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 In Part One of “Anchors for Anxiety” we tried to analyze the anatomy of anxiety to understand what actually happens in our bodies during a panic attack. We also tried to apply some Anchors for Anxietyanswers so that we can be better equipped to survive a panic attack when it occurs. In Part Two we want to consider some ideas and tools designed to help us prevent the occurrence of future panic attacks.

Anticipating the Antecedents:  “How can I prevent panic attacks?”
 
 
Our goal is to manage our anxiety as effectively as possible.  Realistically, we could continue to have an occasional panic attack, but we want to limit them in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration. We have two basic options or approaches. One management approach involves response techniques:  we wait until we actually have a panic attack and then we use our tools to help us get through the ordeal. Another approach is a preventive one:  we learn and use techniques that help prevent panic attacks from occurring. We try to anticipate the antecedents and thereby resolve the issues which generate the panic attacks.
 
 
You might wonder about the phrase “anticipating the antecedents.” I simply mean that every panic attack is preceded by a trigger or a cause, although we may not be aware that a cause is present. These triggers are the antecedents that come before the attack. It is to our benefit to foresee these antecedents so we can resolve them before they are able to trigger an attack. So, we need to be able to anticipate the antecedents. What is involved in this preventive approach?
 
The preventive approach begins with a clear understanding that my anxiety is triggered by fear. When I experience physical or emotional fear, anxiety is generated. Our fears feed our anxiety. Suppose that I decide to decrease the symptoms of anxiety I’m currently experiencing through the use of the skills described earlier in Part One. I can probably have some success, but suppose that I maintain the original fear that triggered the attack in the first place? That fear continues to feed the anxiety while at the same time I’m trying to decrease the symptoms of the anxiety. Consider an example. If you saw me using a cup to empty water out of a container while at the same time I’m using a garden hose to add more water to the container, what would you predict about the water level in the container? If my goal is to empty all of the water out of the container, I need to turn the water hose off and stop the input of additional water. Likewise, if my goal is to “dump out” as much anxiety as possible, I need to make sure that I am resolving the fears that keep pouring in more anxiety.
 
 
 Basically, the antecedent of anxiety is some type of physical and/or emotional fear. My challenge is to decrease the feeding system so I can “starve” the anxiety. But how can I decrease or eliminate my fears? Obviously, there is no easy or simple answer to that question. The issue is complicated by the realization that some level of fear can be helpful to us. We would not want to deny the presence of all harm or danger; by doing so we make ourselves vulnerable to serious injury and hurt. There is a type of healthy fear that works for our benefit by motivating us to avoid unnecessary threats or troubles. Our mistake usually occurs when we exaggerate or magnify the danger potential of events or circumstances. Such distortions set us up for high levels of fear and anxiety.
 
 
 When I’m trying to resolve a fear which has been triggering anxiety within me, I try to work on three related issues. I like to quantify each of these three issues in terms of a 1-10 scale, assigning a number or “quotient” based upon my assessment of the particular issue. First, I consider the event (situation, circumstance, etc.) and make an assessment of the harm or danger that is inherently involved (the “harm quotient” or the “HQ”). Does the event represent a low, moderate, or high level of harm? Suppose I conclude that the event has a very high harm potential. Secondly, I consider the probability of the event to touch my life or to involve me personally. What’s the “probability quotient” or the “PQ?” Is the potential low (possible), moderate (probable), or high (definite)? Suppose I conclude that the probability is very high (“definite”) that the event will touch me or involve me. So far, I am facing an event which now has an assigned “very high harm potential” and that the very harmful event is definitely going to touch my life in a personal way. Thirdly, I consider my ability (knowledge and skill) to deal with this highly harmful and definite threat. What’s my “incompetency quotient” or my “IQ?” Suppose I conclude that my incompetence is very high. In other words, I have no clue about how to handle the threat; I don’t know what to do.
 
 
Now, let’s look at the results so far. I am facing or dealing with an event which could represent a physical and/or emotional threat to me. Based on my personal assessments I choose to assign to the event a very high harm quotient (“it’s really dangerous!”), a very high probability quotient (“it’s definitely going to get me!”), and a very high incompetence quotient (“I have no clue about how to handle the problem; I’m in big trouble!”). If we add these three “scores” together, what’s the result? You’re right—high fear! And what does fear feed? You’re right—anxiety!
 
Anxiety5Scales
The antecedents of fear are assigned harm, assigned probability, and assigned incompetence. Note that I use the word “assigned.” What the event represents to other people does not determine my level of fear; instead, what I choose to assign to the event is the key to the amount of fear (and the resulting anxiety) that I will experience. Here’s some more good news. If I’m doing the assigning, I can modify the process however I choose. To lower the ultimate outcome (fear and anxiety), I need to decrease the scores (quotients) on any or all of the three scales. I can decrease the harm quotient and the ultimate fear is less. I can decrease the probability and the ultimate fear is less. I can decrease my incompetency and the ultimate fear is less. So, I have three “feeders” I can work on to reduce the ultimate level of anxiety. Getting more information about an event could help me to reduce the harm quotient. I can try to reduce the probability from definite to probable—or even down to possible. Gaining knowledge and skills, along with securing help from other people, can improve my competency (and, conversely, decrease my incompetency). Now look at the revised results. I’m facing an event to which I choose to assign a moderate or low level of harm, a probability of “possible,” and a low level of incompetence. All such reductions will mean less fear and less anxiety. Even if I choose to maintain an assigned high value to the danger scale, I can reduce my ultimate fear/anxiety by reducing the other two scales (probability and incompetence). All reductions are to my personal benefit. 
 
