Whilst worrying is very normal, when it manifests as persistent, excessive and uncontrollable, affecting your daily life this is often known as Generalised Anxiety. It can leave you feeling drained, on edge, restless and disengaged. You spend so much of the day worrying that you may have neglected many of your daily tasks which can lead to more practical issues surrounding work, the home and your relationships. The most interesting part for me during my CBT sessions so far was figuring out that, deep down, I actually saw worrying as a positive trait somehow; it shows I care, it prepares me for the worst, it motivates me, or that’s what I tell myself anyway. This isn’t the case at all. It’s not good for me or the people around me and it’s something I need to let go of and control. First, though, it’s important to classify your worries as either practical or hypothetical and since doing this I have realised that literally all of my worries are hypothetical. This actually leaves me with a lot of confusing, guilty feelings; there’s not even anything that wrong with my life, I’m not starving or homeless, I have my friends and parents, I have little responsibility to worry about, financially stable – so why am I like this? What is SO bad and why am I so stressed when, really, in the grand scheme of things my life is easy and should be enjoyable? These thoughts frustrate me even further, making me feel silly, ungrateful and embarrassed about seeking help for something so trivial. I always deal with my practical worries right away, they usually have a practical solution whereas those hypothetical worries you can’t do anything about just go on forever, building and building. You can’t do anything about them because the situation they are regarding does not exist. It definitely doesn’t exist yet, it will likely never exist and if it ever does exist, it will exist as a practical worry with a practical solution.
In most cases of anxiety and worrying, we are often subconsciously overestimating the threat whilst simultaneously underestimating ourselves and our ability to deal with the situation. This is triggering what is known as the ‘fight or flight‘ response – something we need in life or death situations but as an instinctive reaction it can be triggered unnecessarily by day to day situations and stress. This is your body preparing to run from that lion – or that bus you shouldn’t have crossed in front of! Your physical responses may feel like some of these examples and there is a scientific reason for every single physical symptom – your body is not broken, it’s just doing it’s job maybe a little too well. It’s a bit of a jobsworth, really, instantly jumping head first into everything led by what your thoughts have told it – your mind has told your body you’re in danger, it’s just trying to keep you safe. These symptoms might include one, two or all of these common examples plus more:
- Racing thoughts – helps you to evaluate danger and make quick decisions, making it difficult to concentrate on anything other than fighting or escaping.
- Adrenaline is released – this acts as a signal to your entire body that the time to fight is now.
- Tunnel vision – highlighting the escape route without any distractions.
- Needing the toilet – your bladder and bowels will want to empty any excess waste as soon as possible, if you’re running away then you don’t need the extra baggage of that burrito and ten cups of tea weighing you down!
- Mouth becoming dry and nausea – your digestive system is not relevant when you’re in danger, the energy used to keep it running and create saliva will instead divert to your muscles.
- Hands going cold – blood diverts from the skin to important muscles.
- Palms sweating – the body sweats to keep cool, keeping your body efficient in it’s time of need.
- Heartbeat quickens – enhances your ability to escape/fight by providing more blood to your muscles.
- Muscles become tense – they may even begin to tremble if you’re still standing still, this will keep your muscles alert and ready to run or throw out some high kicks.
- Quick, shallow breaths – this will ensure more oxygen reaches your muscles but if you’re not using it, this will lead you to feel dizzy and lightheaded.
Unfortunately, once this process starts it’s very hard to stop it. The fact it’s happening alone is upsetting and stressful so it ends up being a very vicious circle. The best attempt we can make to control it is to retrain our thought process to stop it before it even begins. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy revolves around the idea of the present, the here and now. Most of our worrying tends to be about the future (hypothetical) or the past (ruminating) and CBT challenges us to ground ourselves back into our current surroundings to enable us to better deal with our practical worries that are happening currently. It’s a talking therapy that focuses on strategies and practical skills that will help you manage your worries so that they are not overpowering. We cannot get rid of our worries entirely and some worries are very much necessary but we do need to be able to control our own worries and not allow them control us.
In next weeks blog I will write about some tips and tricks you can try to deal with anxiety, excessive worrying and managing negative automatic thoughts. Please subscribe to be kept up to date, share with friends and leave any questions or comments below.