How do we treat anxiety, and how can we cure it?

08 October 2019

ANXIETY

A woman stands in a washed-out, ghostly crowd.

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Question

How do we treat anxiety, and how can we cure it?

Answer

We put this question from listener James to our mental health expert Olivia Remes...

Olivia - There are a number of things that you can do if you have anxiety. A lot of times people are given medication, and although it can help in some instances, many times people relapse, or symptoms come back and you're just where you started from. There's also cognitive behavioural therapy which has been shown to be very effective; it essentially changes your thinking patterns, and it teaches you new ways of looking at life, of coping with things, so it's extremely helpful in dealing with anxiety.

At the University of Cambridge I actually conducted a study looking at how you can cope with it. This study showed that people who had faced extreme circumstances, who had been through hardships; if these people had certain coping mechanisms, they didn't have anxiety. But people exposed to the exact same hardships and stressors, without these coping mechanisms, had high levels of anxiety. One of them - I will just mention one of them - it's feeling like you're in control of your life. People who feel like they're more in control of their lives have better mental health. And research says that if you feel like you're lacking in control in life, then you should engage in experiences that give you greater control. And basically... what do I mean by this? And a lot of times people have trouble making - especially if you have anxiety - making decisions, getting started on things, procrastination plays a big part into this.

And I will mention one other coping mechanism - it's not based on my study, but a lot of people like this one as well - and it is called ‘wait to worry’. It is practical and very easy to use: next time when you have a worry, instead of worrying about that thing then and there, postpone the worry to a later time, to a worry period. So let's say you pick everyday at 4 o'clock, “I'm going to worry for 10 or 15 minutes.” And the reason that this is so effective is that our thoughts actually decay if we don't feed them with energy, and when you come to your worry period later on in the day you see that whatever you were so bothered about initially doesn't cause you as much anxiety when you get to it later. So wait to worry. Try it out. And as for a cure, I definitely do think that it's possible to overcome anxiety. It's just a matter of, you know, you hear these coping strategies, but actually applying them on a daily basis.

Adam - Brilliant. Thank you for that - I will try having a ‘worry o'clock’.

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