Self Help Anxiety Treatment

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Topics on this page:

1. Why does treatment for anxiety have to be self help?
2. The part played by our thinking habits
3. Why we need tough love
4. The man with the carrier bag

1. Why treatment for anxiety must be self help

Ultimately self help anxiety treatment is the only effective and lasting way of overcoming anxiety for good.

I know it would be lovely if we could take this problem to an expert who would then sort it for us - in much the same way as we do with physical difficulties. 

But anxiety is not the result of something that has gone wrong with the body. It isn't invasion by disease of some kind that can be treated with an antidote.

Anxiety is a normal response that we have inadvertently trained by our own thinking habits and the ways in which we have responded to events in our lives. Until we accept that and that we therefore need to do the work ourselves and that nobody can do it for us, we won't make any real progress at all.

In clinical work I used to gently spell this out to each and every patient with an anxiety problem. Sadly for some it wasn't what they wanted to hear, so they went elsewhere. Those who took it on board improved as far as their motivation allowed.

2. The part played by our thinking habits

As you will have realised if you have read the section on the cause of anxiety, our thoughts are involved. The only person who can control your thoughts is you.

No matter how much we may wish that someone or something would come along and magically change the way we think, without us having to do anything, - it won't.

wooden boats by a lake and facts about anxiety

In the Western world we have lapsed into a blame culture where we tend to expect that just about everything negative that happens to us is someone else's fault and that someone else must compensate us in some way for our suffering.

We have come to expect someone else to come up with an answer for everything. We have stopped relying on ourselves. When it comes to overcoming anxiety, however, it is largely irrelevant whose fault it was. The way we think and feel about situations is down to each one of us.

It's not what happens to us that creates anxiety, it's the way in which we THINK about what happens. Two people can have exactly the same negative experience. One may become severely anxious afterwards. The other may just carry on with their life almost as if it never happened.

As a therapist my job would be so much easier if I were able to make people think in the way that they need to - but I can't. All I can do is explain to them how they have come to learn the unhelpful habits and teach them how to go about changing them.

3. Why we need tough love

Tough Love cartoon

There is one aspect of being human that no government, dictator, law, or outside force of any kind can control - our thoughts. It's true that things other people do to us can affect our thoughts, but we can still become aware of what we are thinking and we can learn ways to change it for the better.

That is tough to accept and come to terms with

When we are little we get used to going to our mothers when we are upset in any way. We get comforted and Mummy makes it better. Very often we continue to want or need that same sort of nurturing in adult life - we want someone else to make it better!

In the course of my clinical work I talk to many people who appear to expect me to whip out a magic wand and make their problem go away.

A therapist can't make your troubles go away. But they can teach you how to go about doing it for yourself.

But many people hear what they need to do yet still fail to apply it.

Why do we do that? Especially when it's about making our lives better in some way?

Think of diets. Ask a failed dieter how many different diets they've tried, how many diet books they've bought. 

Not all those who go on diets fail. Every now and then you come across someone who has changed their appearance dramatically because they found a diet and actually did what it suggested.

The same is true of people I've attempted to treat for anxiety problems. The same was true when I attempted to overcome my own anxiety habits. For years I just couldn't beat my panics, until I considered where I might be going wrong and found the flaw and corrected it.

The good news is that it is relatively straightforward to retrain your survival instinct but it does take time and persistence. Like any habit, it takes time to unlearn. 

4. The man with the carrier bag (a true story)

Many years ago I took a job covering for someone who had gone travelling for  a year. One of his first clients was a man who suffered panic attacks.

This man had already had about six months of therapy sessions but showed no noticeable improvement.

He worked as a salesman and would panic under certain circumstances when visiting customers. He had developed ways of coping with this when it happened so it didn't interfere too much with his work. Yet he wished it would go away.

At my first session with him I explained in detail the mechanism behind panic attacks and how he would need to go about working on this. He said he understood.

At our second session he came with a heavy carrier bag.

"Look," he said as he sat down and prepared to open the bag. "I've been to the library and found more books on panic I haven't read!"

"Have you read many books on panic already?" I asked.

"Oh yes," he replied, piling his newly found reading material onto the table.

"And have they cured you?" 

The man looked surprised at my question. "Well, no…"

"Shall I tell you why?" I said gently. The man nodded.

"It's because reading the books isn't going to make any difference. You have to do what they say!"

Two essential issues in self help treatment for anxiety are motivation and the need to know how to go about unlearning anxiety habits.

man with motivation symbol
unlearning anxiety habits symbol

  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Self Help Treatment