Understanding Anxiety and Fears
Like all emotions, anxiety is a physiological experience– that it, it’s something that you do in your body. I’m sure that you don’t wake up in the morning or have an unpleasant experience at work and decide that you would like to create feelings of anxiety. I’m sure that it seems like you become anxious automatically in response to an event or a thought.
For a lot of people it’s unusual or new to think about anxiety as something that they do. So here’s a mini experiment you can try to test out whether or not this approach makes sense:
- First get a baseline measure of what’s going on in your body– notice which parts of your chest rise and fall as you breathe, notice how tightly your jaw is clenched, notice if your shoulders are tight or loose. (If you’re not sure about these things, try tensing and relaxing your muscles and see what differences you discover).
- Next imagine something that makes you anxious or afraid, just a little bit. Don’t scare yourself more than you can handle.
- Now, pay attention to how your body changes. Many people tighten their chests, stop breathing, collapse their shoulders, and/or tense their jaws. What happens in your body?
Any changes that you notice are probably part of how you do anxiety and fear. This is a powerful thing to know, because if you do anxiety and fear in ways that aren’t effective for you then all you need is to learn more effective and satisfying ways to do those feelings.
Treatment for Anxiety and Fears
Resolving overwhelming feelings and emotional dysregulation in terms of anxiety means learning how to respond calmly and with focus to the threats you perceive. It also means becoming more skillful at managing your attention. I help people accomplish this by practicing variations on the experiment described above, teaching them how to make satisfying choices about their attention, and providing a safe environment in which to take the sting out of current and past dangers.