Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a mood state characterized by general feelings of unease, fear, worry, or dread. Sometimes it occurs in response to external stimulus. For example, you are camping and awaken to the sounds of sniffing outside your tent. Upon further inspection, you realize that this sniffing is rather loud. You start to think about it. It doesn’t really seem like mouse-type sniffing, more like bear-type sniffing. Anxiety is a natural response to a bear sniffing around your tent late at night.

But what about situations where there is no bear? Many people experience unwanted anxiety in situations that don’t necessarily represent a clear safety threat. What about people who find themselves paralyzed by fear at the thought of going to the mall, or interacting with their classmates at school? In these situations people affected by anxiety disorders find themselves unable to act due to some Big Scary Thing. The Big Scary Thing, whether it’s going to visit a friend or attending choir practice, feels very much like a bear scratching at the around outside your tent.

Here are a couple of steps to take when you encounter a Big Scary Thing:

  • Know that what you are dealing with is a Big Scary Thing. Don’t judge yourself for encountering this Big Scary Thing or try to force yourself into thinking about the BST in any particular way. Just recognize that a BST is what you are dealing with.
  • Focus your attention on small non-scary things. If, for example, going to a doctor’s appointment turns into a BST, focus your attention on all of the small things you would normally do to get ready to go to the appointment. Try to isolate these little things from the BST.
  • Talk to yourself in your mind as you do these little things. I am brushing my teeth. I am tying my shoes. I am looking for my car keys. I am looking up the address of a doctor’s office online, so I can write it on this piece of paper. I am walking toward my car. I am putting the key into the ignition of the car.
  • See each of these little things as separate tasks, not related to each other. It’s especially important to isolate these tasks as much as possible from the Big Scary Thing. It’s okay to try to fool yourself a little. Even though you know you are doing it, there’s a pretty good chance that it will work.
  • By the time you complete five or six separate tasks, you will realize that you are in charge of your actions. Even if the BST is still Big and Scary, you’ll realize that it’s not controlling your behavior. That alone will make it a little smaller and less scary.

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