Avoiding anxiety: catching it early

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The reassuring presence of others can be a good antidote to panic attacks.  Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The trick with any mental health spiral is to learn to catch it in its early development.  When you are already in the throes of anger, it is too late to avoid the repercussions.  When you are already in a panic attack, it is too late to avoid many of the effects.

It is very difficult to accept advice on this kind of thing.  We all feel we are the greatest expert on ourselves, and therefore that we know everything that is suggested to us.  But, just as many people are prone to eating too much, and then regretting it later, many of us have a tendency to wait too long before catching ourselves in anxiety, anger or panic.

CATCHING ANXIETY EARLY

We can learn our own triggers.  This can include:

  • Managing time – spotting when we have a busy diary time coming up.  Time compression is almost guaranteed to cause some anxiety.
  • Managing behaviour – managing our exposure to difficult behaviour.  We know what winds us up, so we can, to an extent, reduce exposure.
  • Managing tasks singly – multi-tasking is a great causer of anxiety, and focusing ruthlessly on one thing at a time is a good antidote.
The above three tips cover three key dimensions: time, social, and activity.  We cannot avoid time, but we can manage it.  We cannot avoid people, but we can manage them.  We cannot avoid activity, but we can manage it.

CATCHING ANGER EARLY

Triggers to anger can be more complex, but can include:

  • Distracting yourself – if you feel irritation, you can divert yourself onto a different topic before you get too wound up.
  • Delegation – if you are worried about getting irritable, use an intermediary to communicate (lawyer, mediator, trusted friend).
  • Letting go – one of the best ways to avoid getting wound up, is to drop the activity that winds you up.  This can be amazingly difficult, since we have love-hate relationships with people, experiences, drugs etc – but we always have a choice as to what we attend to.
CATCHING PANIC EARLY

The panic spiral is notoriously difficult, partly because its physiology is so powerful.  Once the panic loop is established, the mental-physical feedback can create some real humdingers in terms of panic attacks.  A few things that work for some, are:

  • Distraction – as with anger, it is occasionally possible to divert your own attention from an object of panic.
  • The company of others – the presence of other people can be immensely reassuring.  It’s best not to be afraid to use trusted friends for that purpose.  There is always the fear and danger that friends will get exhausted, but you may learn who can be relied on… and can help them back when they need help!
  • Single-focus activity – as with anxiety, choosing a single, focused activity can calm the attention.
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A MEDITATION

Can I see into the future?  Can I tell when I am likely to become upset?

Perhaps I catch my anxiety early.  Perhaps I can rearrange my diary to filter out busy-ness.  Perhaps I can rearrange my social life to reduce exposure to difficult behaviour.  Perhaps I can ensure I focus on one thing at a time.

Perhaps I can catch my irritation early, and divert myself to another activity, or gain the help of others in negotiating.

Perhaps I can catch my panic early.  Perhaps I can divert my own attention, or focus on a single, easy activity.  Perhaps I can arrange for others to be around me, to take the pressure off.

If I can learn to remain aware of how I am feeling, and take responsibility for managing that, then I give myself the best chance.  I mustn’t be too embarrassed to ask for help, or too shy to change my diary.  I can learn to anticipate difficult mental states, and become my own social secretary.  If not me, then who?  If I can help myself, then I have a skill I can use again and again.

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