Identify the patterns of anxiety
Change the thinking that accompanies anxiety-provoking situations
Change the anxious behavior
Identifying the Patterns of Anxiety
People often see the distressful symptoms of social anxiety as their enemy, so they try to avoid thinking about it. In order to overcome social anxiety, however, it is necessary to “embrace” the anxiety. That is, sufferers need to identify the features of their anxiety and acknowledge these characteristics as their own. When people fully understand a problem, they are better able to cope with it. Shutting out the problem, on the other hand, keeps it in the dark where it is difficult to work with.
People often become aware of anxiety by identifying their physical reactions, which include a racing heartbeat, flushing, upset stomach, excessive perspiration, dizziness, poor concentration, and shaky hands. It is important to understand whether these physical reactions take place before (anticipatory anxiety), during, or after the anxiety-provoking situation.
Some people cope with anxiety by engaging in avoidance behavior. This happens when the person tries to stay away from situations that arouse anxiety. This is helpful in some circumstances, such as avoiding driving during rush hour. However, when the person starts to avoid business meetings, taking classes, and socializing with friends because of anxiety, the impact on one’s lifestyle can be constricting. A related symptom of anxiety is escape behavior, which involves leaving a situation that arouses anxiety. This can include running out of a class when the time to speak is near, leaving a party shortly after arriving, or exiting the airplane before it departs.
A helpful exercise, after examining one’s physical reactions and other behaviors associated with anxiety, is to set goals which would be achievable if the anxiety were not present. These goals should be specific. For example, 1.) Enroll in a music class next month, 2.) Make a date with Bonnie for lunch next Thursday, 3.) Make a presentation at the next business meeting. Establishing these goals increases one’s awareness of what life could be like if the anxiety were conquered – and it serves as a motivator for coming to terms with anxiety. If the goals are actually achieved, the stage is set for practicing some behaviors that directly address symptoms of anxiety.
The anxiety sufferer is acutely aware of physical symptoms, much more so than other people are. There are a number of tactics one can use to influence these symptoms –
Accepting the symptoms – when a person fights against the symptoms, anxiety actually increases. A better strategy is simply to accept the symptoms. Don’t fight them. Just let them happen. Then let them pass.
Changing one’s focus – Shift your attention to the external environment rather than focusing on the symptoms.
Masking the symptoms – This provides a temporary way of getting through an anxiety-provoking situation until the symptoms come under better control. For example, wear a sweater to hide underarm perspiration.
Learning relaxation techniques – A therapist can provide a number of ways to get one’s body to relax, including deep muscle relaxation and deep breathing. Practicing these techniques everyday, and not just prior to an anxiety situation, is a powerful way to regulate symptoms that now seem out of control.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy provides counseling in the convenient area of Sorrento Valley Road.
We also serve the surrounding areas of La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, University City, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway and Escondido.