Did you ever feel shaky, nervous, or on edge and not really know why? You may be suffering with anxiety. Anxiety comes in different forms – i.e. generalised anxiety, health anxiety, and social anxiety. You may be very aware of what your anxiety is related to, such as redundancies at work and being anxious about your job security.
What most always happens when we are feeling anxious is that our minds race forward into a reality that has not yet happened in the future. Unless you have a crystal ball then you do not have the power of guaranteeing the future, which means your endless worrying about future events is in vain.
Let’s take Sally* as an example. Sally says, “Aviva, I am scared that my boyfriend’s parents won’t like me. He told me that they are really obsessive clean freaks and I am tidy, but a bit disorganised.” I respond, saying, “I hear you Sally; it seems like you are predicting that they won’t like you because you are different from them.”
Sally: “Yes exactly, and if they don’t like me then maybe they will not be happy for my boyfriend to continue seeing me.”
Me: “And if that happens then what does that mean?”
Sally: “Then he will listen to them because they are really close; we won’t be together anymore and that would be heart-breaking.”
Here we can see Sally’s anxiety increases as she imagines worst case scenarios. After her last words, she broke down in uncontrollable tears. How can we get a handle on anxiety? It starts with awareness. Can you notice when your thinking turns from present thinking to future thinking?
Present thinking: I need to go into a work meeting now; not sure what they will say but I’ll deal with whatever comes up. I’m going to get myself a drink now and go in.
Future thinking: I need to go into a work meeting now. They might say I have had a complaint, they might let me go, they might move my desk nearer to the manager because they noticed I sent a personal email from my work email. If they make a complaint it will go on my record.”
The key is to stop yourself in your thinking before it turns into future thinking. If you can’t stop yourself before, then during the process is still better than running full steam ahead into the future.
“I need to go into a work meeting now. They may say I have had a complaint and that will go on my record.” Now take several slow and deep breaths, and think about right now. Do you need to get yourself a drink first? Is there time to put on five minutes of calming music? Maybe speak to a work colleague to say that you are feeling anxious and just wanted someone to know.
The road from present thinking to future thinking is a slippery slope, which ends up with a crash into panic. Focusing helps us to train our minds to stay with the present. Focusing was established by Eugene Gendlin and is a way for many people to bring serenity and calmness back into their inner world.
How does it work? Every day, start with focusing. That means sitting down and focusing on something. I find that focusing on my breath/breathing is easier than focusing on an object. Notice the breath go in and out of your body. If you can do this even for a second without being distracted by your thinking, then that is great. You can build on that.
Aviva Keren Barnett (PgD, M.A ) is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counselor. Aviva holds a Master of Arts in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. Aviva, a very passionate therapist, works with individuals on a private basis.