10 Strategies That Can Worsen Your Anxiety
Like many people who suffer from anxiety, you might have tried to overcome it on your own. There are some general strategies that you could have used to free yourself from anxiety. Curiously all these strategies seem very rational; however they do not help you become anxiety free.
Some of the advice listed bellow is given by psychotherapists to their patients. Others are offered by some bloggers who suffer anxiety. As you read you will recognize that they all make sense. However, as you yourself must have known by experience, common sense strategies rarely help you overcome tough bouts of fear and anxiety.
Here are some of strategies that do not help overcome anxiety and fear:
- Learning all you can about anxiety
- Trying to stop anxiety with relaxation or with your thoughts
- Facing the object or the situation that causes you anxiety and fears
- Asking friends and family to help you
- Avoiding coffee or other beverages with caffeine, aspartame and a long list of foods
- Using yoga and aromatherapy… or physical relaxation with aromatherapy, deep breathing, yoga, etc.
- Organize your life better
- Control your thoughts.
- Exchanging advice with other sufferers.
- Asking for help and reassurance.
Internet offers a plethora of information about anything. It just seems logical that the very important first step is to learn all the details about anxiety in order to understand what is happening to you or what’s wrong with you when you are anxious. The axiom that “knowledge is power” fuels your motivation to read pages after pages and watch videos after videos about anxiety.
However studies have shown that excess information leads to confusion. Each expert may recommend a specific and different course of action. Sometimes you receive contradicting advice and do not know what to do. This adds to your frustration because after putting into practice the recommendations coming from so called “experts” and after failing in feeling better, you believe that there must be something wrong with you that after trying so many different things, you are still anxious.
You must know that often when you do different things, even if apparently it may look as if they are so different action, they may all belong to the category. This means that if you followed the recommendations of different experts, and each offering you different techniques, they all fall under the same umbrella. To understand this better let’s consider the nightmare experience. If you are having a nightmare you can try to do different things in your dream. You can run away, fight, scream or hide. However none of these different actions ends the nightmare. The only way that guarantees you will get out of the nightmare is to wake up!
You think that if something is bad, its opposite must be good. So you try to either achieve this mechanically by deep breathing or relaxing your muscles. Or you can also try this by your thoughts trying to reassure yourself that you can stay calm and not get anxious.
However as the latest discoveries in how the brain functions under fear and anxiety, we know that relaxation, whether by mechanical means or by thoughts cannot stop an automatic anxiety and fear trigger.
This strategy is known as exposure technique. You might believe that by exposing yourself to those situations and objects that trigger your anxiety and fear, you get used to them and there’re you begin to become indifferent about it.
Those of you that have tried this strategy have discovered that exposing yourself to anxiety can make it worse. The reason is that the anxiety reaction is an automatic response activated by the amygdale, the emotional center of the brain. If you activate it repeatedly, you might exacerbate it by the very act of repetition.
Since the fear and the anxiety reaction is so frightening, you tend to avoid those places, objects or situations that could be dangerous. However there are times that you have no choice but face the situation. For example if you are afraid of crowded places, you might avoid going to the mall. However if you have a doctor’s appointment and you must go, then you ask someone to come with you, just in case you get anxious and feel out of control. Your companion gives a feeling of safety. The major drawback to this is that you become more and more dependent of having someone take you to specific places.
One of the major myths about anxiety is that if you live a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercise your anxiety will go away. It’s true that for some people certain foods accelerate their heart neat like it does caffeine. However this is not anxiety. Any one suffering from anxiety and phobias knows that a feeling of anxiety is something different.
Yes, at times, when you take a deep breath you feel better and relax. However this works with people who do notsuffer from chronic anxiety! If you are about to give a talk or go for a job interview, you get nervous or anxious. If you take a deep breath and relax your body, it makes you feel good. This helps because this anxiety response is normal and healthy. Your body is telling you to pay attention because you are about to be faced with a real challenge and you need all your attention and resources to do your best. However for someone that just out of the blue the anxiety kicks in, deep breathing does not help. It would be like standing in front of a wild horse trying to stop it.
Taking control over emails, messages, etc. Organizing your life and managing stress has little to do with calming your anxiety response. This advice is useful for those of us that feel stressed out, but for those who are under the attack of fear and anxiety is just useless.
The advice, usually given by cognitive-behavior therapist, consists of not allowing your thoughts to venture down the “catastrophe” path where you are bombarded with negative self talks like “what’s wrong with me?”, “Why I feel strange?”, “Why can’t I shake this?”, “I’m losing control”, “I’m afraid!”, “I could dye now!” This technique tries to teach you to stop the train of awful thoughts by repeating to yourself “No. I will not go there”. One woman told me that her therapist had advised her to say out loud “NO! NO! NO!” in order to divert her attention from anxiety-provoking thoughts. She was supposed to repeat it out loud as many times as she needed in order not to think of anxious thoughts. She said that one day she repeated to herself “No!” about 100 times! At the end she was exhausted and still was thinking about anxiety! This technique rarely works because the anxiety response is automatic and operates without your conscious mental control. You cannot take it over by sheer will power. Moreover the more you try not to think of something, the more you become obsessed with it because trying not to think is thinking more!
Getting advice from someone who is struggling with anxiety forums, message boards, or chat rooms, has become an easy way to get information from other people. Their advice may appear helpful because they claim that such and such technique or strategy or remedy worked for them. However their recommendations may work against you overcome your conduction.
This may sound logical because any well-meaning spouse, friend or family is ready to help. However, even though the initial feeling of relief, soon gives way to frustration as you realize that you doped on their help. Compassionate and kindly encouragement, even though well-intentioned, rarely leads to recovery.