Our daily lives are filled with tasks, chores, deadlines and routines governed by modern society’s way of life. Anxiety is just another aspect that most of us have to deal with in our every day lives. We worry about tomorrow. We worry about our deadlines. We worry about our abilities. We worry all the time.
Barlow and Durand (2005) describe anxiety as a negative mood state characterised by symptoms of physical tension, and apprehension about the future. So anxiety is all negative and bad right? Too much of something can be harmful and if you experience excessive amounts of anxiety, I suggest you seek professional assistance as soon as possible.
Anxiety is a good thing? Yes, anxiety can be good for us in moderate amounts. Yerkes and Dodson have shown in 1908 already that we perform better at tasks when we are a little anxious. Too much anxiety can inhibit performance, but anxiety in the right amounts drives us to perform. Which brings me to my point: The fact that anxiety also serves as a performance enhancer, we should rather become aware of our anxiety when we experience it and investigate the fear. Being aware of and investigating the fear, will put us in touch with our existence in the present moment and it will provide clarity on the purpose of the fear.
Kepner (2008) describes a process of experiencing the self. You can try it for yourself:
Stop, breathe and ask yourself: “What sensations am I experiencing at the moment? What tensions do I feel? Where do I feel this in my body? How is my breating at the moment?”
As you are beginning to focus on the sensations in your body, make statements about what you observe: “Right now I notice my breathing is tight and shallow. I notice a feeling of tension in my shoulders”. Take your time and let the statements help you focus on your body.
Try changing the statements to “I” statements. “I am tensing my shoulders. I am tightening my chest”. Take your time and let the “I” statements create an awareness of your self.
Now try to give character to the sensations that stand out the most for you. Does the tension feel tightening? Bracing? Binding? Holding? Identify the character and make a further statement: “I am bracing myself and this is my existence”. Repeat these statements to fully appreciate their meaning to you.
The sensations we feel in our bodies when we are anxious are something we do to ourselves in response to something. Focusing our attention to our bodily sensations grounds us and brings us in contact with our core existence. Not just our thoughts. Not just life that happens to us, but rather us that is reacting to life. It is then that we can use this awareness and understanding to positively govern our behaviour. We can then use anxiety constructively to inspire ourselves, rather than to inhibit ourselves.
Most of the time, our daily anxieties are irrational. Becoming aware of the purpose of the fear, will give it an identity and will make it less threatening. With this understanding we can embrace our anxieties and move forward. We can be confident in knowing that WE CAN DO THIS.
This article is in no way advice for the treatment of anxiety and/or anxiety disorders or a substitute for professional psychological treatment. It is merely the opinion of the author.
Barlow, D.H. & Durand, V.M. (2005). Abnormal Psychology: an integrated approach. Thomson: USA.
Kepner, J.I. (2008). Body Process: working with the body in psychotherapy. GestaltPress: CA.
Yerkes, R.M. & Dodson, J.D. (1908). The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit-formation. Journal of Comprehensive Neurologic and Psychology, 18, 459-482.