4 Connections

Reading time: about 7 minutes.

Everything's connected

Our actions, emotions, physical sensations and thoughts are all connected.

For example, if I have a pain in my chest, I might wonder if I’m having a heart attack. As I begin to think more about this, I notice that I’m beginning to feel scared, which makes me feel more tense and a little shaky.

My hands might begin to tremble, so I might try to tense my muscles to stop myself shaking. This makes me even more tense, which leads to pain in my muscles. I begin to sweat and take fast, shallow breaths.

This convinces me there’s something seriously wrong; it convinces me that I’m about to have a heart attack, though the end result is more likely to be a panic attack.

The good news is that as my behaviour, emotions, physical sensations and thoughts are all connected, if I change one of them, I change them all.

What we notice.

When we’re anxious, we tend to do two things.

  1. We focus more on our problems and challenges, and
  2. We tend not to remember times when we’ve been successful.

When we’re stressed, we have a kind of tunnel vision, we focus more on our problems. This is natural, and is supposed to help us deal better with our challenges.

Unfortunately it doesn’t help much when we’ve a lot of things to do, and can just make us feel saturated with our problems.

When we’re anxious memory works differently. We find it difficult to remember our strengths, the things we’re proud of, and the times when we’ve dealt well with problems.

It’s important to remember that when we’re anxious we underestimate our strengths. It’s not so much that we can’t cope. The problem is more that we feel we can’t.

Our experience of strong emotions and unpleasant body sensations, convinces us that we’re not coping, which makes us feel worse.

Remember our thoughts and emotions are not facts. They’re interpretations.

It’s not all that long ago that people believed the world was flat. Early explorers were afraid they would fall off the edge of the Earth. This stopped people venturing too far. The belief that we can’t cope is our modern-day flat earth, and has much the same effect.

It’s hard enough to be brave, and to face up to the things we’re afraid of, without telling ourselves that we’re weak, or that we can’t cope.

Strengths.

The symptoms of anxiety are influenced by three types of thoughts:

  1. The way we think about ourselves.
  2. The way we think about other people.
  3. The way we think about the situation we’re in.

Try this simple exercise. Off the top of your head, complete the following three sentences. Just say the first thing that comes to mind:

  1. I am.
  2. Other people are.
  3. Life is.

Consider for a moment. What effect do you think these thoughts might have? What emotions are we likely to feel if we believe the thoughts we’ve written above?

For example, what emotions would likely stem from the following beliefs?

  1. I am … rubbish.
  2. Other people are … better than me.
  3. Life is … pointless.

Now what emotions would most likely stem from the following beliefs?

  1. I am … as good as anyone.
  2. Other people are … no better than me.
  3. Life is … largely what we make it.

Some beliefs are more helpful to us than others. What we believe influences our mood and our outlook.

What we believe about ourselves affects not only how we feel, but also the things we do. Why should we bother looking after ourselves, if we don’t think we’re worth the effort, or if we think life is pointless?

Let’s take a look at some healthy, and some less-healthy, behaviours.

Some things we do improve our health. Some of the things that can increase our health and wellbeing include:

  1. Doing things which give us a sense of mastery or pleasure.
  2. Exercising.
  3. Eating healthily.
  4. Spending time with people who help us feel good about ourselves.

Some things that can reduce our health and wellbeing include:

  1. Worrying instead of solving problems. Our problems mount up, and we don’t get a sense of achievement from solving them.
  2. Avoiding challenging situations, which can make our fears grow.
  3. Paying too much attention to people who reduce our self-esteem.


What things do you do that make you feel better? Make a note of them below.

We all have thoughts and opinions about what we feel, what we think, and about what we do.

An important question is, do these thoughts help, or hinder us? Consider the following statements, and mark how true they feel for you today. There are no right or wrong answers.

I don’t think I will ever feel any better.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

Although it may take time, I can change how I feel. I know my feelings can change, because I haven’t always felt like I do today.

Everything is hopeless. I don’t see the point in anything any more.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I can change my thinking. I haven’t always thought about things the way I do now, I can recall a time when I was more optimistic.

I don’t think there’s anything I can do.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I can start to do things differently straight away. I don’t need to feel differently before I do something. A small change is a step in the right direction.

I can’t cope.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I’ve got this far and have dealt with some horrible feelings. I am still here, and can remember and think about better times, when I didn’t feel so bad.

Can you think of any other positive thoughts, things you might say to yourself when you start to notice thoughts that hold you back?

Make a note of them below.

People connected

Noticing the positive.

During the coming week, notice a time when you feel just a little bit better. This may be a time when you notice that your physical, feeling, or thinking symptoms are just a tiny bit better than usual.

The difference may only be small, but there are always times when we feel just that little bit better.

If you’re struggling to think of a time, ask someone you trust and who knows you well for some help. When you have thought of a time, write it down in detail below.


