Understanding and
Managing Your Anxiety – Part 1

By Lawrence Kaufman, Florida Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)      561-302-0568
7301 W  Palmetto Park Road, Suite 201A, Boca Raton FL 33433-3456
contact@kaufmancounseling.com       www.kaufmancounseling.com

First a definition (and there are many different ones): Anxiety concerns the fear, nervousness, or threat related to what might happen, or what is currently happening internally (in the inner world) — and/or externally (in the outside world).

Anxiety has gotten a bad rap. Many self-help books and popular articles focus on getting rid of, or overcoming anxiety. This approach to anxiety seems to be quite appealing to the readers of these publications. However, from the perspective of many psychotherapists, this is not the most helpful, beneficial, or balanced view. The goal of this alternative view is to learn how to master anxiety – not temporarily “get rid of it.” This is a more ambitious goal. It focuses on the medium and long term, instead of the short term. It focuses on insight, rather than distraction.

A more psychologically sophisticated view of anxiety can be gained — in a way — by comparing, anxiety with cholesterol. Just as there is good (HDL) cholesterol, and bad (LDL) cholesterol –there is good anxiety, and bad anxiety.  Just as it isn’t in your best interests to reduce all cholesterol in your body, it isn’t in your best interests to eliminate all anxiety in your mind/ body. (That is, trying to eliminate all anxiety in your mind and body operating cooperatively — as a unit.)

Think about how it would affect you if you stopped having the ability to recognize or experience pain in your body. Specifically, think about what the consequences would be for you if you weren’t able to feel the pain from cavities in your teeth. The pain you feel from tooth decay is a signal that something is the matter and needs your immediate attention. Because you are able to be aware of this pain, you have a conscious choice of whether you will choose to see a dentist, or not. This signal communicates very important information to you about the state of your body. Anxiety is similar in how it works in your mind. If you ignore or minimize pain or distress in your body or in your mind, you could be putting yourself at risk.

Many self-help and psychological approaches emphasize reducing or trying to extinguish anxiety. This certainly has a very important place in managing our lives. It can be extremely distressing and uncomfortable to experience non-productive and burdensome varieties of anxiety. On one extreme end of the anxiety spectrum is panic attacks.

Sometimes, for example, people go a hospital emergency room due to the fear that they are having a heart attack. (And getting medical help is a very wise idea. It is extremely important to rule out physical and medical causes of your symptoms.) However, sometimes people experience physical/ bodily symptoms because they are unable to experience emotional and mental signals or symptoms. Put another way, some people, at some times, experience anxiety in their bodies, instead of in their minds. Emotional and mental issues and problems become transformed, and become located in their bodies. Effective psychotherapy helps people identify and put word labels on their feelings and thoughts and then communicate them to the therapist and others. The more you can verbalize your inner experiences, the less need you will then have to express them through your body, actions (behavior), and other symptoms.

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Understanding and
Managing Your Anxiety – Part 2

By Lawrence Kaufman, Florida Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)      561-302-0568
7301 W Palmetto Park Road, Suite 201A, Boca Raton FL 33433-3456
contact@kaufmancounseling.com       www.kaufmancounseling.com

People experience anxiety in many different ways, forms, and intensities. It is helpful to think of anxiety as existing on a spectrum – from the mildest, to the most severe and extreme. So, for example, a person can experience slight anxiety — over a certain “trigger” — that quickly fades away, or can experience a full-blown and long-lasting anxiety attack that causes a great deal of unpleasantness, unproductiveness, and fear.

Emma experiences anxiety in many different circumstances, and in many different ways. “I’m usually anxious about one thing or another. So many things, so many activities, and so many people set me off, in so many ways, and for so long. I wish I wasn’t this way. But, I’ve been this way my entire life. I would like to find relief from being so sensitive and over-reacting.”

Noah, in contrast, experiences distressing anxiety only occasionally, and in very specific ways. “I so dislike having to speak in front of groups of people. I have bad test anxiety too. I hate the pressure of having to perform. I’m embarrassed to admit that this also happens around sex as well.”

The word “anxiety” can be used in so many different ways, and can have different meanings for different people. People can sometimes use other words – such as “nervous,” “uptight,” “uncomfortable,” and “sensitive” – to mean, basically, the same thing. This can make it difficult to understand what others are actually experiencing, and therefore, how to best respond to them.

To make communication and understanding even more complex – when some people say they are “anxious” they may be experiencing a mental (emotional) state, or a physical (physiological/ bodily) state or sensation.

