Thought I’d share two good strategies I learned for managing anxiety. From experience, I understand how debilitating anxiety can be and how prolonged periods of anxiety can wear a person out and lead to depression. Anxiety comes with four types of symptoms that includes those that are emotional, behavioral, physical, and cognitive. Emotional symptoms might include being fearful, nervous, or panicky. Behavioral symptoms might include avoidance or freezing. Most of us are familiar with the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, and feeling dizzy. Then there are the cognitive symptoms that can include catastrophizing or ruminating about a perceived future problem, focusing primarily on dangers or threats to the safety of ourselves or loved ones, and difficulty with memory.
A good way to think about anxiety is that it is based on our perceived level of danger in a situation in contrast to our perceived level of control. Stated as an equation it would go something like this: HIGH PERCEPTION OF DANGER + LOW PERCEPTION OF CONTROL = INCREASED ANXIETY. In other words, the larger the gap between our fear and our sense of efficacy, the greater our anxiety and symptoms. The good news is that the reverse is also true. So if we can lower our perception of danger and increase our perception of control, we can reduce our anxiety.
Mastering Anxiety is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) approach to managing anxiety. In this strategy we use rational evidence to argue that the danger is less than we thought and that we have more control than we thought. First, we identify a situation that causes us anxiety. A job interview might be a good example. Next we rate the level of anxiety on a 100 percent scale. For me, a job interview would produce about a 90 percent level of anxiety. Second, we describe the danger facing us in this situation. Staying with the job interview example, the danger might be feeling like a failure if we don’t get the job. Again, rate the level of perceived danger. For me the danger of feeling like a failure would be 100 percent. Third, we describe our belief about the level of control we have in this situation and again rate the level of our belief. For me, I would feel a lack of control, being at the mercy of the interviewer, and would rate this feeling at about 90 percent. Now comes the empowering part. We list specific examples of control we do have in this situation. We can list available tools, people we can ask for support, and ways we can prepare. For example, in relation to a job interview, I might list CBT tools to overcome anxiety, friends or relatives who could help me prepare, and researching the specific requirements for the position. The list can go on and on. The key is to build a list of evidence that refutes the distorted thoughts that lead to anxiety. After completing our list of evidence, we re-rate our level of anxiety, belief about our perceived danger, and belief about our perceived control. These levels should decrease as our sense of control increases.
Here’s what it looks like:
Mastering Anxiety Worksheet
IDENTIFY SITUATION CAUSING ANXIETY:
RATE THE LEVEL OF ANXIETY (0-100%):
WHAT DANGER FACES YOU IN THIS SITUATION?:
RATE YOUR BELIEF ABOUT THE PERCEIVED DANGER (0-100%):
WHAT IS YOUR BELIEF ABOUT THE CONTROL YOU HAVE IN THIS SITUATION?:
RATE YOUR BELIEF ABOUT THE PERCEIVED CONTROL (0-100%)
WHAT CONTROL DO YOU HAVE IN THIS SITUATION? (What tools can you use? Who can you ask for support or help? What can you do to prepare?)
LEVEL OF ANXIETY:
BELIEF ABOUT THE PERCEIVED DANGER:
BELIEF ABOUT PERCEIVED CONTROL:
(note: these re-ratings should be lower than the original ratings as a result of the empowering process of listing evidence for control in the situation.)
Closing the Gap is another effective strategy to reduce anxiety. I like this one because it’s quick and has an immediate impact. Plus, there is a bit of humor in it, which is always a good thing when faced with anxiety.
First, we come up with a worst-case scenario. Staying with the job-interview example, my worst-case scenario might be that I’m so bad they end the interview early and ask me to leave. Next, we walk through the steps we would take if, in fact, the worst-case scenario happened. Examples might include talking to a friend about it, preparing better for the next interview, or seeing a career coach. Walking through this process helps us understand that we do have plenty of control in this situation. We begin to understand that while unpleasant, the worst-case-scenario would not devastate us because we have coping mechanisms and safety nets. Next we create a best-case scenario. Staying with the job interview example, my best-case scenario might be that they hire me after the first interview and offer me an immediate promotion to management based on my amazing personality and qualifications. While it’s fun to fantasize about the best-case scenario, it really serves as a humorous, but unrealistic possibility. Maybe like winning the lottery. Finally, we “close the gap” by imagining a few realistic scenarios that fall between the worst and the best. An example might be that I would get a call back for a second interview based on my solid performance. Imagining a few realistic scenarios helps us be aware that there are various options, and this lowers anxiety.
Closing the gap looks like this:
ANXIETY REALISTIC SCENARIO
Having struggled with anxiety and depression for many years, I found both of these strategies surprisingly helpful. I think it’s because they are concrete and visual. By writing out evidence for control and listing all possible scenarios, we come to understand that we are not destined for disaster. We do have control over our lives, and although we may not get exactly what we want (often for the best), we can improve any situation by asking for support, making use of tools we have developed, and acting in ways that are productive and positive.
Peace to you,
The Bellowing Angels