a difficult test in college.

However, anxiety can become chronic, meaning that it is too intense and persistent, making it difficult for you to perform your daily activities. Anxiety becomes a problem when it affects your performance, impairs your sleep and eating, isolates you from the people you love, creates complications at work and school, and makes you feel bad about yourself.

Therefore, it is necessary to develop strategies that allow you to cope with anxiety, learning to control it in specific moments of panic. Although it may feel overwhelming and impossible, it is in you to control your anxiety symptoms and improve your quality of life.

While you can’t completely disappear anxiety from your life, you can learn to lessen the discomfort its symptoms cause and stop it at specific times when it is annoying and unwelcome.

How does anxiety work?

The amygdala is the part of your brain in charge of, among other things, the regulation of emotions and the detection of situations, people or things that may pose a danger to your integrity. When your amygdala detects something threatening, it sends an alarm signal to your whole body to act accordingly (1).

Anxiety arises because your amygdala tells your whole body that it is in the presence of something threatening, even if that something is not really threatening or non-existent. Anxiety is related to automatic thoughts, abrupt thoughts that appear unpredictably, almost always sending a negative message (2).

Therefore, anxiety is caused by a variety of brain factors. Your anxious thoughts may make you feel that something harmless like a work meeting is a highly dangerous threat, and the amygdala sends the signal to your body that it is, triggering the typical physical symptoms of anxiety.

What does it feel like to have anxiety?

Psychology (3) has studied anxiety as a complex phenomenon, which has specific characteristics that affect people in different areas. Some characteristics of anxiety are:

Cognitive symptoms: fear of losing control; fear of death; fear of “going crazy”; fear of negative evaluation by others; frightening thoughts.

Physiological symptoms: increased heart rate, palpitations; shortness of breath, rapid breathing; chest pain or pressure; choking sensation; dizziness.

Affective symptoms: nervous, tense, wound up; frightened; sadness; irritability.

How can you stop your anxiety?

“Stopping” anxiety is not an easy task. As mentioned, it is a physical and psychological process that is difficult to control, but not impossible. It is important that you consider seeing professionals such as a psychologist or general practitioner if your anxiety continues to worsen, becoming more recurrent and intense over time. However, there are strategies you can apply on your own to cope with anxious symptoms.

Self-reporting of negative thoughts and emotions

Journaling the events related to your anxiety episodes is useful because it allows you to express your experience in a private space, and because it helps you identify thought patterns that you can eventually work on. Self-reporting consists of writing in a journal every time you feel anxious during the day: what you thought, what you felt and did, as well as events related to the anxious episode.

For example, during the afternoon you had an anxious episode. You thought “I have many debts to pay”, you felt an intense fear that generated fatigue and headache, and your coping was to panic and feel like crying. You should write down these facts in a timely manner, and pay particular attention to the thought that triggered the anxiety symptoms.

Thought stopping

This behavioral technique is useful to manage the automatic thoughts present in people with anxiety problems and phobias. To perform this technique it is necessary that you first learn to identify the automatic thoughts that generate discomfort. For this, the self-recording of negative thoughts and feelings will be helpful (4).

Once you have identified the thoughts that generate anxiety, you must create a keyword. This word, which can be for example “stop”, “stop”, “silence” or something in particular that generates calmness, you will say it just in the moment in which the automatic thought begins to generate anxious symptoms.

For example, if you are calm at work and suddenly a thought comes to you saying “you are useless at your job”, you should say the key word: “STOP”, either out loud, in your own mind or by writing it down somewhere. This will help your brain create an association between the negative thoughts and a key word designed to stop them.

Breathing and relaxation

Inhale through your nose for three seconds, exhale through your mouth for another three seconds. This while you close your eyes and feel how slowly the tension in your body decreases. You can apply this exercise for at least 10 minutes a day at different times, and just after experiencing an episode of anxiety.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

This technique consists of using your senses to dissuade emotional discomfort at a given moment. It is useful when you experience a lot of physical agitation or when you feel you have a lot of unpleasant thoughts, and you find it difficult to control your emotions. Wherever you are, you will focus on identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This will allow you to focus your attention on specific things during the period of anxiety, and slowly, the feeling of intense worry will diminish.

In my experience…

Stopping anxiety is possible, through techniques that allow you to observe which are the situations in your daily life that make you feel worried and act in function of not allowing them to wear out your energy. We cannot get rid of anxiety completely, but we can cope with it. I believe you have the power and determination to work on not letting anxiety determine your life, learning to control it with the help of professionals when you feel it is getting out of hand.

I believe you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this medium proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health

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