Looking into Anxiety

In this section, we’re going to look into anxiety from a CBT perspective. No matter what’s hindering you in your life, anxiety is often playing a significant role. By learning more about the condition of anxiety, you can start to work with it, instead of treating it as an obstacle in life.

Anxiety is a mental challenge that can affect many things in your life. It’s not just a case of a bad mood, nor do you need to just "snap out of it". Some people can live with anxiety for years, before they learn to do anything about it. Anxiety has many faces, with many different types. Sometimes they occur after a major event like giving birth, or sometimes we just wake up feeling anxious. Ordinarily, if we’re lucky, the feeling goes away. However, in some cases, we’re stuck feeling anxiety, and it can be very hard to ask for help.

We will help you to change negative ideas, unrealistic expectations and overly critical self-judgment, in a way that works. You will learn to recognize which problems are significant and which are minor. You will not hear platitudes, such as “just don’t worry about it,” because that rarely works. Instead, you will discover how to develop positive life goals and a more realistic self-perception, using research- supported strategies.

You’re not alone

It’s scientifically proven that at some point or another, millions of people will suffer from some degree of anxiety and not even know it. Chances are that you joined this online therapy program, because you don’t feel quite right to some extent or another. You have come to the right place, since we will help you work to through your problems, so that you feel better. In fact, you will learn skills to change the way your brain processes information, so that you can control your anxiety, rather than having it control you.

Anxiety is not one-dimensional, but instead vary from person to person. One person might get panicky at the thought of stepping into an elevator or speaking with strangers, while another may suffer from intense anxiety attacks that strike without apparent reason. While we can’t stop anxiety entirely because it is a natural response, we can take back the control of our lives so that anxiety does not get in the way of daily functioning.

Emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety

Let’s have a look at some of the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety. In addition to a constant feeling of worry and fear, these are common psychological symptoms:

  • Having problems concentrating
  • Irrational catastrophic thinking (thinking the worst-case scenario will happen)
  • Fear of losing control
  • Feeling of impending danger
  • Feeling irritable and restless
  • Constant feeling of being overwhelmed

Anxiety is our body’s ancient and innate response to stressful and dangerous situations, a reaction called “fight, flight or freeze". When we are in a life-threatening situation - like being attacked by an aggressive animal or person - our bodies autonomic nervous system is activated to help us to quickly get to safety by becoming stronger, faster or acting dead. The threatening message that our brain receives lead to our body to secrete stress hormones, like adrenaline, increasing our experience of severe anxiety. The sympathetic nervous system causes the blood to move from your skin, stomach, fingers and toes into the bigger muscles like the arms and the legs. Necessary senses are being enhanced; the pupils dilate, your vision and hearing become clearer, your heart races and your breathing becomes faster to get more oxygen to your lungs and the digestive system slows.

The problem with this built in system in modern society is that your body reacts exactly the same to a perceived fear and thoughts like “did I forget to turn off the stove” – as if you were in a life-threatening situation.

When suffering from anxiety, it’s common that you experience all or some of these physical symptoms:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dryness in the mouth
  • Headaches
  • Frequent urination
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling of tiredness or problems sleeping

For the early man in the Stone Age, the body’s automatic alarm system was absolutely necessary for survival. But during that time, man only experienced short periods of stress peaks, such as in life threatening situations. When the danger was over, the stress level and body returned to a normal state. Today, more and more people experience an increased stress and anxiety level for long periods of time. This is where it gets problematic.

If you experience anxiety over a long period, this severely harms your body. This is primarily because your body never gets time to fully recover, which can make you ill. Your immune system is compromised and you are more likely to develop infections or suffer from a heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Making a self-diagnosis

You will decide the actual scale of your problem. Using the worksheets provided in the course, you will evaluate your mood, possibly for the first time. By looking at how you feel, and what your problems are, you are taking the first and most important step towards dealing with your problems.

By completing this assessment, you can give yourself both a confirmation that you’re suffering from anxiety and establish a baseline of your current distress. Using this as a reference, you can gauge your level of anxiety. Hopefully, by the time you finish this program, you will feel much better. For the first time in a while, you will be able to see some progress and achievements. Even just making this self-diagnosis, is something that you can be proud of.

