Why you are anxious and what to do about it

Do you sometimes get that anxious feeling even when you cannot trace its cause? Most of these anxious feelings we have, are caused by thoughts in our minds, which are sometimes just that - thoughts. We worry about things that haven’t happened, and may never happen.

Don’t get me wrong, anxiety is an important emotion in every human being. It warns us of impending danger, and makes us more careful. On the other hand, it is not healthy being anxious at all times.

Anxiety can be caused by irrational thoughts, obsessive thoughts, fear, fatigue and uncertainties. Thoughts are termed as irrational if:
  • They are unfounded
  • They get in your way and keep you from reaching your goals
  • They lead to self-defeating or self-depreciating behaviour
  • They distort your reality, and create a non-existent reality
  • They lead to unhealthy emotions, such as excessive anxiety.
Past experiences and negative beliefs can also make one anxious about certain circumstances. For example, if you lost your job at some point in your life, certain signs at your current workplace can make you think this is going to happen again. This can lead to feelings of anxiety.

What to do about Anxiety

Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to help you to deal with anxiety. This therapy is based on the idea that how we think (cognition), how we feel (emotions), and how we act (behaviour) all interact together. Your thoughts determine your feelings and behaviour. Your thoughts are causing this anxious feeling that you experience.

This therapy is known as “talk therapy” that is used to teach, encourage, and support you about how to reduce or stop harmful thoughts and behaviour. It helps one out-think negative patterns that may be keeping you from recovering from depression.

Here are some self-administered techniques that you can use to deal with anxiety:

Locate the cause of anxiety
First, you need to take the time to think where the anxiety is coming from. The situations given above may help. Could it be from a past experience, obsessive thoughts, or is there a genuine impending danger causing the anxiety?

You may prefer to write a journal about your anxious episodes. Your journal should capture details such as: What was I doing when I felt an anxiety attack? What was I thinking about? What triggered it? A journal helps you track a pattern on the reasons for the anxiety and could aid in finding a cause. Journaling and talking to a counsellor is one way to discover the root for depression.

Another cause of anxiety leading to depression could be hopelessness, a belief that things won’t get better. Writing these things down can help ease depressive feelings. One may also write self-statements to counter negative thoughts after identifying the root of the problem.

Thought stopping
Thought stopping is whereby you consciously issue the command, “STOP” when experiencing repeated, negative unnecessary or distorted thoughts. These thoughts must then be replaced with positive and realistic thoughts.

The principle under which thought stopping works is by interrupting bothersome and unnecessary thoughts with a STOP command which acts as a reminder or distraction. When phobic and obsessive thoughts are repeated in an individual’s mind, they can become automatic and occur frequently. When using thought stopping, you becomes unaware of unhealthy thoughts and divert attention.

Restructure your thoughts
This involves understanding unhappy feelings and moods, and challenging the beliefs that lie behind these moods. You can use this to reframe unnecessary negative thinking that many people experience from time to time. Anxiety can be unpleasant and reduce the quality of your performance, undermining your relationship with others.

This form of thought restructuring helps change the distorted thinking that lies behind the mood and make an approach of situations in a more positive frame of mind.

Learn how to say “NO”
This is a skill that has helped many who had destructive habits. For example: saying NO can be taught to drug addicts so that they can refuse any offers of drugs.

In an anxiety situation, learn to say no to situations that make you anxious. After learning this basic refusal skill, you should regularly practice them for the triggers of anxiety that you came up with in your journal.

Disputing irrational thoughts and beliefs
As mentioned earlier, one of the major causes of anxiety is having irrational thoughts. Constant irrational thoughts lead to irrational beliefs. For example, you have constant thoughts about not being able to do something, it can lead to the belief that you are not good enough.

A belief is therefore a thought with an emotional component (conviction) and factual component (truth). A belief can either be positive or negative, and sometimes the negative beliefs can be irrational - which can affect one’s happiness and contentment.

Examples of irrational beliefs are absolution, demand for love and approval, demand for success and achievement, or demand for comfort. When someone holds some of these beliefs, it can lead to a low frustration tolerance, feelings of worthlessness or uselessness. You can dispute irrational beliefs by asking questions such as: is there proof this belief is true? Is this belief helping me or making things worse for me? Is this belief logical and does it ring true to common sense?

Interpersonal discrimination exercise
This involves having a conversation within yourself, questioning some of the thoughts and beliefs that could be causing anxiety. Using your past experiences, in which you have done well, you can ask yourself, am I really this bad?

Think about it, there are times you did something that you are proud of such as: helping out a friend, passing an interview or an exam, maintaining friendship and relationships with people.

It is important though to verify your thoughts and not categorize all of them as irrational. If your thoughts are logical and reasonable, you have the right to be anxious and find a logical way to deal with the situation, or seek help from a therapist. On the other hand, if you are experiencing anxiety and have no idea on what to do about it, consult with a therapist to help you deal with it so you can live a fuller life.