Anxiety and Stress

"Courage is the realization that there is
something more important than your fear."
-Chris Howard

A Quick Tip

Getting Into The "NOW"

Since anxiety involves a focus on the imagined future, not the real now, getting into the present reality is necessary. You can first try the simple technique below, adapted from one that was introduced by Gestalt Therapy more than forty years ago.

You can use the technique whenever your mind begins to feel confused, the heart and respiration accelerate, and a sensation of danger is aroused, which is to say, when you begin to feel anxiety. Whenever this happens, you need to MENTALLY answer some questions.

Where am I? Take a good look around you, even if the environment is familiar . Formally and mentally describe what you see: the room, the walls, the color of the walls, what the doors, windows, and furniture are like, then tell yourself where you are in the room, in what part of the building the room is located, on what street the building is located, in which city the street is located. For example: “I am in a room with four white walls. On the wall to my right, there is a poster of a golf course. On the wall in front of me there is wooden door painted blue, etc., etc.”

What time is it? First, check out the amount of light to see if it is day or night, then look at your wristwatch or a clock on the wall and tell yourself what time it is, what day of the week it is, and what month it is.

Who is here? Take a look at where you are in the room, if you are standing or sitting, if you are alone or with someone. Watch the other people in the room and pay attention to what they are saying and doing, if they are sitting, standing, and walking around.

Who am I? Say your name, describe what you do, where you live, with whom you live, and your qualifications.

What am I doing here? Describe the reasons for your being in this place and the reason for the other people.

Reassess your anxiety level.

A Brief History of The Origins of Stress & Anxiety

We've all experienced moments of stress and anxiety in our everyday lives. Every one of us has been late for an appointment, had arguments with loved ones, or been anxious to find out what grade we received on a test. Brief moments of anxiety are a normal part of life that has been bred into us by millions of years of evolution. The “Flight or Fight” response as it is called serves us very well in life or death situations, and has done so for eons.

Picture what happens in a stressful situation. Let’s say you’re an early human living a few hundred thousand years ago. You’re walking through the forest minding your own business and suddenly you hear a twig snap. You turn to investigate and immediately realize that a tiger has singled you out for lunch; as you stand there deciding whether to stay still or run, your body has already begun the “Fight or Flight” response. Your adrenal glands are now flooding your body with adrenaline, epinephrine, and steroid stress hormones, thus heightening your senses and giving you near super human abilities. Surface blood vessels constrict allowing more blood to be pumped to vital organs and less blood to be lost in the event of injury. Blood pressure rises, and your now ready to either stay and take your changes with the tiger, or run. Well hopefully you outrun or outsmart the tiger and live another day to do whatever it is that cavemen do.

Now let’s advance a few hundred thousand years to today. You're stuck in traffic, just had an argument, and also late for an appointment, what happens? Your body immediately says “tiger!”, and goes into the fight or flight response. It has no way to distinguish between actual life threatening events and the rigors of modern living. Unfortunately these modern “tigers” are not rare events, their around every corner. Given the right circumstances, whether chemical or environment, a person can find themselves in a state of constant “Fight or Flight”.

New Stuff About Anxiety

If you suffer from anxiety, do you ever have those scary feelings of unreality? That dream-like state when nothing seems real to you. Isn't it worrying to think that these feelings can happen to you at any time and you have no control over them?

Well, actually you DO have control over them and I can prove it to you.

Have you ever looked at a word that's written down and looked at it so many times that after a while it no longer looks as if it's spelt correctly? You know it's spelled right but it just doesn't look right. Yes? Ok then, try this little exercise and see how you get on:-

Hold your hand about 30cms away from your face, palm upwards. Now choose to focus on just one particular point on your hand. If you're wearing a ring or have an obvious scar perhaps, or a particularly deep line on your hand, this can make it easier for you to focus. Keep looking at that particular point for a minute or more. If you find your attention wandering, don't worry. Just go back to that same spot on your hand and keep focused on it.

