Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Anxiety can affect anyone and at any time. Some of us may be more predisposed due to our chemical and biological makeup, but anxiety is a natural fear response built into our very makeup as human persons for when we need to be on heightened alert to potential danger.
Anxiety, though, is the result of fearing something that is not immediate or imaginary. It is your brain playing tricks on you, and your body is preparing for immediate danger. It is important to know all anxiety will go away. Your body will use up all its energy dedicated to its fight or flight responses and eventually exhaust itself.
Sometimes the anxiety itself causes anxiety to worsen. We get sweaty, and heart palpitations, and this is seen as a new threat causing more stress. It is an uncomfortable feeling and wholly understood from a biological perspective. Your body is doing what it is supposed to do at the wrong time, and these reactions and thoughts of fear are fooling your brain.
How I help clients with anxiety issues and how it may be of help to you.
I first help them understand anxiety is a natural response to danger, undoing any stigma. You may have heightened responses due to your chemical and biological makeup, and these responses would come in handy if our environment called for it. You are not crazy! What if you are being mugged at gunpoint, or smell smoke because there is a fire in the attic? Your heightened response might call you to action, where us “normal people” will become deer in headlights.
Anxiety is also the response or somewhat overreaction to the potential loss of something we value. So, you can have a heightened response and be more disposed to anxiety based on what you value. If you place your value and happiness on small things that come and go, then you may have more anxiety. If you place your happiness and values on more substantial things that are less fickle, then your anxiety would not be as often or habituated.
The more you value something, the more your anxiety will be at the potential loss. Your level of stress and emotion is going to be proportional to the hierarchy you place on the value that was disrupted. That is why you do not want to have troubles and anxiety for the lesser goods or place more value on lower goods than what is necessary.
But what about when we recognize the potential loss of higher goods? The more severe our anxiety may be, yes, but if you have habituated yourself to anxiety with the lesser goods you have only made it harder to overcome and pass. It will be easier to see your way out of the possible loss of higher things when it is not habituated. We also do better to see the overall picture lessening the effect of anxiety.
I had a house fire eight years ago. It brought about the anxiety that stemmed from the fear of what do I do now? I had a family of 7 and nowhere to live. This was warranted anxiety; it made sense. I did not have the typical response, “why am I feeling this way,” that typically comes with anxiety, which makes things worse for those with reoccurring anxiety. Losing a house is a big deal, but no one got hurt. Seeing things according to my values helped me see both the ins and outs and calmed my anxiety. I still had my wife and kids. The same principles can be applied to those who suffer from some form of anxiety.
Not only do we ask if the worry is realistic or what is the likelihood of it happening (a common approach to tackling anxiety in therapy) we see it according to what we value. This is one reason why I work with clients to define their values and priorities early on in therapy. Do you want to make a great deal of money? Do you value that over security, a steady income to meet your family’s basic needs? Do you want to be respected or popular? Do you want your children to appreciate hard work? Do you desire to become more spiritual and closer to God? Do you want to see the universal good in things? Do you want to be seen as courageous? These are just a few examples, but the important thing to take away from it is what order you put these values in, and in what way does your anxiety stand in the way of your higher goals? Does it prohibit you from attaining your higher ideals and values?
It is likely not.
Where do these values stand in the four levels of happiness? (For more on this, visit my post on, “Our search for true happiness”).
Only after having this foundation do I like to move on to other ways to help clients deal with anxiety, such as breathing techniques, mindfulness, and being present in the moment, unpacking the thoughts, sensations, and emotions. I help clients accept their anxiety for what it is, helping them understand their brain may be playing tricks on them, making them think immediate danger, when it may be only a hurdle. It is not uncommon or pathological and that it will soon pass no matter what you make of it.
It is also essential to get a proper diet. Eat breakfast. Many people skip out on breakfast or meals. Your body needs the nutrients and energy to help fight through anxiety. Not eating appropriately makes things worse and makes it harder to recuperate.
If you are susceptible to anxiety, try some of these techniques. There are plenty of examples to be found on YouTube. Seek a therapist if you would like additional help seeing what fits you, or you need help unpacking and making sense of your thoughts, sensations, and emotions. Most importantly, find a therapist that understands the importance of helping you order your values to the higher universal goods that which you desire and seek. A therapist that simply listens “without opinion or judgment,” as the case of some talk therapist, without any help in direction whatsoever, does little to help you find answers for your unhappiness. There is so much more to therapy than venting and breathing techniques, and a good therapist knows this. The disclaimer here is that the therapist should always respect their client’s autonomy and free will, but the therapist that knows how to appeal to the clients natural inclinations to ordered goods can help them decern what actions need to be taken in dealing with anxiety, depression, or whatever seems to be affecting them in therapy.