Understanding anxiety symptoms is one of the first, and most important aspects of managing these uncomfortable feelings. Your therapist may describe this first step as “psychoeducation.” The reason this is so critical, is because it helps demystify anxiety. I often hear anxiety described as an uncontrollable entity that takes over, leaving the sufferer completely helpless. It may certainly feel this way at times, but it is important to look at anxiety as something that we experience, not something that happens to us. The key difference between the two is control. Anxiety tends to follow a predictable pattern. The good news is that the more we understand this pattern, and the role we have in it, the more we realize the control we have in managing these feelings.
The following is a list of key anxiety points I will often use in psychoeducation. I sometimes refer to this list as a “cheat sheet” as it can be helpful to keep on hand and review if anxious feelings come up. These are meant to help demystify anxiety, make sense of uncomfortable feelings, help establish a sense of control, and help clients see the areas in which they are contributing to their own experience of anxiety.
- Feelings are not facts. Just because I am feeling anxious or feeling scared, doesn’t mean that I am unsafe, or in danger.
- Anxiety, stress, and fear will pass. There has never been an instance of anxiety that has harmed or killed you. You know this because you are here today.
- It is not situations or triggers that give you anxiety, rather it’s your thoughts about those situations and triggers that give you anxiety
- Anxiety is cyclical, meaning a situation may trigger our fear or negative thoughts (ex: what if something goes wrong?) negative thoughts trigger adrenaline released in the body, which leads to an increase in more anxiety symptoms (increased heart rate, etc.) which then lead to more negative thoughts, and so on.
- Anxiety is predictable since it follows this same cyclical pattern listed above. This means that all we have to do to stop anxiety, is interrupt this cycle. We interrupt this cycle by how we interact with and change our thoughts.
- Since anxiety is predictable, it is also controllable. We control anxiety through our thoughts.
- Anxiety is an increase of adrenaline in the body. Certain thoughts are responsible for this increase in adrenaline. These thoughts include “what if” thoughts.
- If I can decrease or correct these “what if” thoughts, I can also decrease the adrenaline released in my body.
- Each time I have a “what if” thought, I can replace it with “it doesn’t matter if” or “I’ll be okay regardless.”
- By replacing “what if thoughts” I am interrupting the anxiety-adrenaline cycle.