Are you trying this now? What's happening? After a while things will start to look odd. You might find your hand looks fuzzy, or blurred perhaps. Or does it almost seem like it's moving? And then what? You'll probably find that it feels like you're in an odd and dreamy state where nothing feels real to you.

WELL DONE!! This is exactly what you are trying to achieve! You have just induced a feeling of unreality, exactly the same as those you experience during times of high anxiety, only this time you've brought it on yourself. And the more you bring these feelings on yourself, the more you'll be able to overcome them when they happen spontaneously at other times.

So what does this prove to you? It proves that these feelings of unreality are feelings that you can bring on yourself - any time you wish to. You DO have control over them and they don't need to scare you. After you have tried this exercise several times you will realize that the "unreality" feeling is just another symptom of anxiety and that it isn't really as scary as you think it is.

You might find that the first few times you try this exercise you find it quite scary to do. After all, your mind associates these unreal feelings with anxious moments from your past. Even if you have to give up half way through on your first attempt, don't worry. Try again another time, once you are more relaxed.

If you keep at it, perhaps trying this several times in a row and certainly every day if you can, eventually you will find that the feelings will change. It won't seem so bad to get that "unreal" feeling. You might even find that you enjoy it in a strange kind of way, or perhaps you'll eventually even find it funny. I do hope so.

This is all about desensitizing you to the scariness of the feelings. It is the repetition of the exercise that brings the results so do please stick with it. If you can't get on with staring at your hand then try something else. Perhaps staring at yourself in the mirror or focusing on a physical object.

The more times you try this little exercise the easier it will become. And hopefully the more silly it will become for you! That's really great because that's exactly what you're aiming for. Good luck!

For a complimentary report on anxiety that will help you to stop anxiety from taking over your life please visit

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What Are Your Life Stressors: A Self Assessment

Life Event Points
1. Death of spouse 100
2. Divorce 73
3. Marital Separation 65
4. Jail Term 63
5. Death of a close family member 63
6. Personal injury or illness 53
7. Marriage 50
8. Being Fired from work 47
9. Reconciliation with spouse 45
10. Retirement 45
11. Change in health of family member 44
12. Pregnancy 40
13. Sexual difficulties 39
14. Addition of family member 39
15. Major business readjustment 39
16. Major change in financial state 38
17. Death of a close friend 37
18. Changing to a different line of work 36
19. Change in frequency of arguments with spouse 35
20. Mortgage for loan or major purchase over  $15,000 31
21. Foreclosure on a mortgage or loan 30
22. Major change in responsibilities at work 29
23. Children leaving home 29
24. Trouble with in-laws 29
25. Outstanding personal achievement 28
26. Spouse begins or stops work 26
27. Starting or ending school 26
28. Change in living conditions 25
29. Revision of personal habits (dress, manners,  associations) 24
30. Trouble with boss 23
31. Change in work hours, conditions 20
32. Change in residence 20
33. Change in school 20
34. Change in recreational activities 19
35. Change in church activities 19
36. Change in social activities 18
37. Mortgage or loan under $15,000 17
38. Change in sleeping habits 16
39. Change in number of family gatherings 15
40. Change in eating habits 15
41. Vacation 13
42. Christmas 12
43. Minor violation of the law 11

You probably have noticed that not all of these events are "bad". In fact, some of the top stressful offenders are down right happy events, such as getting married and winning the lottery. So, how many of the events in the list have you encountered in past 12 months? Identify them and add up. Statistics regarding your score:
  1. If you have a total below 150, you have a 35% chance of illness or accident within the next two years.
  2. If you have a total between 150-300, your chance increases to 51%
  3. If you have a total over 300: Your chance increases to 80%

Anxiety and Conflict

The experience of anxiety can be hard to find words for. We all experience anxiety to some degree. But we experience it in various degrees of strength and in various ways. We can feel helpless with apprehension, filled with dread, sickly with guilt, frantic with shaking, confused so much that we can’t think about the simplest things. If someone asks, what are we afraid of we might reply, “I don’t know, I don’t know, but it’s awful and it sneaks up on me without warning and I’m so scared I want to run, but I can’t run, I can’t think. It just has to stop!” Or the anxiety could feel quieter, with the sense that we do things that don’t really make sense to us at all.

