This workbook aims to help you to:
Please tick the boxes which regularly apply to you.
If you have ticked a number of these boxes you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety. However don't be alarmed, this is very common and there are things you can do to improve your situation. You will find some useful strategies in this workbook.
In addition, people can learn to be anxious based on their life experiences. For example, if someone has faced workplace bullying in the past, they may be more likely to suffer anxiety when beginning a new job.
Anxious people also sometimes believe that worrying has a protective function. More specifically, they believe that being on the 'look out' for danger can help them to recognise and avoid it. Unfortunately, when searching for danger in this way, they soon begin seeing potential danger in many relatively safe situations which of course makes them feel anxious. They may also believe that by considering everything that could go wrong; they will be better prepared to cope when it does. However, often these beliefs mean a lot of extra time is spent worrying than is necessary, as many of our worries never come true. Of course, the more time we spend worrying, the more anxious we feel.
Another way someone's thinking style can keep their anxiety going is because they become 'worried about worrying'. Here, people tend to worry that they are doing harm to themselves (e.g. going mad) by worrying so often (which is not the case) and a vicious cycle occurs. Similarly, people often worry about the physical symptoms they experience when they are anxious (e.g. breathlessness, rapid heart rate etc). Unfortunately, worrying about these symptoms (which are perfectly safe and natural bodily reactions), only makes them feel worse, again creating a vicious cycle of anxiety.
One other important factor that can keep people's anxiety going is that they often change their behaviour as a result of their anxiety. For example, they may avoid going to a party because they have spotted many potential 'dangers' (e.g. what if no one likes me). Similarly, they may put off completing an assignment because they worry about it being negatively evaluated. Unfortunately because people tend to use such avoidance strategies, they can never see that things would often go better than they thought and their anxiety remains as a result.
Not having enough free time to relax and do the things we enjoy we can also contribute to our higher anxiety levels. On the other hand, having too much free time can mean we have lots of opportunities to engage in worry and feel anxious.
When looking more closely at anxiety, you can begin to see that our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical symptoms all interact and combine to keep our anxiety going. See the diagram overleaf.
However, when exploring anxiety more closely, we can see that it is a very healthy response which actually helps to protect us. By learning more about anxiety and why we experience it in the first place, we can see that it is not harmful. This can help us to be less fearful of the symptoms which in turn has a positive affect on our overall anxiety levels. If however you are concerned that some of your symptoms are not caused by anxiety, contact your GP if necessary.
The symptoms we experience when anxious are often referred to as the 'fight or flight' response. This comes from the idea that people primarily experience anxiety to help them either fight or run away from danger. For example, if you saw a burglar, two options open to you would be to either - fight them off (fight) or try to run away (flight). Our fight or flight response would kick in to help us at this point. For example:
This fight or flight response was likely even more vital to human survival back in the days of early man, when people had to hunt for their food and were under a greater threat from predators. Nowadays we do not face the same threats, but unfortunately, our bodies and minds have not caught up with these changes. As a result, we now experience anxiety in situations where it is not necessarily as helpful because we cannot fight or run away from them (e.g. work or financial pressures). However, the one thing that has stayed true is the fact that these symptoms are not dangerous; it is in many ways the right response but at the wrong time. Remembering this can help you to be less fearful of the symptoms of anxiety which will allow them to pass sooner.
The following section will help you begin to recognise if you are thinking about things in an unhelpful or unrealistic way, and discuss how you can start to make changes to this. By doing so, you can learn to see things in a more realistic light which can help to reduce your anxiety levels. You might have unhelpful thoughts about all kinds of things. Here are some examples:
Being judged negatively by others:
Once you have asked yourself these questions, you should read through your answers. Try to come up with a more balanced or rational view. For example:
After this you may find that you are still unsure. Perhaps a couple of approaches seem equally good. Try to pick one to begin with. If it doesn't work then you can always go back and try out a different one later.
Once you have completed all the steps, you should then review the outcome. If you have successfully resolved your problem then great. If the problem still exists then don't give up.
It is useful to remember that not all problems are within our control. This can make it really difficult if not impossible to resolve using the steps above. Perhaps you will have to wait, or ask someone else to take action instead. In such a situation, try not to worry. Nothing can be gained from worrying about something that you have no control over.
One way you can do this is to assign 'worry time'. This involves setting aside between fifteen and twenty minutes each day that you will allow yourself to worry. Any worries that pop into your head outside of 'worry time' should simply be noted and forgot about until later that day when you try to resolve them during your 'worry time'. By noting them down, you can feel safe in the knowledge that you won't forget about attempting to resolve them later on. This should free up time during the day that is normally wasted worrying. Then - when your 'worry time' arrives, you should allow yourself to think about the things that have been worrying you that day and try to resolve them. 'Worry time' not only helps to reduce the time you spend worrying, but also proves that you can have more control of whether you engage in worry or not. It also shows that worry is often unnecessary. This is because when you come back to consider your problems with a 'fresh eye', many of them have often resolved themselves or simply seem less important. See the steps below for more details:
Relaxation can involve doing something that you enjoy, or just being by yourself. Good examples might be reading a book or having a bath. Exercise is also particularly effective at helping us to relax. What you do does not really matter. Try to choose something that you will look forward to and that gives you a break. Doing an activity that you enjoy will also give you less time to spend worrying. Here are a list of activities that might help you to relax.
Try to add some of your own ideas into the box below. You will know what works best for you.
Try to find time to relax every day. This might seem difficult, but it is worth making time for. It can help you to feel a lot better. There are audio relaxation guides available that you might find a helpful support.
There are also some exercises described in the next few pages. They are specifically designed to help you to relax. However, you should stop the exercise if at any time you begin to experience discomfort or pain.
Remember, you can use this exercise to help you relax at any time. You could even use it to help you get off to sleep. However, it is particularly useful if you ever feel light-headed, dizzy or faint.
During this exercise you have to tense and then relax different muscles in your body. You should focus on the feelings that you experience whilst doing this. With practice you will then be more able to recognise and respond to the onset of tension.
You can work through as many muscle groups as you like. Don't feel that you have to cover every muscle in your whole body. It can be helpful to stick to the same muscle groups each time you practice. That way you can get into a routine which you can easily remember. If you practice this nearly every day you will probably notice an improvement after a couple of weeks.
Finally, count down silently and slowly: 5-4321-0, and come out of the relaxation in your own time. See if it's possible to carry that relaxed feeling into whatever you do next.
Distraction simply involves trying to take your mind off uncomfortable symptoms or thoughts. You can do this by trying to focus on something unrelated. Often this helps them to pass. It is still important to remember that the symptoms of anxiety are not harmful or dangerous. Even if you didn't use distraction or relaxation techniques, nothing terrible would happen.
Ideas to help distract you from your troubling thoughts or anxiety include:
It is easy to see how using avoidance as a strategy to cope can soon begin to have a negative impact on people's lives as they start to avoid more and more situations. If instead we confront difficult situations then it is possible to build up our confidence. This will help your anxiety to reduce significantly.
Once you have done this, try to organise your items from least anxiety provoking to most anxiety provoking. You can use box 3 on page 28 to do this.
Moodjuice is a website designed to offer information and advice to those experiencing troublesome thoughts, feelings and behaviours. In the site you can explore various aspects of your life that may be causing you distress and obtain information that will allow you to help yourself. This includes details of organisations, services and other resources that can offer support. This self help guide comes from a series that you can access and print from Moodjuice. Other titles available include:
Samaritans provides confidential emotional support, 24 hours a day for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide. You don't have to be suicidal to call us. We are here for you if you're worried about something, feel upset or confused, or you just want to talk to someone.
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