The date and time I felt a little better.

What was I doing?

Alone or with someone?

On a scale of 1-10, What was my discomfort score before?

On a scale of 1-10, What was my discomfort score after?

What seemed to cause the change?

Remember.

By changing what I think, or by changing what I do, I can change how I feel.

Next – coming soon.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 17 December 2017.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: July 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 84.

3 Awareness

Reading time: about 4 minutes.

We can suffer from anxiety without realising it!

It’s easy to mistake the symptoms of anxiety for those of a physical illness, while some physical illnesses produce symptoms that can be hard to tell apart from anxiety. That’s why it’s important to check with a health professional, to make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by something physical before starting this Programme.

Anxiety can have many causes. Among these are stress due to work, time pressures, money worries and relationship problems. The things that provoke anxiety are called “triggers”. Knowing what these triggers are, and how we react to them, can help us overcome anxiety. While panic and anxiety can arise suddenly, there are often signs such as an event, a memory, an emotion, a physical sensation, or a thought that appears a fraction of a second before symptoms arise.

These memories, feelings, or thoughts can happen so fast that we don’t notice them. It can help to slow down and pay attention to what’s happening, so we can find out more about our triggers.

When we understand what causes our symptoms, we take a step closer to overcoming them.Awareness

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows different levels of awareness as lines 1, 2, and 3. The area above line 1 is our conscious mind. A lot is happening below line 1, but only the small part of the blue area above the line  enters our awareness. If we’re able to quieten the mind, shown as line 2, more information enters our awareness. If we were able to quieten our minds further, to line 3, much more information would be available to the conscious mind.

Quietening the mind can help us identify more of the things that trigger our anxiety. When we’re stressed or anxious, it’s only natural to want to “feel less”. We feel the urge to suppress difficult feelings. However, trying to do so doesn’t work, and just makes us more tense and stressed.

It’s better to have a kind of detached curiosity, where we acknowledge our emotions and sensations, before letting our attention move naturally elsewhere. We intensify what we notice, so focusing on unpleasant or difficult sensations, emotions, or thoughts, just makes them stronger.

Imagine trying to listen to one instrument playing in an orchestra. The best way is to quieten the rest of the orchestra, until we’re able to attend to the one instrument we’re interested in. Identifying the triggers for our anxiety is similar. Quietening the mind helps us identify the things that trigger our anxiety symptoms, so we have more options as to how to respond.

Fight, flight and freeze.

Dinosaur
The changes that happen in the body when we’re anxious help us to cope with danger, and prepare us for “fight, flight, or freeze”. That is, we become ready to take on whatever is threatening us, to run away from it, or to hide. These changes happen very quickly, as a hormone called adrenaline is released into the bloodstream. Adrenaline produces many of the unpleasant sensations associated with anxiety, such as a racing heart, sweating, breathing fast and muscle tension.

Becoming aware.

Imagine you’re out for a walk, when you suddenly come face-to-face with a scary dinosaur! It starts to move towards you, slowly at first. It’s mouth opens, then it starts to run. How would you feel? What would you notice happening to your body? What thoughts would be going through your mind?

Think about and record below what you’d think and feel.

 

Of course, a fast and powerful reaction would be in order. Adrenaline helps us run faster, so we don’t end up as a dinosaur’s dinner!

This is all well and good, but there aren’t any dinosaurs around today. Yet the parts of the brain responsible for our life-saving responses, are much as they were many thousands of years ago.

Here’s a list of common anxiety symptoms:

  • Behaviour – trembling, running away, hyper-alertness, restlessness, tiring easily.
  • Emotions – fear, panic.
  • Sensations – muscle tension, physical pain, rapid and shallow breathing, fast heartbeat.
  • Thoughts – “I can’t deal with this”, “This will be awful”, “I have to get away”, “I’m going mad”, “I’m going to die”, continual worry, mind going blank.

Try this now. What anxiety symptoms do you have? Make a note of them below.

 

Next – Connections.

 


 

Written by: SC.
Written on: 17 December 2017.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: July 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 65.

2 Understanding

Reading time: about 3 minutes.

Understanding Anxiety.

The symptoms of stress and anxiety can be very upsetting, and can stop us from doing the things we might otherwise enjoy, though anxiety only really becomes a problem when it’s out of proportion to the situation, or when it goes on for too long.

About one person in ten will consult a doctor at some time because they’re feeling anxious. It’s also very common for people with anxiety symptoms to feel low, or depressed, for some of the time.

Although it is extremely unpleasant, even severe anxiety doesn’t kill us. We don’t drop down dead of anxiety. It doesn’t cause us any immediate physical or mental harm, although, like stress, it’s much healthier for us to manage stress and anxiety, rather than to be “keyed up” all the time.