I can always anticipate that harm, probability, incompetency, and fear will be the antecedents to my anxiety. It is to my great benefit to become as skilled as possible in my work with these antecedents. Every bit of positive work will pay ultimate dividends in the form of decreased anxiety.
 
 
Attaching our Anchors: “How do I keep my feet on the ground?”Anchors for Anxiety
 
 As we discussed in Part One, cars can hydroplane on water-covered highways if the tires do not stay anchored to the ground. Likewise, we can experience anxiety, even panic attacks, when we are not securely anchored in life. To manage anxiety effectively we must develop and apply anchors that will work for us. Are we currently satisfied with our personal anchors? If not, we need to consider our options and choose workable solutions. The anxiety management tools described earlier can serve as helpful anchors. Let’s consider several additional ideas which can serve us well as anxiety anchors.
 
 
 If we’re going to be successful at managing our anxiety, we need to understand one vital truth. Events themselves do not “make” us feel anxious. If events do have the power to make us anxious, then we are basically at the mercy of our environment. That’s not good news! The truth is that events (what people say and do) do not directly make us feel anything, including fear and anxiety. If we feel such emotions, it’s because we choose to interpret the events from the perspective of high harm, high probability, and high incompetence. Thankfully, we can learn to discern events more accurately in regard to the actual amount of danger they pose to us. We can learn to use wisdom in assigning the probability of being touched by a particular event. We can also increase our personal competency by learning and growing or by locating and using appropriate resources.
 
 Essentially, inaccurate assessments are lies which we accept as truths, resulting in tremendous suffering through anxiety attacks. However, we can question and reject those “lies” and move toward truth—making true and accurate assessments. As we improve our knowledge and skills, we will find increased freedom from anxiety. There is profound truth in the statement, “The truth will make you free.”
 
 
 I recently watched the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz” on my home television. I could not help but notice the extreme fear and anxiety that Dorothy and her three friends experienced as they listened to the loud, threatening words of the wizard in response to their request for assistance. The wizard’s response was definitely intimidating! They obviously assigned to the wizard certain characteristics which understandably generated high anxiety within them. However, their assignment process was quickly challenged when Toto, Dorothy’s dog, pulled back the curtain and revealed a harmless little old man yelling into a microphone and jerking handles that controlled noise and smoke. Some wizard! Clearly, their fear and anxiety were generated by what they believed to be true, even though their “truth” was a lie. Learning the truth about the wizard may not have helped Dorothy find a quick way home to Kansas, but the truth certainly freed her from her fear and anxiety about the wizard.
 
 
 Anxiety strugglers search for truth that will serve as an anchor that will bring freedom from anxiety. Anchors are very individualized and personalized. For many anxiety sufferers personal spiritual faith has been used as an effective anchor. I recall one man who wanted to incorporate his personal faith into his anxiety management program. He chose to trust Jesus as his personal anchor based upon his belief that Jesus would always be present and he was competent to deal with all of life’s issues. One of his favorite Scriptures was Philippians 4:4-19 which reminded him to look to Jesus as his “anchor.” He found strength in verse 8 which encouraged him to focus his thinking on the kinds of thought patterns which would bring peace rather than anxiety. I’ve known other people who chose various types of “anchors” in their efforts to “keep their feet on the ground.” Unlike the Christian gentleman, people without spiritual faith are left with resources that are internal to themselves or that are externally based upon other people or circumstances. Unfortunately, strugglers in these situations often feel disappointed in their own limitations or frustrated that their external resources may not prove to be constant and trustworthy. Their success at anxiety management is correlated to the inherent competence and trustworthiness of their selected “anchor.” In contrast, the Christian man valued his faith because it was based upon someone who was always totally competent and consistently faithful.
 
 
 If you are currently struggling with anxiety, I hope that you will begin a search for solutions. Increase your understanding of the anxiety process and locate helpful resources to aid you in your journey. Consider the benefits of professional assistance through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and appropriate medication from your Primary Care Physician or a psychiatrist. For assistance in locating an appropriate therapist, feel free to consult the Therapy Services section of this website. As you begin your personal program of anxiety management, determine to identify an anchor that will work for you. The work may seem hard at times and the skill development may take a while, but the long-term benefits will make your journey worthwhile. As a result of your efforts, your personal life will be better and your relationships will be healthier.
 
 I wish you well in your personal life travels and in all of your relationship journeys.
 

 (Mental Health Blog #1303)

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VIDEO:  To watch a television interview in which Dr. Baker discusses "Managing Our Anxiety" please click on the image to the right or click here.
 
 
 
 
 
(To listen to an audio version of this blog entry, click on the play button below.)
 

 

 

 
 


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