But no matter how we experience the anxiety at any given moment, without conflict there would be no anxiety-based problems. It is important to understand conflict when dealing with anxiety because just plain anxiety and fears are not so much a problem for us. Once we just avoid the feared situation, the fear is effectively coped with and there is little need for further worry. It is only when the desire to approach enters that the conflict-and the suffering starts.

Conflict is the tendency to perform two incompatible responses at the same time. There are 4 varieties of conflict.

  1. Approach-approach conflict
  2. Avoidance-avoidance conflict
  3. Approach-avoidance conflict
  4. Double approach-avoidance conflict

1. Approach-approach conflict

In approach-approach conflict, you want two things at the same time, but getting one means losing the other. You might want to get to sleep early and to see a late night talk show, or to accept two equally appealing jobs.

2. Avoidance-avoidance conflict

Avoidance-avoidance conflict involves two things you fear and want to avoid, but avoiding one means that you have to approach the other. Let’s say you are already late filing your income tax and will have to pay a penalty, and if you wait longer the penalty will be even more. The immediate distaste of finishing and filing now feels just as awful as the worse consequences in the distant future.

3. Approach-avoidance conflict

Both approach-approach conflicts and avoidance-avoidance conflicts are painful, but usually they get resolved because something happens that gives more weight to one or the other, or you escape the situation.

But approach-avoidance conflicts are excruciating. You both want and fear something at the same time. For example you might long to be in relationship with a certain person, but desperately fear the person, fear intimacy and fear sex. You want the person too much to say, “Forget it, who needs this!” But you can’t just get involved, because you’re too scared. So what happens? You suffer. You vacillate painfully. You must think and feel the motivated desires and you must avoid them too.

4. Double approach-avoidance conflict

In this conflict, which is an extension of the approach-avoidance conflict, two or more goals are both wanted and feared. Approaching one of the desired (and feared) goals means sacrificing the other desired (and feared) goal. Conflicts are usually complicated in real life. A student may want to graduate from college, but also not want to graduate because of the uncertainty of being alone, but if they don’t graduate, the parents will be hurt, and the person will feel guilty but also happy at hurting the parents, because they both love and hate the parents. Some principles of approach-avoidance conflicts The closer (in time, distance, or similarity) you get to something you want, your desire for it-the tendency to approach it-gets stronger.

Some principles of approach-avoidance conflicts

The closer (in time, distance, or similarity) you get to something you want, your desire for it-the tendency to approach it-gets stronger.

  1. The closer you get to something you fear, your fear of it-and the tendency to avoid it- gets stronger.
  2. The closer you get, both the desire and fear get stronger, but the fear is getting stronger faster. This means that if you are far from the feared goal, the approach tendency is stronger, so you will move towards the goal. So as you move toward the goal which is also feared, the fear will increase faster. Here is where you go back and forth, vacillating in behavior.
  3. Both the approach and the avoidance tendencies can be strengthened or weakened. This is the way out.

What can help with the approach-avoidance conflicts?

The most effective way to bring this about is to reduce the fear. The way to reduce the fear is to do the feared activity, think the fearful thoughts, feel the fearful feelings and stay with the fear experience long enough to process it in new ways. As we see nothing bad happens, the fear is reduced.

One of the ways of processing is to articulate-speak-about what you are feeling more completely and experiencing them in nonverbal ways as well.

The reason that fears can persist for so long is that every time we feel fear, and then avoid what we fear, we feel better immediately, but we prevent the extinction or erasure of fear to occur.

Stress Diary

Keeping a diary is the first step to taming the stress in your life. Jot down each time you feel stressed. Note the date and time in the first column and briefly describe the cause of the stress (stressor) in the second column. In the third column, write down what you were doing and where you were when the feeling hit. Next rate the degree of stress you felt, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stress imaginable. Briefly note in the last column how you felt and what — if anything — you did to ease the stress.

