Anxiety is a powerful physiological and emotional response that appears when we feel that we are facing a threat. It is therefore normal that we feel it in certain more or less stressful situations. On the other hand, we say that anxiety is pathological when it appears without justified cause.

The boundary between normal and pathological anxiety

A non-pathological anxiety, besides being normal, is even beneficial. Yerkes-Dobson’s Law (1908), describes the relationship between anxiety and performance. According to this law, a certain level of anxiety increases performance , and therefore the possibilities of success in any action we try, whether it is an exam, a job, etc. When we exceed that anxiety limit, performance begins to drop, because our capacity for attention and concentration, and therefore information retrieval, decreases.

When anxiety comes on suddenly and for no apparent reason, that’s when we start to worry and fear that the symptoms will come back. When this happens we run the risk of becoming too alarmed and constantly anticipating its appearance , which in time will make the state of alert so high that anxiety will inevitably take hold in our lives.

When we go to therapy, we do so without understanding what is happening to us, and with an enormous fear of not getting our lives back, thoughts like “I’ve gone crazy”, “I’ll never be the same person again” and the like occupy our minds at all times. This generates a state of helplessness and impotence , the feeling of “not controlling our reactions”.

In Avance Psicologos we are aware of the repercussion that this has on the life and environment of the person who suffers from anxiety, so in therapy we consider it essential that the person understands what anxiety is, so that they can start to face it being aware that it is an alarm response that is indicating to us that there is something to be reviewed in our lives, which can be tremendously beneficial in our personal development in the medium term.

Treatment in psychotherapy

Currently, the treatment of anxiety from cognitive-behavioral psychology and Third Generation therapies is giving more than demonstrated results.

Through progressive exposure to the stimulus that generates the alert and the development of coping and unlearning skills of anxiety, with techniques developed over years of research in psychology, in addition to the commitment and acceptance of anxiety as a fundamental part of recovery, a recovery of the quality of life can be produced.

These techniques are learned during therapy, so that the person with anxiety can use them in his daily life, regaining the feeling of control over his body and emotional state .

Humanistic orientations of psychology, such as Ellis’ Rational Emotional Therapy, Rogers’ Client Centred Therapy and Perls’ Gestalt Therapy, are used in Avance Psychologiques during therapy in a parallel way, with the clear objective of complementing and deepening the emotional variables that are behind anxiety.

The symptoms of anxiety-type problems

The symptoms that should make us think that our anxiety is disproportionate and that we have to start working on it, are manifested on different levels. They are the following.

Cognitive symptoms

The fear that anxiety will appear causes constant thoughts of anticipation that maintain alert levels. There are also thoughts of fear of failure or fear of suffering.

In addition, we have a greater tendency to think in a distorted and negative way, and to present catastrophic thoughts, which generates a sensation of anguish and discomfort that leads to the decrease of the capacities of attention and concentration.

Physical symptoms

In our body, anxiety manifests itself with symptoms such as tachycardia, sweating, tremors, feeling that we have difficulty breathing, muscular tension , tingling or corky skin, tension in the stomach, pressure in the chest, insomnia, eating disorders, etc.

Behavioral symptoms

When anxiety generates the feeling of helplessness and lack of control over our body and behaviour, self-esteem and mood can be seriously damaged by the appearance of a feeling of helplessness and lack of control over our lives.

Negative and maladjusted thoughts and avoidance behaviours for fear that anxiety will appear, reaffirm the feeling of helplessness and lack of control, so our self-esteem can be seriously damaged, leading us to continue avoiding elements of our environment and maintaining this vicious circle. Some of the avoidances that can damage self-esteem over time, since they imply a loss of autonomy, are: avoiding social relations, avoiding going out into the street, taking means of transport, etc.

There is also a tendency to check pretending that anxiety does not appear, which can lead to compulsive behaviour such as going to the doctor often, visiting websites to check symptoms, establishing rather superstitious or ritualistic rules, with the idea that this way we control its appearance. This leads to an enormous loss of energy and actually maintains and increases anxiety.

