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Coping with Anxiety

This chapter is designed to help you make the most of your experience with Cognitive therapy - a new and generally very effective form of treatment for people suffering from anxiety. Read it through several times and discuss anything you're not clear about with your therapist.

Signs of Anxiety

"What if I fail this exam? My career will be ruined before it starts. I feel so sick just thinking about it that I can't study. But I have to study, or........."

"Every time I leave the house I feel sick, I think I'm going to collapse and have to go back home. I can't go anywhere unless someone's with me."

"When I have to talk to strangers 1 start to sweat and panic - I feel trapped and can't think of anything to say."

"I sometimes feel very tense and uncomfortable, worrying about things that I've got to do the next day, or even the next week or month. I can't seem to get rid of these worrying thoughts no matter how hard I try."


Such are the thoughts and emotions that sweep over those who suffer from anxiety and phobias. Since both anxiety and phobias are rooted in fear, they both indicate the dread of some type of danger or threat to our well being. This sense of threat is indicated by a wide range of physical symptoms - anxiety's 'body language' - which are distressing in themselves: rapid breathing, accelerating heart rate, dizziness, butterflies in the tummy, headache, sweating, dry mouth, tight throat, pain in our muscles, etc. When the state of anxiety is prolonged - or chronic - these frightening and apparently uncontrollable symptoms may take the form of what seems to be a real disease or disability.

One of the most important factors for those of us who are severely anxious to learn - and to recall to mind at important moments - is that the symptoms we are experiencing are not dangerous. The racing pulse or pounding heart, the dizziness or nausea, the desire to scream or cry or pound the table - none of these physical or emotional reactions indicate that the person is dangerously ill or 'going crazy.' They are uncomfortable. But they can be coped with until they go away. And they will go away.

Phobias cause intense anxiety can and be accompanied by various physical and emotional symptoms. Generally, the phobic person is reacting to a specific object or situation which can, to some extent and without great inconvenience, be avoided. As long as the feared event, object or situation is not an integral port of the person's life, he can remain free from the anxiety effects of phobia. For instance, someone who has an intense, phobic fear of flying, con usually find ways of getting to places without going on an aeroplane.

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The anxiety sufferer, however, cannot always pinpoint the source of his anxiety. Even if he can identify the cause, he cannot avoid encountering it, either the demands of his daily life force him to confront the feared circumstance, or he has so completely internalised his fear that the source of it is within himself.

Sometimes it is necessary for a person to experience fear in order to acknowledge the threat of a real danger and prepare himself to meet it. A certain degree of anxiety may accompany such fear. But the person who suffers from excessive anxiety or phobic reactions is not responding to the realities of his situation. He may be anticipating a threat to this well being when there is little likelihood that it will occur. If he is facing a challenge or some sort - an exam, or job interview, he will magnify the difficulties and dwell on the horrors of a negative outcome. At the same time he will under-estimate, overlook or discount his own ability to cope with whatever he fears. In other words, he misinterprets and distorts reality so that he feels anxious about dangers which either do not exist or which he could cope with effectively if he were he were not so disabled by his own anxiety reactions.

To make matters worse, when the severely anxious person becomes intensely aware of his own unpleasant physical and emotional reactions, he may begin to dread and fear the symptoms themselves even more than the situation that triggers them. The more upset he gets, the more exaggerated his symptoms become, and he is involved in a self perpetuating spiral of increasingly intense emotional and physical suffering

For more help and advice on anxiety please get in touch.

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