Anxiety rears its ugly head in many forms and is almost an umbrella term for many different psychological issues. Phobias, panic attacks, and lack of social abilities are all often referred to as anxiety disorders, but more commonly many of us experience anxiety simply as something that prevents us from being able to go about our day to day tasks. Here anxiety takes the form of the nagging doubt that you cannot go to the toilet in the public urinals, or that you will not be able to finish your dinner; and as a result often creates a self fulfilling prophecy.
Many of us who are not diagnosed with an ‘anxiety’ disorder as such, still find ourselves with forms of social anxiety that do not allow us to speak confidently and cause us to freeze up, or that mean we find ourselves avoiding going out and interacting with people. At the same time there is that other type of anxiety – the anxiety that comes as a result of worrying if the door was left unlocked or if the oven is still on. Anxiety then is something that we all struggle with, but that for some people can be crippling. Fortunately there are some ways to deal with it.
Firstly the social anxiety that so many of us suffer from. This comes in many different forms but generally involves worrying what others will think of us if we fail to perform. A classic one for men is urinating in public urinals. Here many people who suffer from anxiety will be concerned that if they cannot urinate, they will look odd as though they are just standing at the urinal. This then of course means that they are so in their own head that they cannot go. Another similar one is sexual performance, where you might be so concerned that you will not be able to get an erection – and that you will be laughed at – that you then of course cannot get an erection for that very reason.
If you are having these difficulties then you are in your own head far too much and are too concerned about what others think. What you need to do to try and overcome this form of anxiety is to just relax by thinking that the worst case scenario really is not that bad, and that allowing yourself to fail is the best way in fact to overcome it. So what if you stand at the urinal for a long time and people think you are odd? No one will see you for more than five minutes as they will have left themselves by then, and if they think you are a bit odd for taking five minutes then it will not matter because they will never see you again. Furthermore they are probably aware of the problem and will assume that it is just anxiety, or ‘stage fright’, causing you not to go. If you fail to get an erection with a woman, then just think – what is the worst case scenario? If she does not want to see you again then she probably was not the right one for a relationship anyway, and if she does you can just satisfy her other ways.
Many people likewise are afraid to speak up in large groups because they are afraid of stuttering and this makes them stutter. In some cases (though not all) a stutter can even be an anxiety disorder. To overcome this you should again think what the worst case scenario would be – that people think you are a bit odd – and then realise that this really is not so bad. Most people are sympathetic anyway and will give you the time and space to talk without judging you. The more you are okay with the worst case scenario then the more you will be able to relax.
And if just envisioning the worst case scenario is not enough then sometimes it can help to actually experience it. In other words, if you keep stalling your car at a red light then it is probably because you are worried about upsetting the traffic behind you. Try sitting at a light then while it is green the entire time until it turns red again – you will upset the traffic behind you, but at the same time you will learn that the worst case scenario was not really that bad. Similarly try standing at a urinal for twenty minutes and seeing that nothing comes from it. A great place to experiment socially is in a shop with the attendant where if you stutter when you make an order, or say something ‘stupid’, you can leave the shop and face no consequences as a result. This is a great way to practice and to get some confidence. Similarly you can benefit from taking up a class or a hobby where you are required to put yourself out there – for example drama – and this way you will again practice making a display of yourself.
Not all anxiety however is social anxiety, and things like worrying whether the oven has been left on or worrying about getting to sleep are not things that you can test. However in these situations what you have to do is simply learn to take a step back and to ‘let go’. When you worry about getting to sleep for instance, often you will lie awake at night tossing and turning and will be stressed that you are not sleeping. It is this stress though that is keeping you awake and can induce a panic attack. Similarly the concern that you will need the toilet before you get comfy is something that keeps many people awake, and lo and behold these are the same people who actually do get up to go to the toilet countless times in the night. If you fall into this category, then realise that if you let go and do not think about sleeping then you will be more likely to fall asleep. Furthermore focus on the worst case scenario – if you lie awake all night at least make yourself comfy and relax and you are still getting rest and it is the kind of relaxation we rarely get to benefit from – try thinking about something or imagining a pleasant scene and just enjoying it. With regards to the toilet try to realise that you can sleep needing the toilet, and particularly because your current need to go to the toilet is probably psychological (bet you need the toilet right now right?). You cannot psychologically wet yourself…
Similarly with the oven you have to realise that in most cases leaving the oven on is actually fine and safe, but more to the point it is too late and there is nothing you can do about it. If you are out and about and cannot get home then worrying about your oven will not change anything – so just relax. The house has not burned down before, and it probably will not now. If it does, it was out of your hands at that point anyway.
These types of anxiety are linked and the kind of person who suffers from either or both of these forms is likely to be generally highly strung. If you find yourself feeling anxious then try to recognise it for what it is and realise that it is probably not logical. In a large number of cases it can really help to try and distract yourself with other things. For example by reading book when you are struggling to sleep, or by listening to some music when you are worrying about the oven.
A more advanced technique is taught in a school of psychology known as ‘cognitive behavioral psychology’. This is called ‘mindfulness’ which is a form of meditation. Here the idea is that you focus on the contents of your own thoughts and thereby try to quieten your own mind and encourage only thoughts that are positive and conducive to letting go and relaxing. You meditate as you might normally, but rather than trying to ‘clear’ your mind, you instead see where your thoughts wonder – most likely to the cooker or a presentation you have to give if you are the type with high anxiety. Think about how you can replace these negative thoughts with more constructive ones such as ‘there is nothing I can do about it’ or ‘it does not matter what strangers think anyway’. You can also repeat these mantras to yourself throughout the day and particularly when you are in high stress situations and thereby use them as ‘positive affirmations’ which will help you to permanently override the more negative thoughts you experience.