Keys to Dealing with Anxiety

Here are some guidelines to follow to combat anxiety.

1. Check the possible causes

Try to determine what events are taking place in your current moment, which may be generating this state of alert. If there is not a reason, check what could have happened recently and what you have not paid enough attention to; it could be that you are avoiding facing something, making a decision, not having resolved a major grief or loss, or that you are keeping something in your life that you need to change .

2. Adjust your thinking

What is your way of interpreting what happens to you? Misaligned or overly negative thoughts may be causing your body to overreact and maintain a high level of stress throughout the day.

3. Adjust your expectations

Are your expectations adjusted? If you are too demanding on yourself and others, you can get into a loop of dissatisfaction with constant frustration. Check that your expectations are adjusted and set yourself small objectives with realistic and progressive goals.

4. Train assertiveness

How are you communicating with others? If you find it hard to say no, ask for favours, delegate or be assertive you are probably carrying too many things you can’t handle alone .

5. Secure moments for yourself

Do you have enough space for your personal life? If you lack moments of leisure, solitude, or your social life has been reduced, the anxiety alarm may try to make you think about this in order to change it and recover spaces for personal development.

6. Check your self-esteem

Are you underestimating yourself or do you feel your self-esteem is low? If so, it is more than possible that you feel overwhelmed by the events of your day-to-day life by believing that you cannot cope or that you do not have enough abilities or skills to cope in your environment and in your relationship with others.

7. Progressively face what you fear

Since you are feeling anxious are you avoiding going out, meeting friends and family, taking the car or other means of transportation?

When you avoid, your body learns to interpret these spaces as potentially dangerous , so your symptoms may increase each time. Try to gradually expose yourself to these situations and try not to leave the place you are in if symptoms start to appear, so that your body checks that they are not dangerous.

8. Do not check

Are you constantly looking for information about your symptoms, or are you starting to get manic so that anxiety doesn’t show up? If so, think this reinforces the idea that there’s a potential danger, so
your body will keep the alarm .

Checking the gas tap too many times, washing your hands for fear of spreading disease, constant doctor’s visits, etc., are checks that maintain your anxiety.

9. Exercise

Have you forgotten your body? Remember that moderate exercise has a positive response on anxiety symptoms and improves mood.

Increased levels of noradrenaline and serotonin, two neurotransmitters directly related to mood, and decreased alertness, occur when we exercise regularly, while the stress hormone, cortisol, decreases, and the welfare hormones, endorphins, increase in our body.

10. Take care of your diet

How do you eat? Anxiety is influenced directly by what we eat and also by how we eat .

A healthy diet, without excess carbohydrates, fats and sugars indirectly helps to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. A link has also been found between a lack of alpha-linoleic acid and the occurrence of anxiety attacks, as well as a deficit of magnesium may be related to an increase in anxiety symptoms and depression.

We cannot forget either how we eat; respect schedules, eat sitting down, avoid glucose peaks by eating several meals a day with moderate amounts, chew well and slowly and have a varied diet, it will help us absorb all the nutrients and have good digestions.

Consider psychotherapy

Sometimes, when we want to start working on anxiety, it is ingrained enough that we find it difficult to cope without therapy support. Although psychopharmaceuticals do their job and reduce the symptom, being very useful in cases where anxiety is deeply rooted, psychotherapy goes deeper into the root of anxiety and provides guidance with the idea of taking advantage of its appearance, as an opportunity for self-knowledge and improvement in our lives.

Bibliographic references:

  • Burns, David. (2010). Feeling good. Editorial Paidos Ibérica.
  • Ellis, Albert. (2013). How to control anxiety before it controls you. Editorial Paidos Ibérica.
  • Goleman, Daniel. (2012). The brain and emotional intelligence: new discoveries. B editions.