How to Prevent Unnecessary Anxiety

Some anxiety is necessary, unavoidable and even welcome. If you suddenly smell smoke while sitting comfortably at home watching TV, you are going to feel fear/anxiety until the problem is resolved.

Basic beliefs determine your thoughs, feelings, attitudes and behaviors.

Basic Beliefs

However, a great deal of anxiety is unnecessary and completely avoidable.      To understand why, recall that anxiety comes about when a perception contradicts something that you believe…a basic belief.   If you believe that texting while driving is okay, then you may ignore admonitions and laws to the contrary and have no anxiety. However, if the logic and rationale of safe driving became apparent, you might have enough anxiety about the potential consequences of texting while driving to change your belief and subsequently your behavior.

Let’s use another example and go through the process of changing problematic beliefs.

1. Recognize the anxiety: Sophia becomes highly anxious when her son Andrew must prepare for an examination at school. She fears that he will not pass and will have to repeat the grade, bringing lost time, extra work and social stigma. She dreads the embarrassment when his teachers blame her for his poor performance. No matter that the teachers have not yet blamed her (and would probably not do so in any case), nor that there are no test results at this point to worry about one way or the other. Sophia is experiencing unnecessary anxiety.

2. Become aware of the defense mechanisms: To relieve her anxiety, Sophia spends hours going over every detail of the material with Andy, admonishing him as lazy and irresponsible when he reverts to playing games on the computer the moment she must take care of other family responsibilities. She gets him up early to address any remaining detail left undone. She does not trust him to prepare on his own, but must actively intervene. She firmly controls every aspect of Andy’s test preparation. Consequently, Sophia becomes short-tempered as well as mentally and physically exhausted. Andrew becomes rebellious and does not learn to become responsible for accomplishing on his own.

3. Bring the basic beliefs up to consciousness through introspection. When Sophia stops to think about it, she realizes that she believes that she is responsible for her son’s success or failure and that she can manage this by controlling his behavior.

4. Form a new basic belief that is exactly the opposite of the old one. After much work, Sophie thinks (but does not yet believe) that her son will do better in life if he learns to be responsible for himself. Besides, she thinks to herself, it is impossible to control another person, no matter how well intended. She realizes that there will be no permanent change in behavior without changing the underlying belief.

5. Practice behaviors consistent with the new concepts. Sophia continues to encourage Andy to prepare for tests and complements him when he does so. She finds it difficult to go through the transition time and Andy does not always do as she would like. There will be some setbacks and temporary failures, but over time, Andy learns self-only responsibility and begins to take pride in his own accomplishments. He slowly comes to feel better about himself when his mother no longer refers to him as lazy and irresponsible.

Recall a real-life instance when you become anxious. Go through the five steps above and write your response to each. You may be amazed at how life improves when you learn to prevent unnecessary anxiety.


Book: Pathways to Mental Health and Anxiety Management, by Frank Hannah.
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