Some ideas for you to consider to help yourself manage your anxiety:

  1. Keep a daily (confidential) journal where you can think about and reflect upon the anxieties of your daily life. Be specific about what you think has triggered off these anxieties, and try to connect your present reactions to emotionally similar past events in your life.
  2. Talk to a trusted and respected friend, spouse/ partner, relative, psychotherapist/ counselor, sponsor, physician, etc., about what you are struggling with. You might get important, helpful, and supportive feedback on this issue.
  3. Read self-help books and magazine articles, and watch television programs that can help you get valuable information, perspective, and insight into your problems.
  4. As an effective strategy, don’t allow your anxious feelings to build up without adequately processing (digesting, metabolizing) them. Being focused on, and on top of your anxiety (and all other feelings as well, for that matter) is a good prescription for a happier, less stressed life.
  5. Related to point 4 above, know your limits of how much anxiety you can tolerate and benefit from. Having too much anxiety – just as having too little anxiety – could work against your constructive functioning and happiness in life. Learn to take necessary breaks, and distract yourself when necessary (but not excessively), in order to maintain a healthy balance in your life. Keep to the middle of the emotional road, most of the time.
  6. Make it a priority to frequently distinguish between good and bad anxiety. Distinguish between anxiety as a (helpful) signal, and anxiety as a (harmful) symptom. Beware of trying to “get rid of” your anxiety by “self-medication”. (You will probably end up with more problems in the long run if you follow this strategy.) Keep in mind that anxiety, in one form or another, will be with you for the rest of your life. So, make your best efforts to try to understand it in a deeper way. Focus on transforming and mastering it! View it as a necessary tool for learning about and improving yourself.
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Coping with the Stresses of Personal Change: Challenges, Pitfalls, and Opportunities – Part 1

By Lawrence Kaufman, Florida Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)     561-302-0568
7301 W  Palmetto Park Road, Suite 201A, Boca Raton FL 33433-3456
contact@kaufmancounseling.com       www.kaufmancounseling.com

How much is stress good? How much is stress bad? How much do you distinguish between stress that is healthy, and stress that is not? What price do you pay in your efforts to make changes in your life? What price do you pay when you resist or avoid making changes? To what degree, do you think, is it healthy to remain the same? To what degree do you think it is unhealthy to modify aspects of your behavior and personality? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of making personal, interpersonal, and behavioral changes?

Additional questions to ask yourself: What is the appropriate balance between making internal vs. external changes in your life? How do you know whether you are attempting to make too many significant changes, too quickly? What are some of the warning signs that you are, or may be, pushing yourself too hard, too fast, and need to slow down? How well do you regulate putting your foot on the (metaphorical) brakes or accelerator? What symptoms do you develop if we don’t respect your human limits and personal limitations?

How do you know when you are attempting to cope with the stresses of life by excessively avoiding changing yourself? To what degree do you expect that others will change in order to better meet your own needs? Or, on the other hand, do you utilize a style of life wherein you tend to be over-accommodating to others? That is, do you tend to modify your own behaviors to meet the needs of others instead of focusing on your own needs? These are just some of the ideas to consider when thinking about the roles and effects of stress in, and on, your life.

Let’s look a bit into the life of Joe – an average sort of guy. He functions fairly well in life, and usually feels content with himself and his life. His relationship with his girlfriend is pretty good. “We all have our ups and downs –just like everyone else,” he is quick to point out. He has a couple of “good” friends, and occasionally knows how to have fun and enjoyment. He feels fairly good about his job, his income, and where he is living. If you knew Joe (and he was open to hearing what you had to say to him) how much would you make recommendations to him about how he could make certain changes or “improvements” in his life, so that he could live a better quality of life? Or would you not “interfere” with his points of view and personal lifestyle choices?

If the roles were reversed between Joe or another person, how open or not would you be to hear other peoples’ suggestions as to how you might make changes to “improve” your life? How open or not would you be to another’s (as a friend’s, partner’s, or spouse’s) “suggestion” or recommendation that you see a professional counselor or psychotherapist? To what degree do you view being in counseling or therapy as adding to or reducing your stress in life? Would you (much) rather take a (prescribed) medication or “self-medicate” (as with drinking alcohol) in order to reduce your level of stress (to relax, “chill out,” unwind)?

To what degree do you attempt to reduce your stress in life by both distracting yourself, or by using insight? There are many ways in which people reduce their stress by distracting themselves from upsetting and distressing (emotional and physical) feelings and states of mind. Some of these ways are planned and conscious, while other ways are unplanned and unconscious (out of awareness).

Examples of common distractions of daily life are: drinking alcohol and using other drugs (prescribed or unprescribed) beyond moderation, excessive involvements with social media, talking for long periods of time on the telephone with friends about casual issues, engaging in obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviors, watching television programs and sports events for several hours a day; over-sleeping, over-eating, over-exercising, and over-working. (You can probably think of many other ways in which people distract themselves from potentially distressing feelings and thoughts.)

Examples of engaging in insight producing behaviors (that is, activities that can produce or lead to increased understanding of yourself and/or others) include the following: reading a psychologically based self-help book, attending counseling/ psychotherapy sessions, writing in a personal journal, doing dream analysis; talking to a friend or relative about important events, interactions, and plans in your life; attending workshops, seminars, and self-help groups, etc.

As a result of reading this article, to what degree do you now feel more stressed out – and/or curious and intrigued about the possibility of attaining a more fulfilling future?

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