Date/Time Stressor Location/Activity Severity: 1 to 10 How I Felt/What I Did

Understanding Anxiety and Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of the human condition, and despite all of the bad press over the last decade, stress indeed has its redeeming qualities. Stress can be a motivator, helping us to prepare properly for that upcoming exam or important business meeting. Stress helps us to stay focused on that issue demanding our immediate attention. While stress is normal, even beneficial in many aspects, if not properly recognized and managed, persistent, high levels of stress can lead to both physical and emotional problems. Medical researchers have linked stress to hypertension, heart attacks, diabetes and other physical ailments. In addition, chronic, persistent stress and tension can interfere with our emotional wellness, leading to persistent worry, irritability and even depression in severe cases. Stress becomes a problem when we fail to recognize unhealthy levels of stress and ignore our body’s warning signs.

The Relationship Between Stress And Anxiety Disorders

When we talk about stress and its relationship to anxiety disorders, we are really referring to two different kinds of stress.

External stress is generated or caused by something tangible and real. It could be brought on by something as traumatic as someone trying to physically hurt you. It could be brought on by something as simple as watching a disturbing television program. Marriage, low self-esteem, career change or having a baby are all good examples of external stress. In other words, there is a valid reason for the stress. However, you can control your response to the stressor.

Internal stress is generated by your concern about the external stressor and the way it is making you feel. It is self-imposed stress; you only experience this stress if you choose to. Internal stress is based on our emotional response to the external stress and includes our self-talk, anger and obsessive, scary thinking. Normal, everyday stress can bring on body symptoms - racing heart, dizziness, trembling, etc. What the anxiety prone individual will do at this time is add internally generated stress on top of an already uncomfortable situation. He or she begins with self-talk like, "What’s wrong with me? Am I going to faint? What if I lose control and do something stupid and embarrass myself? I’m so dumb, why did I let this happen?"

It is internal stress that gets us into trouble. It’s from this internally generated anxiety that we get obsessive and carried away, scaring ourselves with untrue thoughts and imagined scenarios, which only add to our uncomfortable symptoms. This is the reality of the anxiety sufferer. Anxiety disorders commonly include: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

While anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications are often prescribed for anxiety and related disorders, learning to manage internally generated stress is at the heart of complete recovery. Medications help with the symptoms of anxiety, but they do nothing to affect the cause of the distress, which stems from the cognitive (thought) and behavioral habits of the sufferer. Through a process of conditioning, the anxiety sufferer develops certain automatic responses to thoughts, feelings and external stimulus.

The anxiety sufferer is conditioned to think and respond inappropriately to stressors in his/her environment. Cognitive, behavioral therapies are often employed to help bring the attention of the sufferer to the unrealistic thoughts that serve as cues for his or her maladaptive behavior. This includes examination of irrational beliefs and expectations, automatic thoughts, assumptions and responses, negative imagery and general perception to feelings.

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapies is to correct people’s self and environmental misconceptions, strengthen their coping skills and feelings of control over their own lives while facilitating exercises to develop constructive self-talk. Personality types most associated with anxiety, panic and/or agoraphobia:

  • extremely analytical
  • low self-esteem
  • perfectionist
  • inner nervousness
  • obsessive
  • guilt ridden
  • emotionally sensitive
  • hypochondria
  • worrier
  • high expectations
  • overreacts/easily irritated
  • needs to appear in control

Common Treatments

People suffering from anxiety, panic, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder often complain of the following:

  • strong anxiety episodes
  • racing heart/chest discomfort
  • trembling
  • nausea
  • hot and cold flashes
  • feelings of unreality and disorientation
  • dizziness
  • scary, uncontrollable thoughts
  • depressed feelings
  • fatigue
  • feelings of helplessness
  • panic episodes
  • muscle tension
  • migraine headaches
  • numbness in various parts of the body
  • strange aches or pains

People suffering from anxiety, panic, agoraphobia and/or post-traumatic stress disorder often have extreme apprehensions about the following:

