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The Coaching Situation

I have a history of anxiety/panic attacks. I've sought coachingin the past for it. The panic attacks have disappeared, but I have overall anxiety and worry nearly constantly. I've just graduated from graduate school and I'm seeking employment, but nothing's opened up yet. I'm having financial troubles and my car was recently stolen. I'm upset by this violation and I feel unsafe. I'm having a traumatic reaction to this theft.

I'm looking for ways to cope with this loss/trauma. Also, to work on my chronic, excessive worrying. Understanding what's happening isn't enough. I'm angry; this seems to be the way I cope, but it's unproductive. I feel angry, violated, and targeted (even though this isn't likely). I feel I have the worst luck. I feel wounded, forced to retreat into my shell. I feel weak in my coping abilities.

I wish I'd been smart enough to prevent this loss, why can't I cope? What's wrong with me? I must be weak to worry all the time. I feel people I love won't love me if they realize how anxious I really am. I'm extremely frustrated and irritable. I'm anxious in traffic and am angry at other drivers. I feel like no one cares enough to help people in need.

My boyfriend is very supportive, I fear he's feeling like there's something wrong with me. It's probably just my fear, but its there. I had therapy for a year while experiencing severe panic attacks. I've attending coaching sessions in college. Have found some helpful/some not. I want to feel better, counteract the anxiety, find active ways to fight it. I'd like to understand how to cope in times of crisis. These are times when I feel bad about myself, crises always seem to knock me off my feet.

I asked for more information to write the most helpful coaching response.

1. How have you been taught in the past to deal with anxiety? Do you still use the techniques? I've used yoga, breathing, drawing, etc. they work ok now but not as well as they used to. I'm not sure why, possibly I need a new coping strategy.

2. Give me some examples of how you get angry, the emotions you feel, and the types of thoughts you think. I get angry when people are disrespectful, in all kinds of ways like being cut off in traffic, being rude, etc. When I feel as if my rights are violated.

3. Do you feel the need to be in control of things? Please explain how. I feel the need to be in control of safety things. I like to have some control in situations where I feel uncomfortable.

4. Explain how you see yourself as weak. If you can, tell me about some of the more subconscious ways in which you feel this. I feel weak b/c I've such a hard time coping with stress. It seems that others can do it effectively and I cannot.

5. Does anyone in your family or friends know about the depth of your anxiety? How much do they know? How do you hide it? No, not really. My bf knows some, but I hide it by trying to be positive. He's a happy and positive person. I feel bad for being anxious or worried. I'm afraid I'm complaining too much, although he's still loving not judging me.

6. How much of your fears and anxiety have you communicated to your boyfriend and how has he responded? I've communicated some and he's been very supportive. He accepts me for me. It's my own fear that I don't want to tell him how anxious I really am. He had a manic depressive girlfriend and I don't want him to think I'm like her and not want to be with me anymore.

7. What haven't you said to your boyfriend that you'd like to tell him? I'd like to tell him how anxious I really am, that I'm going to seek help for it and I hope that he doesn't judge me. I just need his support right now.

8. What types of coachingworked for you? What types of coachingdidn't? Readings, journaling, and "homework" to think about. I prefer positive reinforcement and support. I spoke with an online counselor on another site and she was horrible, didn't listen and took a long time to respond, at one point she called me paranoid and wouldn't talk about anything else after that. I felt she was way off, didn't listen, and was judgmental.

10. Briefly tell me about your parents relationship with each other and each of their relationships with you. Ugh, I hate this question, ha ha, well, my relationship with my mom is good. My parents have been divorced since I was 4, and my dad has never been supportive, financially or emotionally. I resent him for a lot of things, my fear of abandonment comes from him. I'd like to think that the rest of my relationships are not doomed b/c of him.

The Coaching Response

Anxiety is the body's primal reaction to perceived danger or threat. It involves physical, mental, and behavioral reactions. Even if you logically deal with it, the behavioral and physical responses to anxiety are still there. You need to mentally address your anxiety combined with behavioral changes, monitoring and changing all responses.