Anxiety can make our lives miserable when it gets out of control. One of the problems with stress, and anxiety, is that it can make us more worried and more preoccupied about our symptoms, which only makes matters worse – a “vicious circle.”

We can very easily become stressed and anxious about feeling stressed and anxious!

In figure 1 (below) we see how an unpleasant thought, emotion, or physical sensation can begin a vicious circle, leading to unpleasant physical symptoms like a fast or irregular heartbeat, pains in the chest and difficulty breathing.

These symptoms lead to further stress and worry, when we misinterpret them as signs of something serious; maybe we fear we’re having a heart attack, which of course makes us even more worried, stressed and anxious.

This makes us pay more attention to our symptoms, which makes them worse … and so the cycle goes round and round, until we make our anxiety so bad that we may have a panic attack.

Anxiety Cycle

Figure 1.

Will this help?

When we feel like this, it’s very easy and understandable to become pessimistic about the future. Many people think there’s no hope for them, that they will always feel awful.

It’s especially difficult if our anxiety seems senseless, when we seem to feel anxious about “everything” or about “nothing,” or when anxiety attacks just seem to come “out of the blue”.

When we’re pessimistic about the future we might not see the point in doing things. This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we think there’s not much point in doing something, why should we try?

How hard we try is linked to how to be successful we’re likely to be. The more effort we put in, the more benefit we’re likely to feel!

Do you think this programme will help?

How hopeful am I?

Make a note of how hopeful you feel that the programme will help. Score from 1 for “not at all hopeful”, to 10 for “extremely hopeful.”

Do you think your level of confidence will affect how much effort you put in?

Do you think the amount of effort you put in, will affect how much benefit you will get from the programme?

Next – Awareness.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 69.

1 Introduction

Reading time: about 4 minutes.

Introduction.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear; not absence of fear.”

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910).

Anxiety.

Some people call anxiety a mild or a minor disorder. However, for those people who have experienced the distress caused by anxiety, this probably feels far from accurate.

We’re all familiar with stress and with anxiety. It can help us focus and provides us with the “get up and go” to get things done.

It’s normal to feel anxious sometimes, for example before an interview or an exam. Normal anxiety only becomes a problem when it becomes so intense, or when it happens so often that it stops us dealing with day-to-day things.

For example, does stress or anxiety:

  • Make you worry or feel bad about yourself?
  • Stop you enjoying things?
  • Prevent you from being more effective at work?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, this Programme could be for you.

Anxiety and stress.

We feel stressed when we don’t feel able to meet the demands made of us. Stress tends to add up over time, so it’s common to find ourselves becoming stressed over things we used to take in our stride.

Stress affects us all, a little helps keep us “on our toes.” It help us stay alert and effective. Too much stress and we can become tense, irritable, and unable to concentrate. The more complex the task, or the less familiar we are with it; the more stress affects our ability to work effectively (figure 1).

When we’re stressed we can begin to blow things out of proportion, we become less able to solve problems, and can have problems remembering things. Too much stress over a long period can make us ill, as well as more prone to anxiety and depression, as well as a range of physical health problems.

We’re all different, so what stresses one person might not bother another person at all. Quite often, other people realise we’re stressed before we do.

It’s very important to learn to manage stress if we are to stay healthy.

Yerkes-Dodson Curve

Figure 1.

Anxiety and shame

If we suffer from stress or anxiety it’s very easy to feel ashamed, especially if our symptoms make us feel different from others. A lack of understanding from other people can make us feel much more ashamed of our fears.

The difference between the seemingly trivial trigger, and the extreme fear it can produce, can make it hard for people to understand and sympathise. It’s no wonder we try to conceal our fears.

People can make us feel worse by:

  • Avoiding us.
  • Being angry with us.
  • Thinking of us as weak.
  • Blaming us.

Being alone with anxiety.

Shame stops us talking about our problems, leads us to cut ourselves off from other people, and makes us become preoccupied with ourselves and our symptoms (figure 2).

Some people with stress and anxiety complain of physical illness, headaches and palpitations, or tiredness, rather than acknowledge their fear to others. Severe anxiety makes us feel were going mad. The physical symptoms of stress and anxiety are very real, and can be very distressing.

Anxiety Cycle

Figure 2.

What can we do?

It’s impossible to get rid of anxiety completely. We’re always going to come across things that make us anxious from time to time. What’s important is that we learn to manage our anxiety, so that it doesn’t take over our lives and make us miserable. To do this, we need an understanding of what anxiety is, how it affects us, and how we can better manage it.

This programme can help with understanding, and with the practical things which can help us manage stress and anxiety. We will introduce you to some new approaches, to help manage the thoughts, feelings, and physical symptoms which accompany stress and anxiety.

We hope you enjoy the Programme and find it useful!

Next – Understanding.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 20 May 2019.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: May 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 72.