A more challenging technique to build anxiety tolerance is the exposure method which entails facing the fear more head on. This method involves experiencing and being with the place, person or event that’s generating the anxiety in the first place. This is done in a graded way so the exposure isn’t too overwhelming, which would be counter productive, but rather an attempt to be with the anxiety on ones edge. What does it means to be on the edge? It’s that place where the anxiety is felt, but at a level that is manageable. This serves two purposes, one to build tolerance and capacity for the feeling of anxiety and secondly to recognise that the thoughts associated with the fear may not be true or are exaggerated.
For example, someone may have a fear of going into shopping centres - the mere idea of going there elicits panic. Important to note that in this example before the exposure method can be tried there should be work done in building capacity to hold anxiety such as those ideas mentioned in the previous blog. So the first step using the exposure method might to just walk by a shopping centre and determine how that feels – is it too much, not enough or on the edge. If it’s on the edge then you can repeat the exercise until the anxiety feels well managed. Then you increase the exposure some more, maybe walk inside the shopping centre, again determining the level of anxiety felt and repeat as required. Keep increasing the exposure step by step to the point where the circumstance that generated the anxiety are reduced significantly or it’s no longer as activating.
Ideally this method is accompanied by parallel work with a counsellor or therapist to bring understanding to the root cause/s of the anxiety itself, especially for those whose experience doesn't have a rational explanation.
Other helpful suggestions for anxiety are watching your thought processes and reframing them into a more supportive framework. For instance, a reframe for a thought that is repeatedly saying you can’t do something can changed to “I know this is difficult but I have done similar things before” or “I can stay here for a bit longer and soon I’ll be safe”. What’s helpful with this cognitive processes is the deep breathing which complement and support the active process of changing your thoughts. Other self talk affirmations can be: “This feeling will pass”, “I can get through this” or “I am safe right now”.
If you drink a lot of coffee this may not be beneficial if you have anxiety as caffeine stimulates the nervous system therefore compounding the heightened response that anxiety is already inducing. Drinking water or alternatives such as herbal teas are more useful to relax the nervous system. Improving one’s diet and exercising are additional ways to support anxiety as there is evidence linking mental health and diet, and the benefits of improved mental health with exercise.
Please feel free to contact one of our therapists if anxiety is causing significant issues in your life.
May this day find you well.
The Counselling and Psychotherapy Team