The future can be unpredictable, so it’s normal to worry about unexpected problems and whether you’re prepared to manage them. You might think about your day-to-day or long-term responsibilities and wonder, “What do I need to know?” “How should I get ready?” or “What will happen if I don’t plan ahead?”
If so, it means you’re mentally gearing up for situations that matter to you. And that’s great if you respond by actively removing potential obstacles to success.
But when worrying escalates, intense anxiety can develop. Anxiety is characterized by excessive and unrealistic concerns about the future, emotional and physical tension, and patterns of avoidance–avoiding people, responsibilities, or harmless situations.
If anxiety makes it too difficult to function in your relationships or keep up with your obligations at home, work, or school, it’s important to develop an anxiety reduction plan.
In cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), attention is given to cognitive, behavioral, and somatic or physical aspects of anxiety. Thus, efforts to control anxiety should specifically target a) fearful beliefs, b) avoidance behaviors, and c) tension in the body. Let’s consider each in greater detail.
These include thinking a situation is more challenging than it is, imagining that the future is unpredictable and uncontrollable, and believing you don’t have the ability to cope with stressful situations. These beliefs can be tough to recognize when the emotional part of anxiety is intense, but with practice, they can be noticed and changed.
By avoiding situations that lead to anxiety, we might feel better, at least for the time being. But what about the next time we’re around people or situations that trigger anxiety? Chances are, we’ll try to avoid those, too.
This explains how patterns of avoidance develop, and why they’re so difficult to break. Avoidance should be gradually replaced with behaviors that improve functioning in challenging situations. It’s important not to rush this process, because setbacks can damage confidence, and low confidence is a contributor to anxiety.
When anxiety hits, muscles become tense, breathing becomes shallow, and heart rate increases. These reactions are similar to those we might have to physical threats, like falling off a roof or getting chased by an angry dog. This is a normal part of the fear response, and it’s adaptive if we need to defend ourselves or run away from danger.
But serious anxiety occurs when we interpret psychological situations as threats. When this happens repeatedly, and for a long time, chronic tension can replace relaxation as the typical state of the body. This is why physical relaxation training is such an important part of anxiety management.
The following suggestions can be used to address fearful beliefs, avoidance behaviors, and tension in the body. The effectiveness of each will depend on the type of anxiety you experience and severity of current problems.