Archive for July, 2012

Anxiety becomes a learned behaviour

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Well sorry this post has took so long, but as stated I went away for a few weeks and I have just got back, recharged and refreshed. Today’s post covers something that is very important and was something that kept me in the cycle of anxiety for a long time. I am all for changing behaviours to move forward with anxiety, although saying that I am not one for going down the homework route or filling in progress sheets. That was never me, I always liked a simplistic approach rather than loads of garble or medical jargon.

I have always believed anxiety is made far over complicated to recover from by some. A good understanding and the right attitude did it for me. Understanding what was happening when I felt anxious and why I did, did far more for me than any other so called help that was thrown at me in the early days. Once I understood far more, then I worried far less and stopped going over and over things whilst trying to continuously fix it. This obviously helped as with less worry came less anxiety, the less I went over and over things, then the more open and flexible my mind was. Having the right attitude helped in no longer let anxiety rule what I did and did not do. At first I hated the way I felt, I would tense against it daily, try and push it away, get really angry about it, avoid everywhere and everything that made me feel this way, no wonder I got worse and my life got narrower.

I now understood it was not just going to disappear and I just learnt to just live with it, take it with me. Did I like it? No, but it did not hinder me as much and I wasted far less of my day on it. At one time it was all I thought about, the subject was me 24/7. My whole life revolved around getting better, then I realised I had to stop trying as this was the very thing that was hindering me. So I made friends with it, took it with me and stopped treating it like the enemy. If I felt odd and anxious, then so be it, I was tired of trying not to feel this way. Yes it took time to build up the perfect attitude and I would sometimes have a good cry or feel sorry for myself on a bad day, but the next day I was back out and not letting it dominate my life like it had.

Every habit can be changed as long as we understand that it wont happen overnight.

There is one question that I asked myself whilst suffering and when answering I wrote down a list of things that had become a learnt behaviour. I can’t say this was the exact list below, but it would have been something like it and I am sure some others can identify with it. The reason for the list was that I wanted to identify what learnt behaviours I had developed and try and reverse them.

So the question to anyone is;

What do I do differently now, to what I did before I suffered ?

My list would have been something like the below;

I went over that conversation I had with my friend and wondered if I upset her?

This is an easy one for anxiety to grab hold of as we feel far more sensitive than we normally would do and may look into things far too much. I remember this one as I was very sensitive. People had to act the way I thought they should or I would think I had done something wrong or they did not like me. I identified that I would not have done this before I suffered, so the anxiety was to blame and that in future I could think this way, but I would just let it go and know I was being silly or over sensitive. I would no longer see it as the truth.

Did that workmate notice my anxiety? I tried so hard to cover it up.

Well I would never stand there in the past trying to cover things up as there was nothing to cover up. I started to ask others who knew I suffered if they noticed how I felt and they said no, sometimes you may talk a little faster, but no we don’t notice. This meant a lot to me as you tend to think everyone notices how you are feeling but are just keeping it from you. So I then stopped trying to cover up how I felt, if I stumbled on a few words or rambled a bit then that was fine. I knew from experience trying to cover up anxiety had the opposite effect, as you were then anxious about people seeing you anxious, which put far more pressure on you to come across as O.K.

I worried about going to that social function next week

Well again I would not be worrying about going to a social event pre anxiety, I would be looking forward to it. I then realised I was not scared of the event itself, I was worried about being anxious and how I came across. There is no instant switch to stop you getting anxious over a social event, but it taught me that I had to just take things as they came and that feeling anxious was not then end of the world and the more I felt it, then the less I would feel it. I had to get used to it and put myself out there and then I would train my sub conscious to realise there was nothing to get anxious about. So basically I went to social events and took them as they came, not worrying if I felt anxious or not. Most times I would feel some anxiety, but it was never as bad as I thought it would be and usually by the end of the night I was chatting freely and as expected in time it just got easier.

