This is an issue that often comes up among my clients who I see in West Brompton in West London. Anxiety is the fear we have for something that may happen in the future. I am not sure whether we live in a world that is more insecure and gives us more cause to be more fearful. Perhaps because we have more knowledge of the world than did our ancestors our awareness of harm has increased and therefore our fear of it. It seems to be a paradox that we are in more control of our world than previous generations and yet perhaps less confident of the future.
There is of course nothing wrong with fear and in fact it is a crucial emotion for us to have in our lives. It tells us of danger. Without it we would not survive. I believe the difficulty comes when fear stops becoming just an emotion that gives us information but establishes itself as the deciding factor in our lives. Anxiety can take us to a state that is paralysing and can be very distressing. In the midst of a panic attack one can fear for one’s life. We can lose the ability to be active and the quality and scope of our lives can be greatly reduced. We need to listen to our fears, be with them, but then develop the courage to work through them and do the things we need to do despite them when we need to.
The way we think about events, present and future, influences the way we feel about them and vice-versa. The more negatively we think about something the more we fear it and the more we fear it the more negatively we consider it producing a vicious cycle that can trap us in inaction. We can sometimes make things into a matter of life and death when in fact we would survive them and may be able to make them into something far more positive than we think we can. Sometimes therapy can help us deal with fears and anxieties by gradually desensitizing us to them. In a gradual approach with support we can deal with a little bit at a time of the thing we fear. As we gradually deal with our fear more and more hopefully our confidence increases so that we are able to face more of our fear. There are also behaviours that we can learn that help to reduce our anxious feelings. They can include mindfulness, meditation, and even ways of breathing. Sometimes even just pausing our actions and reactions can help by giving the anxious feelings a chance to subside so that we can go into a less agitated state to be able to make a better response. Ultimately, the only way to deal with fear or anxiety is to face it. The aim of therapy can be to develop our sense of competency in the world so that we are not overwhelmed by our fears but have developed enough self-belief that we feel we can deal with them. We stop becoming governed by our anxiety.