Learn to manage anxiety
Every day, we all live under continuous pressure and demands. However, not all of us react in the same way. The key is managing anxiety. And yes, we can train our minds to better face life’s stressors, whether it’s a transcendent decision to a traumatic event.
Managing anxiety is the ability to prevent outside information from activating the danger signals in our body. There are people who can stay calm and active in the face of very stressful circumstances and others who, on the contrary, quickly show signs of anxiety. Some of the most common ones are irritability, difficulty concentrating, contractures, back problems, digestive problems and sleep difficulties.
“The ability to handle pressure in any situation basically depends on our minds. It stores everything from our whole lives, especially things that have harmed our bodies and it activates its danger signals if it detects those things again,” says Purificación Piqueras, a psychologist at SHA Wellness Clinic.
The information stored in our minds includes personal and family beliefs and values, our interpretation of experiences we’ve had, ways of learning, and social and cultural influences. It is completely different for everyone.
But it is this information that sets off our reactions in stressful situations.
“We could say that the outside world acts as a trigger for information that the person has inside,” Piqueras says.
Suffering and disability
More than 260 million people in the world have anxiety disorders and more than 300 million people suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
They are diseases that can lead to disability, to the point of seriously interfering in daily activities, work, studies and our social and personal relationships. Depression is the leading cause of disability.
These figures are impressive on their own, but it is even more remarkable that the prevalence of these conditions has grown by around 50% in the last decade. These facts raise two issues: first that there are more and more cases and second that our social and work environments are causing high demands on our emotional balance.
More than 15% of the general population will suffer an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives and the WHO warns that by the year 2025 depression will be the leading global cause of disability.
The difference between depression and anxiety: a matter of emotions
Anxiety is the activation of our body’s danger signals. The predominant emotion is fear and the physical effects are tension, discomfort, and hyper-activation of the whole body, either to face and fight the perceived danger or to flee it.
On the other hand, the main feeling in depression is sadness. The person feels discouraged and helpless about their circumstances. The person has negative thoughts about himself or herself, the environment in general and the future. It is very common for people suffering long periods of anxiety to fall into depression when they no longer see a solution to their problems. Then they give up on everything.
“The main difference between anxiety and depression is the dominant emotion. In anxiety, the body is responding through fight or flight, which means that the person is still active. However, in depression sadness and despondency dominate. The person stops fighting, and has given up,” Piqueras says.
Learn to manage anxiety
You never have to throw in the towel because you can always learn to manage anxiety.
“We are actually saying that we perceive the present, but through the filter of the past, activating fear. The fear of losing something we want or the fear of not getting something we want,” Piqueras says.
The danger signal activated in the body is what we call anxiety and of course you can train to activate it only in the face of real fear and not in the face of hypothetical threats that we are creating with our own minds.
The first step in learning to manage anxiety is to teach our minds to focus on the present. Think of the here and now. Visualise the past to process information or pay attention to the present to be in the here and now.
“You must focus your attention on the present, on what you are doing at the time, and not on circumstances or results over which we do not have absolute control,” Piqueras says.