Header image courtesy of Aarón Blanco Tejedor (Unsplash)
It might be harsh to hear, but living is hard. Living in the modern twenty-first century, with jobs to juggle, mouths to feed, advancements spinning too fast to keep up with, and a world that seems to be going to seed? Even harder. It’s really no wonder that so many of us struggle with anxiety in our everyday lives.
According to the Department of Health, roughly one in 14 people are suffering from anxiety at any given time. In Hong Kong, the prevalence of anxiety disorders among those aged between 16 to 75 is 12.6 percent. Unsurprisingly, people are also developing anxiety from increasingly younger ages. Given these alarming statistics, we consulted Glen Heyburgh, counsellor at Centre Minds, to educate us about anxiety and some of its characteristics.
Anxiety is a negative mood state characterised by physical tension and apprehension. This can manifest in a subjective sense of unease, a certain set of behaviours (such as looking worried or excessive fidgeting), or a physiological response reflected in an elevated heart rate or muscle tension.
Anxiety is not at all pleasant, so why do humans seem programmed to experience it whenever we do something important? Surprisingly, anxiety is actually good for us—at least in small amounts, anyway. Psychologists have known for over a century that we perform better when a little anxious. Social, physical, and intellectual performances can all be enhanced by anxiety. Let’s face it: Without some sort of looming pressure, few of us would get much done.
But what happens when you’re too anxious? You may fail an exam or blow an interview because you’re unable to focus on the questions. You might spend a first date with a sick feeling in your stomach, sweating profusely, unable to think of a single interesting thing to say. There are few sensations more harmful than severe anxiety that is out of control.
As humans, we may be designed to be on high alert for danger with innate fight or flight responses, but as information is coming at us from all directions at high speed, anxiety rises sharply and starts to impair us. Here are four hard truths about anxiety that nobody talks about—when they really should.
A large part of anxiety is driven by anticipation. We are faced with plenty of uncertainty in life, which can fuel our stress and anxiety. While these worries may feel like an onslaught of arrows aimed at us, our anxiety can also strangely feel like a form of armour. We may even think it is necessary because we believe on some level that if we anticipate or imagine what we fear, then we can somehow have more control over the situation. But when we get too far ahead of ourselves, we can drive ourselves crazy.
We all replay events in our heads that we regret, but some of us get stuck in a looping cycle that doesn’t allow us to move on. This doesn’t even need to be proper memories of actual events, but could just be implicit memories—things that we don’t necessarily remember consciously but have nonetheless impacted our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
Many present situations can trigger tensions from our past. Anxiety can be elevated by experiences that remind us of how we used to feel, or that awaken our inner critic about ourselves and our circumstances. The ways we experience, react, feel, and torture ourselves in stressful or triggering scenarios are often reflections of old, unresolved feelings that have been stirred up. This is a major reason why making sense of our past can be a powerful tool in understanding and overcoming anxiety in the present.
A large part of what pushes us into dwelling on the past or future comes from our critical inner voice. It’s a self-destructive thought process that criticises, undermines, and poorly advises us based on unhealthy, destructive messages we’ve picked up early on in life.
Our anxiety-inducing inner critic can affect us at work, relationships, parenting, and social situations. This critic’s scathing commentary makes whatever is going on in our lives feel much worse and is a powerful fuel for anxiety. The good news is when we recognise and challenge this critical inner voice, we can end up feeling much stronger as a person, more grounded in reality, and a lot less anxious.
One crucial element of modern life that can trigger anxiety and our critical inner voice is social media. It’s all too easy to have so many connections and have so much input about one another, as well as the world at large. Being well-informed does, of course, have many benefits.
However, it’s important to realise that a lot of the information we consume can multiply our worries. These days, most people have a heightened awareness about what could go wrong, because we’re exposed to so many instances of such happenings splashed all over social media.
This is why we need to seek reconnection to the present moment. Much of how we respond to information that alarms or frightens us has to do with how we cope with anxiety. Stop, reconnect to your breath and current sensory experience, then calm down and consider if there’s action to be taken. If the answer is yes, you can take the positive action, which may well reduce your anxiety.
If there is no rational action to take, you can still reconnect with whatever is going on inside. This may mean turning off the telly or logging off on your phone for a while, giving yourself the time and space to seek an inner sense of calm.
Just because our brains might dredge up a dark past or concoct stressful future scenarios, it doesn’t mean we have to connect to them. We can tune into ourselves and what’s actually around us in the moment. We can pay attention to our breath and reconnect with each of our senses.
Perhaps most importantly, we can challenge our critical inner voice. If we can get a handle on this “voice,” we can generally get a firmer grasp on most situations. We can have more perspective and put our self-compassion into practice. We can see our thoughts for what they are—just thoughts, more separate from us and from the reality of our experience than we think. We can be kind to ourselves and notice when our rational mind is overtaken by our inner critic, and gently bring ourselves back into the present moment.
If you are struggling with your mental health and are having trouble overcoming your anxieties, consider seeking help and consulting a professional. Centre Minds Counselling Services offers such counselling, led by Glen Heyburgh, a seasoned wellness counsellor with decades of experience in psychology, neuro-linguistic programming, and Ericksonian hypnosis. His methods include combining these disciplines with cognitive and behavioural therapy to help those in need get back on track, whether the problems be depression, anxiety, relationship issues, or stressful life transitions.
If you’re not quite comfortable with talking face-to-face just yet, Centre Minds also offer private online counselling services, held using HIPAA-compliant video conferencing software with end-to-end encryption so you can rest assured your call is kept completely confidential.
Some of what we’ve presented about anxiety might resonate with you, but if you’re unsure whether you suffer from it yourself, it’s always worth speaking to a qualified professional. To learn more about other proven tools and techniques to help relieve anxiety, get in touch with Centre Minds now.