Insights on Anxiety from Psychologist Dan Peters, Ph.D.
Like over 40 million people in the United States, I have an anxiety disorder. Two, actually: generalized and social. When living with anxiety, sometimes we're in control. Sometimes, though, anxiety is in control and it seems to chase and overpower us. I recently connected with psychologist and author Dr. Dan Peters, who calls anxiety the Worry Monster. That's apt. Just what does this monster do to people, and can we tame it?
Kids and adults alike can have monsters under their beds or in their closets. What do these monsters of anxiety do to us? I asked Dr. Peters this very question, and he didn't hesitate in his response. Clearly, he's attuned to people dealing with anxiety, for he astutely observes anxiety's effects.
According to Dr. Dan Peters: Anxiety Negatively Impacts Our Lives
- affect people in social settings, like making them afraid of humiliation;
- impact where people go and don't go (phobias and panic often prevent people from doing what they'd like to do);
- cause people do do certain things repeatedly in order to feel okay, and those obsessions and compulsions can be very disruptive;
- make people worry excessively about almost everything, almost all the time;
- cause stomach trouble, headaches, and other physical pain;
- cause irritability and lead to emotional meltdowns.
"In all cases," says Dr. Peters, "anxiety limits an individual's ability to fully develop and experience life."
When the Worry Monster drools all over us and snarls menacingly, we can feel trapped and paralyzed with fear. It can be hard to push the beast of anxiety aside and step around, jump over, or walk past it into life.
Pushing the Worry Monster aside, although difficult, is worth it. Dr. Peters explains that doing so causes people to feel better, gain self-confidence, and do more in life. Easier said than done, though, right? Perhaps; however, it is possible. According to Dr. Peters, "[Facing anxiety] takes determination, persistence, and courage, but it is very doable even though it doesn't feel that way."
Insights on Ways to Tame Anxiety According to Dr. Peters
- Notice your thinking. Notice when anxiety and fear dominate, and change your thoughts. Says Dr. Peters, "Changing your thinking turns down your 'fight or flight' response."
- Focus on the present. Worry about the past and the future fuels anxiety. The Worry Monster can do without this feeding.
- Practice deep breathing. This helps bring a sense of calm to your mind and body, and it can be done any time in any place.
Dr. Peters reminds us that anxiety makes us miserable and can even make us avoid life. He encourages, "Take your life back. You can do this."
Dr. Peters has written From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears and Make Your Worrier a Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Child's Fears. The books offer a simple yet comprehensive plan for conquering anxiety.
(Above image used with permission from the owner.)
NCC, T. (2014, April 2). Insights on Anxiety from Psychologist Dan Peters, Ph.D., HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2014/04/insights-on-anxiety-from-psychologist-dan-peters-ph-d
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
As always, I appreciate your insights. Your emphasis on thoughts in treating anxiety is very logical (and, as you are well aware, research supports a thought-based treatment approach to reduce anxiety). I see anxiety as multi-dimensional, affecting and being affected by thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It seems, though, that our thoughts are so often at the heart of our anxieties. As our thoughts spiral out of control, worries increase, panic begins, awful feelings follow, and behaviors such as avoidance begins. This is readily seen in all anxiety disorders. I agree with you that our thoughts are our personal poverty and can exploit us. When we start recognizing our harmful thoughts and altering the way we think, we can drastically reduce any kind of anxiety. (That sounds so easy! But it's not always that easy -- possible, but challenging.)
I'm very sorry to hear that your anxiety is worsening. Anxiety can be very crippling, and it can make it very hard to want to go on. I know this not only from helping others but from my own experiences with it. When anxiety is so completely crushing, it is often helpful to take small steps to overcome it rather than to try to jump into things that are overwhelming in their scope. For me, and for many, the first step involved finding things, even little ones, that made me want to live. Focus on those things when your anxiety surges. Then, set small goals for overcoming your anxiety. What is just one area that you would like to improve? Break it into to parts or steps? What is one thing that you can do to work toward your goal of reducing anxiety in that one area? Build on that while focusing on your reasons to keep going.
Also, it is very important to know that if you are in a crisis and are contemplating suicide, help is available. You can visit online resources such as www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call a suicide prevention hotline such as the one associated with the above website: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). No matter how awful things seem, help is available and things will get better.