Tackling Anxiety: Why do we fear the unknown?

It’s a normal human emotion which we’ve all experienced at some point or other and come out the other side but sometimes anxiety morphs into something much more overwhelming.

How do we recognise when it’s time to seek help and take on this ‘burden’ which might be controlling us? Anxiety disorders vary in their nature and severity.  You might be familiar with anxiety-related conditions such as generalised anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, phobias, health anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders.  These all differ in many ways from each other but the one thing they all have in common is FEAR. Anxiety is about fearing the future – the future can be one second from now or 50 years from now but either way there is a fear of the unknown, of what could happen between now and then.

The future is, by its very nature, unknown (unless you believe in psychic powers) and therefore we cannot control it.  We can plan for it and prepare the best we can, but we cannot predetermine it. When we feel anxious, our senses are heightened, as we revert to a very primal state, where we have the options of ‘fight or flight’.Anxiety helps to keep us safe by making us more alert to danger, making us perform better at certain tasks and it can prompt us to move from a state of inaction to taking positive action.

Think about times when anxiety might have been useful to you – maybe you were nervous about an exam or a job interview, so you prepared yourself so as to minimise the chance of failure.  In contrast, anxiety becomes unhelpful when we are reacting where there is no danger or threat. For example, we might think that a harmless house spider is going to jump out of the bath and land on us, when actually spiders don’t do this.  Anxiety can also be unhelpful when it is disproportionate to the level of threat. In such cases, anxiety does not serve to protect – it becomes an imprisonment and stops us from living.   When something happens to challenge this belief, the ability to keep things in perspective is how we push through and carry on living.

Dealing with anxiety: It is very important to understand that you don’t choose to have anxiety in your life.  It is there for a reason, whether it is beneficial or not.  Try to accept this and stop blaming yourself for feeling the way you do as it’s counter productive to think otherwise.   If you can stop this blame game, you are likely to feel better about yourself and therefore more likely to feel able to face your fears.  Talk to others who won’t judge you.  It really can help.

Therapy Jersey is a partnership between psychology graduates Cliodhna Smith and Christopher Journeaux. Both have been in private psychotherapy practice for three years, supporting clients in dealing with a wide range of issues.  Building an alliance and a trusting relationship with clients is at the centre of their psychotherapeutic work.

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