  • dying
  • having a heart attack

This article was provided by The Midwest Center for Stress & Anxiety

What To Do About Stressors

  1. Accept a stressor
  2. Avoid a stressor
  3. Alter a stressor
  4. Adapt to a stressor
  5. Make a stress plan
  6. Relax

If you uncovered more stress in your life than you anticipated, don't worry -- you're not alone. More than half of the people surveyed in 2004 by the American Psychological Association said they were concerned about the stress in their everyday lives. What's more, one in four workers said they had taken a mental health day off from work to cope with stress. How you deal with the stress in your life depends partly on what causes it. Different types of stressors call for different coping techniques. Here's a look at some strategies for dealing with stress and when you might use them.

Accept A Stressor

Some stressors can't be changed. They may be temporary -- like final exams or an upcoming presentation at work -- or they may be huge life changes. The death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness, moving, or losing a job -- even getting a new job that you wanted -- are all enormously stressful events. But in order to go on, we have to learn to accept these difficult changes and cope with them as best we can. For starters, try not to stress about things that are out of your control. This is sometimes more easily said than done, but determining whether the situation is something you control is often the first step toward clearing your head.

Examples of Accepting a Stressor

  • When you've lost someone close to you, give yourself time to grieve. There's no way to avoid it -- grief is something you have to work through. Counseling and taking care of yourself may help. That includes eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.
  • Talk to a trusted friend or counselor if you feel overwhelmed by a situation or problem.
  • Join a support group of people undergoing similar experiences
  • Think about times when you've experienced a similar situation and remember how you dealt with it. Sometimes just remembering you were able to get through a difficult experience can give you confidence that you will get through this one, too. You may remember things you did to cope before that can help you now.
  • If your grief continues to be overwhelming, talk to your doctor. You may need the temporary help of an antidepressant medication in addition to using these self-help techniques.
  • Avoid blaming yourself. When you lose a job, for example, it's not unusual to wonder what you might have done to contribute to the situation. It's OK to consider behaviors or habits you might want to change, but don't beat yourself up. Learn what you can from the experience and move on.
  • For temporary stressors like final exams or work presentations, do your best to organize yourself and then let it go. Remind yourself that a certain amount of stress is natural in such situations and will be gone before long.
  • If you're suffering physical symptoms of stress, try not to fret over them too much. They, too, should go away after the stressful situation is past. For example, a study of college students found they suffered an increase in the severity of acne before exams regardless of how well they took care of themselves. But after the exams, their skin condition improved.

Avoid A Stressor

Stressors that can't be changed can sometimes be avoided. For instance, if sitting in heavy traffic or dealing with difficult coworkers ties you in knots, look for ways to avoid those situations.

Examples of Avoiding a Stressor:

  • Leave early for work to avoid sitting in traffic, or take public transportation.
  • Check with your boss to see whether telecommuting a day or two a week is an option for you.
  • If you're struggling to work through your differences with friends or coworkers, you may need to step back and reassess the situation. Allowing a little extra time may present the solution. You could also ask your supervisor to mediate. As a last resort, you may need to limit your interactions with people who drain your energy. Learn to say no without guilt when you're asked to do something you really don't want to do or don't have time to do.
  • If you use public transportation, don't use your commute time for work activities. Read a book or listen to soothing music on headsets.
  • If you find yourself getting into a heated conversation, stop and suggest resuming the conversation at a later time. If you are in a group discussion that becomes overly stressful, excuse yourself and leave -- especially if you find yourself having the same stressful conversation with the same people over and over again.
  • If you have to prepare for a big meeting or project, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to organize yourself. Disorganization can bring on stress.

