Everyone experiences anxiety; it’s part of the human condition, let’s embrace it! When we experience anxiety we also feel it by irritability, sweating, inability to sleep… It’s no wonder we want to get rid of it, but should we?
What if we could transform some types of anxiety into a “superpower?” Let’s start understanding the different types of anxiety.
First of all, anxiety is a normal emotion in response to some experiences or thoughts. After all, it’s your brain’s way to alert you of potential dangers. It serves an evolutionary purpose; to alert one to potential threats and come up with a plan of attack to keep us safe.
We can have normal or situational anxiety and abnormal anxiety. By some estimates, close to 100% of the world’s population experiences situational anxiety.
Situational anxiety is a type of anxiety one has in response to specific situations, such as job interviews, speaking in public, meeting someone on a first date, and one’s first day at work.
Situational anxiety is actually pretty commonplace, therefore it is not classified as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the manual that doctors use to diagnose mental health disorders.
Some of the symptoms of situational anxiety include nervousness, sweating, trembling, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, difficulty concentrating, and dry mouth in response to specific situations or thoughts. However, after a few minutes, we return to our original state.
Those able to take care of their daily tasks yet be full of anxiety on the inside. This type of anxiety is referred to as high-functioning anxiety. It’s a specifi form of anxiety that usually goes unnoticed and has an impact physically and mentally but doesn’t impair one’s ability to perform daily tasks. This insidious anxiety can be successfully managed by a personal focus on healthy coping skills potentially combined with external help.
An excessive worry that persists even when the stressor goes away is considered chronic anxiety or stress. When this chronic anxiety starts to interfere with your personal relationships, work performance, or overall wellbeing, it’s a big red flag to get outside help to deal with this anxiety disorder.
Chronic anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, phobia disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Extreme anxiety and fear may lead to severe psychosomatic manifestations, including headaches, skin rashes and even autoimmune diseases. With therapy and/or medications, these anxiety disorders can be managed.
Anxiety and the Brain-Body Connection
Emerging research shows a connection between anxiety and how the brain perceives the body’s inner signals. As mentioned earlier, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, etc., are all symptoms of situational anxiety. But they are also the brain’s way of preparing one’s body for an impending or potential threat. However, suppose you tend to carry higher levels of situational anxiety. In that case, these signals can reinforce situational anxiety, causing a downward spiral.
In fact, decades earlier, Claire Weekes, a scientist, and physician, described this mind-body phenomenon thus as “first fear” and “second fear.” “First fear” is the primal fear that is activated when animals, including humans, sense danger. “Second fear,” experienced only by humans, is the fear that one develops based on our negative feelings and thoughts about fear.
According to Dr. Weekes, this “fear of fear” feeds our anxiety and starts a vicious feedback loop between the mind and body, leading to situational anxiety-related panic attacks.
Become a Transformer
Situational anxiety is a part of everyday life. Still, this anxiety can be transformed into positive energy, what I call “vital energy.” Vital energy encompasses all the physical and emotional energy that one often wastes in anxious, often irrational thoughts.
In my free, best-selling Kindle book “Mindful Framing: Transform your Anxiety into Vital Energy” (also available as paperback and audiobook) I describe an entire NEO Chi Lifestyle and devote chapter 2 to a visualization practice to cope and transform anxiety. This means dealing head-on with the triggers of anxiety before they start to get stuck in our heads leading to chronic anxiety. This is the notion of the anxiety bus.
The Anxiety Bus
Visualization is just imagination, seeing with your mind. This happens when we retrieve visual memories. With practice you can “see” anything you want, even become a screen writer, producer and director of your very own mental movies. The anxiety bus guided visualization helps you “see” all the triggers involved in situations or thoughts causing you anxiety, as well as people or mechanisms that help you cope.
You are the driver of an imaginary bus, at different stope you see people entering the bus and sitting either in left rows, behind you, standing in the aisle or in the right rows. The left row represent loved ones, colleagues that you can support, for example your ailing dad or mom. The aisle represents people or situations outside your control, for instance the plumber not showing up. The right rows are filled b people that can help you cope or just are available if needed.
Once all the passengers are in the bus, just step out, press autopilot and step out, watching how the bus turns the corner and disappears. I do this quick practice every morning. During the day I work on identifying the triggers and coping mechanisms and optimize my bus for the next day
Tackle Your Worries
To learn how to identify your anxiety triggers, start here:
- Acknowledge situations leading to anxiety. For instance, do you have an upcoming job interview that is causing the anxiety?
- Next, observe your mind without criticism. Notice if you are responding to the trigger with an action, an emotion, or both.
- Disengage from the anxiety trigger. Don’t assign any meaning to the thoughts or emotions or label the thoughts as good or bad. Just observe them objectively, and let them be.
- Identify your physical reactions, e.g., sweaty palms, racing heartbeat.
- Take countermeasures to deal with the trigger. One such countermeasure is using the practice of mindful framing, which includes 4 more steps: engage your five senses, connect with Nature, regulate your Emotions and care for your Organism, the NEO Chi Lifestyle.
Ask yourself what you can do to alleviate your anxiety about a particular situation. More often than not, we spend time worrying about things that are out of our control. By asking ourselves what we can do about our anxiety, we can make a To-Do-List that tackles things in our control. For something out of our control, we can just flag it as “No Action.”
In the example of being worried about an upcoming job interview, you can list possible interview questions that could be asked and how you will answer these questions. In terms of whether or not the interviewer will “click” with you, you can flag it as “No Action.” Whether or not the interviewer likes you are out of your control.
By tackling the worries we can control and not acting on the things we can’t control, we can stop our fears from spiraling out of control. This, in turn, helps you get off the anxiety bus.
Tackle your Emotions
Listen to your negative emotions. The negative emotions that come with anxiety can enlighten our path. They are there to direct us to what we treasure and value.
So instead of feeling beaten down by them, feel them and learn from them. In the example of being worried about an upcoming job interview, you may be anxious because you’re interviewing for your dream job. Perhaps the current position you have now doesn’t give you satisfaction and meaning. So your upcoming job interview represents something significant to you. As a result, you want to put extra effort into preparing for your job interview.
Life is full of challenging situations that can bring on anxiety. At times like this, we may want to cower in fear. But by recognizing the triggers and dealing with them head-on, we can achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.