The result will be saved, so you can compare this test result with future results.

Anxiety - a cycle of negative thinking

This figure shows an example of the cycle of anxiety. It illustrates that anxiety is a continuous loop of negative thinking. What’s so important about negative thinking, is that it’s not the events themselves that upset you, but the meanings you give them. Your negative thinking can block you from seeing things that don’t fit with what you believe to be true. In other words, you’re effectively stuck in this self-perpetuating, continuous cycle that will persist, until you can get yourself out of it or reach out for help. Just by joining this online therapy program, you have taken the first step. Fortunately, CBT is one of the best ways to break this cycle of negative thinking.

Anxiety - a cycle of negative thinking

The good times in life will lead to positive emotions. Conversely, when bad things happen, they will make us feel bad. Part of the problem with anxiety is that, even when good things are happening, anxious feelings can make us feel bad. Anxiety confuses our interpretation of what is going on. As a result, we start to have unhealthy and negative thoughts. It’s not the event that’s overly bad or negative, but simply the anxiety that is making us feel bad about the event.

These are some examples of unhelpful thoughts that we all frequently suffer from.


Trigger Cognitive Reaction Helpful?
My friends came by and invited me for a drink. I want to be alone. I don’t want to see anybody. No. Being alone just perpetuates the cycle of anxiety.
I got angry because I broke a cup. I can’t even do anything right. I’m a failure. No. How can breaking just one cup, make anyone a failure?
I didn’t go shopping today. I can’t be bothered. No. What happens tomorrow, when there’s no food?
There’s no food in the refrigerator. It doesn’t matter. I’m not hungry. No. Appetite loss is part of anxiety, but it doesn’t mean that we can ignore the need to eat.


Stop the cycle by identifying your problems

One of the first steps that you can take towards overcoming your problems and becoming happier, is to put your problems down on paper. You can then start to rank them, based on how they affect you. This might seem difficult at first, since it may not be clear what is causing your anxiety. However, it’s very important that you look deeply to identify the problems that affect you the most. If you know what is having the greatest impact, it will enable you to cope with or eliminate the problem. This will be the starting point to make you realize that your anxiety is not something uncontrollable or "an immovable mountain." It actually consists of things that you can affect. It is now the time to write down your problems!

Your most significant problems

From your list of problems, you will select the five that you think are most significant to you. This is important since it can feel overwhelming trying to deal with all the problems at once. To get a better understanding of your five most significant problems, you will break them down and look at the ongoing effects that these problems have.

Your long-term goal

Setting long-term goals is very important. This is because it’s very difficult getting somewhere, if you don’t know where you’re going. When you experience difficulties in your life, it is common that you feel unhappy, emotionally distressed or caught up in a cycle of negative thinking. The difficulty is you’re often so caught up in your negative situation, that you’re unable to understand what’s wrong. Hopefully, if you look at your most significant problems and break them down, you will identify what is making you suffer. You can then set long-term goals to help you get on a more productive path.

For this to be a constructive online therapy program that most effectively helps you with your individual situation, it is necessary to set up long term goals. By formulating goals, you can pin down exactly what you want to achieve with this program, rather than just saying that you want to feel “happier”. The specific goals give you guidelines to help you to proceed. It also gives a future basis of comparison.

In order to formulate your long-term goals, imagine what you want to be able to experience in the next six months. It is important to be as specific as possible. This will provide you with more effective guidance. When formulating your goals, use positive terms like "I want to be able to go to big parties that I have been invited to," rather than negative terms, such as "I want to stop avoiding going to big parties”. It is now time for you to write down your long-term goals!

In this section... We showed you that whatever problem you’re facing, anxiety is usually present. Experiencing anxiety or feeling low can happen to anyone. However, you may be experiencing anxiety, without even realizing it. The effects of anxiety are wide-ranging and differ from person to person. You learned that the cycle of anxiety is negative and continuous. Without changing the way you’re thinking, you’re stuck in a never-ending loop. You learned that for CBT to help you overcome your anxiety, you must identify your most significant problems, which you have just done. You wrote down your long-term goals, which you’re going to work on during this journey. They will also serve as a reference, when you evaluate your future progress.