Alter A Stressor

Changing how you deal with a stressor can help take the punch out of it. Maybe you can't get any work done because you're constantly flooded with emails, instant messages, or phone calls that demand your attention. Or you simply have too much to do in too little time. If multitasking is threatening to overwhelm you, changing your behavior so that you feel more in control can help:

Examples of Altering a Stressor:

  • If constant interruptions are preventing you from getting work done, turn the ringer off on your phone and let calls go into voice mail. Shut your email down and turn off your instant messenger service if you use one. You can notify key people ahead of time that you're going to do this, so they'll know you'll be out of touch for a while.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do, take a few minutes to list them all. Go through your list and prioritize your tasks. Try to tackle the most important tasks first. Divide complex tasks into manageable bites.
  • If you are stressing out about an upcoming event, think about the event that is stressing you. Visualize how you would like it to happen. Picture what you would like to say or do and how you will respond to others.
  • Rehearse the event in your mind -- or even out loud -- before it happens

Adapt To A Stressor

Back in the 1940s a popular song encouraged listeners to "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative." That may be a little trite. But more than 60 years later, it's still not a bad philosophy. While you may not be able to change certain stressors in your life, it may be possible to change how you think about them.

Here's one mother's answer to stress: When Karen, a mother of two, faced the stress of having to organize her two children's schedules, she knew she had to find a way to manage. Not only was she overwhelmed by the amount of time it took to take her daughter to dance class, wait for class to finish, and get back home, she also felt pressure to do something more productive with all the time she spent waiting. One day while waiting around for her daughter, she remembered how much she used to love to dance. Luckily, the studio had an adult dance class scheduled at the same time as her daughter's, and she signed up. Now she and her daughter both enjoy their classes and return home refreshed and relaxed.

Examples of some other ways you can adapt to stressors:

  • Step back and ask yourself if you really want to spend energy being stressed over this situation. Is it really worth it?
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your life to put this stressor into better perspective.
  • Ask yourself if this will still be important in a year's time -- if not, let it go.
  • When you find yourself starting to feel stressed, take a deep breath, try to relax, and visualize yourself somewhere peaceful and calming.
  • Try not to react without thinking. Count to ten and give some thought to what you want to say or do. Don't respond to a stressful email or criticism immediately -- give yourself time to calm down and be more objective.
  • Try looking at the stressor in a different way. If you have to sit in traffic, look at it as an opportunity to put on your favorite tunes or the radio and crank it up without anybody else interrupting you.

Make A Stress Plan

Now it's time to put some of these tips into practice. Take a look at your Stress Diary from last week. Go through your list of stressors and try to classify each one as something you could accept, avoid, alter, or adapt to. Give some thought to how you could handle each one, using the above tips as guidelines.

Print out the Stress Plan. Think about stressors you are currently experiencing or expect to encounter in the coming week. Classify them as accept, avoid, alter, or adapt. Write down a brief plan for how you will deal with each of these stressors. After the stressful event or time is over, fill in the last column by noting how you actually handled it.

If your strategy for dealing with a stressor doesn't work, think about what else you might try. Not every tactic will be a home run. Sometimes you might have to try more than one way to deal with a stressor before you find the one that works for you.


Here's another technique to help you tame the stress in your life. It was developed by Dr. Herbert Benson, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

  • Think of a word or short phrase that is meaningful to you. It can be a religious phrase or something as simple as the word "peace" or "one."
  • Sit in a comfortable chair in a quiet room
  • Close your eyes Starting at your feet, focus on relaxing your muscles, working allt the way up yourbody, one muscle at a time
  • Breathe naturally, and as you exhale, repeat your focus word or phrase quietly to yourself.
  • Keep your mind clear. If you find thoughts creeping in to distract you, mentally push them away and return to relaxing your muscles, breathing, and repeating your focus word or phrase.
  • Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Sit quietly while you allow other thoughts to come back into your mind. Open your eyes and sit for another minute or two before standing.

Practicing this exercise once or twice a day can make a big difference in your stress level. Try to find time to practice this at least twice this week before you start your day.

Managing Anxiety and Fear

The quality that needs to be developed is courage. Courage is not the absence of fear and anxiety, but "...the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome with fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action."
-Suze Orman, Women & Money.

"Courage is the realization that there is something more important than your fear."
-Christopher Howard, Motivational Coach

There's no getting around it. To master our fear, we have to feel the fear and "do it anyway." There is no way to make the fear go away without taking action in direct opposition to the belief that is driving the fear.

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