Anxiety and DBT
The way our body responds to danger is generally called anxiety. This is when the adrenaline rushes through our bloodstream in order for us to either fight or run away from the perceived danger. This will happen if the danger is real or not and we just believe there is danger present. It is our alarm and survival system. This system sometimes works so well that it will often kick in even when we don’t need it to. Just thinking we might be in danger is just enough to kick start this anxiety. Those who experience anxiety will tend to go into a scanning mode where they will be always looking for danger.
Common Anxiety Thoughts
These thoughts will often cause a person to overestimate or over exaggerate the true threat and this can hamper their ability to cope. Some common anxiety thoughts are listed below:
- “I am in danger right now.”
- “This is the worst thing that could happen.”
- “I am not going to be able to handle this.”
Physical Sensations With Anxiety
Whenever there is a threat of danger whether it’s real or not, the body will automatically go on defense quite quickly. This is the adrenaline response and it helps energize a person to run or fight. Often when one is suffering from the anxiety they will also experience some or all of the following physical sensations:
- Racing Heart – The heart races because the body needs blood where it is needed the most and that would be the legs so a person can run away faster. The arms so a person can fight, and the lungs in order to increase stamina. All of this can often cause tingling, numbness, and coldness in their fingers, skin, and toes.
- Faster Breathing – When you breath faster it will help the bloodstream to carry oxygen to the lungs, legs, and arms. This gives the body more power. However, the side effects of this can include breathlessness, pains in the chest, and even feeling like you are choking. This can also give the sensation of feeling light-headed or dizzy.
- Muscles Can Tense Up – When suffering from anxiety once might other feel their muscles tense up and this can cause shaking, aching, and pain in their muscles.
- Sweating – During an anxiety attack, one may also start to sweat because the body is trying to cool off. It is a way to keep the body from overheating.
- Dilated Pupils – The pupils of the eyes will often dilate and that is to allow more light in to improve eyesight. The side effects can be oversensitivity to light and sometimes spots in front of your eyes.
- Digestion Slows Down – The digestive system is often slowed down because the body wants to save energy so it can use it where it might be most needed. The side effects often are dry mouth, nausea, and “butterflies”.
- Enhanced Alertness – This is when a person starts looking for danger or concentrating on it when suffering from anxiety. However, it makes a person unable to concentrate on other things.
Behaviors One Might Exhibit
With anxiety, one might also exhibit certain kinds of behavior they normally wouldn’t otherwise:
- Avoid places or people
- Not wanting to go out anywhere
- Go to places they normally go to but at times when these places are less busy
- Only going somewhere with another person
- Leave someplace earlier than normal
- May use safety behaviors when out in a social situation such as smoking more, drinking more, fiddling with clothes, avoid eye contact with other people, take medication, self-talking, and have a plan for escaping the situation.
Even though one may think that their safety behavior is helping them, it can actually keep the anxiety going. Even though avoiding situations or people may help a person feel better at that moment, it won’t make their anxiety better.
DBT Helps Identify Triggers
Through DBT, clients learn how to identify what triggers their anxiety. By learning what the triggers are it can help clients to do something about these situations and learn to do something that’s different. Some of the questions to ask when trying to identify triggers are listed here:
- Do certain places cause feelings of anxiety?
- Is it certain people?
- Can it happen anytime or at anyplace?
- Does seeing certain things cause a feeling of anxiety?
- Do certain things you hear cause anxiety?
- Does thinking ahead about certain situations cause anxiety?
DBT Teaches to Do Things Differently
Even though avoiding some situations and using behaviors to feel safer can help to maintain your anxiety somewhat, it does make sense that learning how to confront the issues could be very uncomfortable. However, it will help you to take control of the situation and feel much better over time.
DBT teaches clients that it’s important to try and make a plan to slowly do those things that anxiety makes you avoid. For example, if a person normally avoids going out to social events, start with a dinner with just a couple of people at a restaurant you are comfortable with. Once a person feels comfortable they can then increase the number of people they’re socializing with.
A good exercise to help a person to stop relying on their safety behaviors is to sit down and make a list of them in the order of their importance. Then study the list and start marking them off by not doing those that are the least important. Eventually one might be able to get the list down to zero.
What One Should Do When Anxiety Arises
Here are a few things one might consider doing when they start to feel anxious:
- STOP. Take a breath and pause for a moment and avoid automatically reacting.
- Ask what it is you are reacting to.
- What do you think is actually going to happen.
- What could be the worst/best thing that might happen?
- What more than likely will happen?
- Ask if you might be overreacting.
- Ask if you are overestimating the perceived danger.
- Are your underestimating your coping abilities?
- Are you just mind-reading what other people are thinking?
- Do you think you can actually predict the future?
- Are there other ways to look at the situation?
- What advice might you give someone else who is in the same situation?
- Are you putting too much pressure on yourself?
- Is there a compromise you might be able to reach?
- What will the consequences be if you react like you normally do?
- What are other ways to deal with the situation?
Dealing With the Physical Sensations of Anxiety
There are many ways to counteract the adrenaline response and DBT offers three of those ways which are listed below:
- Practice some mindful breathing. By simply breathing and paying attention just to your breathing can help to reduce not only the physical sensations that come with anxiety but can also lessen the intensity of thoughts and emotions.
- Use visualization. For example, while breathing in think of the color blue because it represents calm and then visualizes the color red as you breathe out.
- Exercising is something can help. Take a walk, ride a bike, or go running. Even doing gardening or housework can help.