5 signs your anxiety is getting worse and 3 ways to regain control, according to a therapist

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly one in five Americans each year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Joshua Fletcherknown as AnxietyJosh online, a British psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety disorders and author of a forthcoming book”And how does that make you feel?, described them to Business Insider as “fear of fear” and said certain behaviors known as “white-knuckling” can make anxiety worse. But just a change in mindset can go a long way, he said.

White knuckle can make anxiety worse

White-knuckling is “an old phrase to describe the excitement of holding on to something,” Fletcher said. “If you’re a nervous passenger in a car, you might ‘white-knuckle’ and grab the side or hold on to the seat. Think of the expression ‘white-knuckle-ride.’

There’s nothing wrong with gritting your teeth in genuinely stressful or unpleasant situations, such as getting a flu shot. But this becomes white in the psychological sense when a person counts down the time before they can leave a situation that should be non-threatening, instead of immersing themselves in it and focusing on it their attention to it, he said.

If you dread doing things you know you want or need to do on a regular basis, like attending social events or giving presentations, and find that even though you keep doing them it feels like a chore and stressful, you’re probably garlic, she said.

5 signs of white knuckles:

  • Constantly checking the clock

  • Calculate how much time you have left

  • Position yourself near the door

  • Do something only if you have a “safe person” or object with you

  • Using alcohol to get through certain social events

“When we tense up, we calm down the flight side of our fight-or-flight response,” he said, referring to the body’s automatic stress response. So every time we count down until we can get out of the situation, we’re almost reinforcing to our brain that there is a threat and we should run away, he said.

The presence of safe objects or people also means we don’t give ourselves credit for tolerating situations that are difficult for us, she said, which means we continue to be white.

Reinforces the idea that the situation is scary for the brain can prevent people from recovering from anxiety disorders and is the reason why these activities continue to feel fear-inducing despite the fact that we do them repeatedly, he said.

Fletcher kept herself grounded, but as a former sufferer, she knows that illness and certain life-limiting behaviors can be overcome.

Three steps to managing anxiety

The first step to overcoming white wrinkles is to identify where the problem is, Fletcher said. This could be leaving the house or using public transport.

Once you’ve identified an area where you struggle, you can develop a new way to respond to it. Ideally, when anxious feelings arise, you want to “disengage” and “do nothing,” Fletcher said, “that’s the way out.”

“Just keep doing what you were doing. When you act out of fear, you reinforce the fear wiring in your brain,” he said. Over time, you can rewire your brain so that it doesn’t react to anxiety, he said, which helps it pass more quickly.

This is known as exposure therapy, which is a common treatment for anxiety where the person perceives things as rationally safe, which the threat reaction, the amygdala in the brain, says are dangerous.

“It’s about tolerating the symptoms of that threat response without trying to respond to it with compulsive or safety behaviors like boxing,” Fletcher said.

But all exposure therapy counts, so if you find yourself cringing, that’s OK. It’s best to be very compassionate with yourself and focus on what’s going on around you, she said.

As long as it’s cleared up by a medical professional, any kind of exposure is safe, he said.

Finally, Fletcher suggested reading up on the psychology behind the body’s threat response so you can understand what’s going on when you feel anxious. He found this reinforcing his own recovery.

If you want more intensive help, which usually speeds up the process, he said, look for a cognitive behavioral therapist or a trained Therapist Acceptance and commitment therapywhich can help you cope with specific difficulties.

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