I kept checking in to see how I felt, having internal conversations to try and make sense of it all

Again this is something the regular person on the street does not do, even if they had broken there finger they would not check in every few minutes to see how it felt. They would just understand the pain will go in time and there is nothing they can do about it. When I learnt that I could not switch anxiety off, it was a relief. I no longer had to search in my mind for that instant cure and I could just move on with my day and think about other things.

I got home and put off things that needed doing, I just didn’t feel like it

Anxiety can make us feel mentally and physically tired, as our body is working faster than normal and stress hormones do affect our muscles and make them feel heavy. Add that to an over active mind and we can feel tired and weary for no reason. The best thing I did was to do the jobs that needed doing and get out in the fresh air. Lounging around feeling sorry for myself made me feel even more exhausted.

Today I avoided anything that may make me anxious and built my day around it

Again this is something I did that I would not have done in the past. I realised that anxiety was beginning to control what I did and did not do and I wanted to take charge again. So I no longer avoided feeling this way, no more living a life full of safety behaviours. Anxiety could not harm me, it was only adrenalin on an overworked nervous system that created was was just an unpleasant feeling. I am not saying I woke one day and did everything. I just learnt to see the signs of avoidence, where I would be just about to make excuses not to go somewhere and then just get my coat on and do it. The well known saying ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ was never far from my thoughts.

I went over and over things trying to find a way out a way to make this horrible thing go away

Before anxiety came along my thoughts would be about the weekends plans, the new top I had seen, my friends and family and certainly not about the way I felt. When we become so engulfed in ourselves and how we are feeling then we become very internal and have little time or space in our mind for anything or anybody else. The subject becomes us and the more we think about it, the more distant and detached we feel, so we may then think even more about our situation. This was certainly me and it was a vicious cycle. I was convinced if I kept thinking of a way out, then eventually I would hit on the answer and I would be free. All I achieved was to become like a walking shell that had no interest in the outside world. I just thought about me and found it hard to break free. It was like I was behind a pane of glass and the world was on the other side and I was not part of it. This I would say was the lowest point of my anxiety. But once identified I understood why I felt this way and then began to worry less and less about the state I was in. I then had to learn to live and work with this distant/detached feeling and not be so impressed by it. And in time the less I thought and worried about myself, the more engaged I felt with the world around me again. You don’t have to suffer with anxiety to get to this state. Have you ever seen that lost and glazed look on someone who has lost a loved one? You may ask them something and it barely registered. Again this is because they are thinking so deeply about what they have lost, they let nothing else in and they become distant to their surroundings. In time the grief eases and they become part of the world again. This is exactly what I had to do.

I met a friend in the street and just rambled on trying to get away as quickly as possible

Another classic thing that I did, I again identified that I did not do this in the past and that the best way to overcome it was to stay in the conversation and no longer run at the first sign of adrenalin. This really was what it was, I had taught my body to see danger in someone approaching and it set off the fight or flight, run or stay. As usual I did not want to feel anxious so I went for run. I again realised there was no danger talking to a friend in the street, I was just running away from making a fool of myself. So the next time the blast of adrenalin came, I just stayed and although it did not go particularly well,  I knew I would look far less strange staying than I would do running off each time and more than that I knew the long term rewards would be worth it. And in time I taught my body there was no danger in that friend in the street, the blast of adrenalin weakened in time as I had chatted many times now and had got used to it. It is like a bungee jumper who feels far more adrenalin the first time he jumps that the 20th time. His body has got used to it and in time produces less adrenalin.

We don’t always identify these learnt behaviours whilst we are doing them, as we tend to just do what we think is best at the time. It is only when we step back and observe how we are acting or write down the things we do now that we did not do before, that we can become aware of them. We all know our own bad habits and what we can do to improve them. Don’t just follow the same down trodden path, the short term, but safe way, the path that has no victory’s and little, if any progress. Try and identify what you now do differently and see if like the above you can change the habit or learn a new attitude.

I hope the above helps

Paul

Paul

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