It's important to have an emotional support system with your friends and boyfriend. Trying to hide anxiety only increases it. Confide in at least one friend and in your boyfriend. When dealing with anxiety you need to regularly remind yourself to focus on these 3 basic things:

  1. Slowing down: the heart rate, what you're doing, what you're thinking.
  2. Changing: your breathing, behaviors, and thought patterns.
  3. Maintaining: focus, conscious actions, and direction of thoughts.

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives. It's a basic emotion of the 'fight or flight response' and is meant to protect us from back when we were cave people. We now commonly feel an overdeveloped sense of danger or threat.

It gets easier as you practice and become proficient at it. It takes persistence to decrease anxiety. Like anything else, it takes trial and error and patience. It's harder to get good results if you get easily frustrated. Once you learn how to effectively minimize anxiety, you'll be able to do it on your own so that you have control over it. 

I'll give you advice that'll provide relief over time. Some days will be easier than others. If you pressure yourself to get rid of anxiety right away, it'll only increase. You'll see the positive effects if you persist with it. To decrease your levels of anxiety, remember to address physical, mental, and behavioral aspects together. Begin with slowing down your heart rate using relaxation exercises. Learn these general relaxation techniques from: Williams College Peer Health page. Increase your body awareness of how muscles automatically tighten when you're anxious and learn to consciously relax them. Make it a regular habit to loosen up shoulder and facial muscles.

Make yourself more aware of what you're doing in the moment. Pay attention to how your body moves and be deliberate in what you do. This takes attention away from anxiety, decreasing fear of the future or worry in the past. Stop the flow of negative thoughts. A highly effective technique is to picture a bright red STOP sign and say “stop” firmly in your mind. If that isn't enough to slow down or stop the thoughts, then emphasize the word “STOP” in your mind, even yelling it in your head.

Control your breathing. Anxiety can be triggered by breathing too fast. In time you'll identify the patterns your body has in response to anxiety and control them. Put your hand over your stomach just below the navel and breath “into” your hand till your hand moves. Take slow, deep breaths to control the physical response. Eventually, you won't need your hand as a guide.

Whatever you're doing when anxiety hits, stop. If you're in a car, pull over. If you're walking, stand still. If you're at work, go to the rest room. Take a few minutes to slow your breath, relax your body, and stop the negative thoughts. Taking action when stressed leads to bad decisions. If you're in fear, avoid taking action until the anxiety is gone.

You need to introduce new patterns of thinking to replace negative ones. Print these thoughts so you have them with you all the time. Create some thoughts unique to you, but start with these statements that have been created from what you wrote:

  • I'm only angry because I don't understand what's happening to me, and as a result, I feel frustrated over not knowing what to do. I'm really not angry at other people, that's just part of the fear I feel.
  • I can have good luck when I make decisions without fear and anxiety. If I'm not sure what to do, then I get more information and take my time in making decisions.
  • I learn from my mistakes and support myself in tough times. I appreciate it when people help. I understand that the people who can help me will and that those who don't help have reasons that I don't understand.
  • People are as caring as they can be. All people have problems that affect how they deal with others and it's not personal if people aren't nice to me.

Use your ability to focus to take extra time to do things and think things through. Maintain a sense of conscious activity. Our minds talk incessantly, taking our attention away from our physical actions. By reminding yourself to be more aware of what you're physical body is doing, your mind has less opportunity to distract you with worries and fears.

Direct your thoughts into a positive direction. Break through the negativity with this exercise, where you ask yourself a series of “why's”. Eventually your mind runs out of answers! It's similar to a sales technique where you find all of the objections a customer has until you get to the real reason why they don't want to make the purchase. In your mind, keep asking “why” until you get the real reason for your fear. You can then take that reason and address it.

You'll be able to successfully use these techniques on your own to decrease the anxiety. Learn to not take things personally and not to react to what people say or do. To do this, you have to understand why people act the way they do without judging them for it. At some point you'll need to work through your feelings around your father so that you're free from the resentment and anger that you're still carrying and affecting you're ability to cope with life.

Ewa Schwarz

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