Ask Dr. Z
Dear Dr. “Z”-
I have always considered myself somewhat of a nervous person but I find that I have grown increasingly more anxious lately and it is starting to interfere with my day to day life. I now worry about everything. I am starting to avoid social outings with friends for fear that I will get nervous while I’m out. It is having a tremendous impact on my family and on my social life. I feel somewhat helpless to overcome my anxiety. What can I do?
Dear Nervous Nelly,
When you find that you are regularly impeded by your anxiety and when you begin worrying about the possibility that you might get anxious, it is definitely time to address the issue. There is a vicious cycle associated with anxiety that affects your thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and behaviors. To stop this cycle, it is important that you understand these four components and how they interact together to escalate your anxious state.
When you are faced with an anxiety provoking situation, your body may experience a number of physiological responses that include: shortness of breath, increased heart rate, increased perspiration, tightness, dizziness, stomach aches, and nausea. Your mind may begin to race with worrisome thoughts of “What if’s?” For example, you may begin to get concerned about your physiological symptoms and fear “What if I get a panic attack?” This in turn, may exacerbate your physiological state of arousal. Or, you may worry that you will somehow embarrass yourself… “What if I stutter or say something stupid?” You may become filled with fear or panic as a result. You may also feel sad and depressed about your sense of paralysis or your pressing need to avoid your current situation. As a result of all of these intrusive thoughts, emotions, and felt sensations, your concentration is affected and your performance may be reduced (creating more anxiety). Or, you may choose to leave the situation completely in an attempt to assuage your feelings. Thus, the anxiety-triggering situation sets off a vicious cycle of interactions in which the physiological, cognitive, behavioral and emotional realms feed into each other, creating more and more anxiety.
Understanding exactly what is occurring can help you begin to address your anxiety. The first thing you must do at the onset of an anxiety arousal state is stop what you are doing and just breathe. Focusing on breathing at your normal rate will ensure that you don’t hyperventilate or hold your breath. This alone can reduce some of your physiological symptoms. You may want to also do some progressive muscle relaxation (i.e. tighten your hands into fists for 10 seconds and then release and perform this tightening and releasing of muscles in other parts of your body). Next, you want to address the thoughts and the beliefs that are causing you to feel excessively anxious. These “cognitive distortions” likely include your tendency to be overly critical of yourself and your tendency to “awfulize” the situation. A great book for you to read that will assist you in changing your current thinking is “A Guide to Rational Living” by Albert Ellis and Robert A. Harper.
I know that battling anxiety is not an easy job, but it certainly can be done. If you truly feel debilitated by your anxiety, I would encourage you to contact a cognitive behavioral therapist who can assist you with your pursuits.
Best of luck,
Laura Zipris holds a doctorate in Psychology and is licensed to practice psychotherapy in New York, as well as in Florida. Laura is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy, a transformational approach that has been used successfully with couples around the world to help them to strengthen their partnerships, deepen their connection and reignite their passion for one another. Laura sees individuals of all ages and sexual orientations, couples, families, and groups in her offices located in Wellington and Delray Beach. In addition to her psychotherapy practice, Dr. Zipris works part time as a licensed school psychologist for the Palm Beach County School District.
For more information about Laura, please visit her website at www.drlaurazipris.com or to set up an appointment, contact Laura directly at (561) 558-7815.
Questions for this column should be sent to Dr. “Z” at Drlaurazip@gmail.com