There are many articles out there that explain how to overcome anxiety. While there’s a lot of useful information in them I think they only half work. The advice given has merit, dealing with the facts rather than emotions that surround your anxieties, exercise, avoid caffeine and alcohol, practising breathing and meditating etc. While these can be helpful to some degree, for people with conditions which cause more severe anxiety such as ASD and PDA, these self-help ‘tricks’ barely scratch the surface. The advice which I mainly have a problem with is when I am told to think about what I imagine will happen in the situations that cause anxiety. Apparently by thinking about what might happen I can see that the chances of these things happening are unlikely and that my anxieties will reduce when I confront my fears in these situations and see that what I thought would happen won’t happen.
Sounds plausible right? Maybe if you have OCD and your fears are based on things that really aren’t likely to happen. Like imagining your family will die if you don’t walk 500 steps, forwards and back, twice a day. But if your anxieties are based on experience, then what? How can I reason that my anxieties are unfounded when they are very much founded? If I’m worried that in a social setting I might say something inappropriate which will cause people to look at me odd and make me feel embarrassed and not want to speak anymore, that doesn’t seem like an unfounded fear to me.
I feel anxious about many social situations and for good reason. What with having communication difficulties because of Autism, difficulty recognising emotions in others (also Autism), sometimes not wanting to speak or refusing to because I’m asked a question (PDA), my emotional lability causing me to cry at odd times, etc etc. I can’t reason that what I worry might happen won’t happen, because it does and it most likely will. I wish it didn’t, but that’s not how life works.
So the advice only half works. I can do the exercises, stay away from caffeine and alcohol, learn about anxiety and how it affects me in order to try to ‘feel’ the emotions and move through them. But I can’t rationalise that what I fear might happen won’t actually happen, because for me that’s not realistic. I guess it depends on what causes the anxiety. I can try to face my fears, maybe by placing myself in the situation I fear more often I will overcome the anxiety? But then I think, well it hasn’t really reduced my anxiety so far and I’ve been doing just that for the last 20 odd years. I wonder how bad my anxiety would be if I hadn’t tried though for all those years? Would there be any difference? Would I still get a sick feeling in my stomach and the shakes in my hands every time someone asks me a question I don’t know the answer to? How long do I have to keep ‘trying’ before the anxiety starts to subside?
I think I’m doing pretty good as I am at the moment. I face those fears nearly everyday, despite knowing what might happen. Some days I try not to engage people in conversation or try to avoid them when my anxieties are high. I try to make sure I get plenty of ‘downtime’ after social events, time to recuperate is important. It would be nice, however, to read an article that addresses anxieties that are founded on experience rather than on baseless fears. Maybe there are some out there and I’ve just missed them. Maybe they are the ones that focus on fixing the causes of the behaviour which creates the anxiety. Thanks, I’ll just cure my ASD/PDA then shall I? (rolls eyes). I can and have learnt better communication skills. I can’t fix the way my brain works though, I can only learn to work around it. I’ve spent at least 10 years doing this and I still experience anxiety and mess up socially on a regular basis, even with reduced social time. I can try and learn and practice. But it doesn’t get rid of my anxiety. It doesn’t get rid of my PDA.