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Abolish Anxiety

This page added 29 April 2011

By Sally-Anne McCormack, Psychologist.

If you are reading this website, then you have undoubtedly had some issues with anxiety yourself or someone you love.  Anxiety does not just disturb us mentally it has physical side effects as well.  For example, when I begin to feel anxious, I notice that I scrunch my fingers and toes.  I am starting to get arthritis in these extremities and it therefore LITERALLY can be painfully obvious when this is happening!  For some people, there are other symptoms which may include things like having a dry mouth, shaky voice, profuse sweating, jelly legs, racing heart, flushed face, butterflies in the stomach, and various others.  

These signs are a great way of having anxiety brought to our attention.  Sometimes we may feel anxious but not even realise it.  For example, there have been times where I have thought that I am going along well, but suddenly notice that my heart rate is increasing and my fingers hurt.  At this point I ask myself the question – “What is going on in my head right now?”.  I might be thinking that the person I am meeting might be disappointed with me.  If they know me, they might think that I have “let myself go”.  If we have never met, they may be expecting someone smarter / taller / thinner / darker / older (or whatever else I believe they may value), then I might feel like a failure.  So my next question to myself is – “What is the likelihood of this being true?” to get a more realistic view of the situation.

Once I work out what I am thinking (which may take me a while, because often it is not obvious, and I have to guess at my thoughts!), then I can change them to something more helpful to me.  For example, if I am giving a talk, and I think that    someone is nodding off because my presentation is really boring, is that helping me to do better?  What are the other possibilities?  They may simply be really tired, they may have been dragged there by an enthusiastic partner, or they really MAY be bored with my talk.  Does that mean EVERYONE finds it boring?  Or is it simply that I cannot please everyone, so I can continue to try hard to educate the other 99% of people who are listening.  Focusing on the one “failure” is unhelpful to my work, so I try to reduce my anxiety levels by thinking of another reason that is just as valid.  

So, here are some health tips to help YOU abolish anxiety:

Tip One.  Deep Breathing.  Take in a slow, deep breath, hold it briefly, then slowly let it go.  I generally tell clients to breathe in to the count of 5, hold, then count backwards from 5 at the same pace.  Repeat this 5 times.  It is even more helpful if you can actively try to relax every muscle in your body as you breathe out!

Tip Two.  Helpful Thinking.  Instead of ruminating about all the things that can or have gone wrong, consciously focus your  attention on the things that are going right.  For example, if you spill the milk for the second time today, remind yourself of how many other things you have been near but have NOT knocked over today.  Or that you didn’t break the cup.  One of these thoughts will make you feel frustrated or depressed the others will make you feel more positive about yourself.  It is your choice!

Tip Three.  Set Aside a Specific “Worry Time”.  It is not going to help me to worry about how little preparation I have done for the exam I am going to complete next week.  I cannot change that right now as I am about to start work, but I can certainly set aside half an hour after I finish work to problem-solve (or at least acknowledge my predicament).  Worrying about it at work does not “fix” it, but could potentially cause me some problems with my boss if my mind is not on the task all day. 

Tip Four.  Address Anxiety Immediately.  As soon as you become aware of your body’s physical state (ie. the signs listed at the beginning of this article), address your thoughts straight away!  Do not let yourself continue with the negative thinking pattern because it may become a habit and increase your anxiety levels over time.  Take control as best as you can!

Tip Five.  Relax.  Give yourself some time to do something that you enjoy, concentrate on something calm and peaceful (perhaps visualise yourself in a relaxing place if you do not have the opportunity to go anywhere), and allow yourself the time to unwind physically and mentally after an event. 

Tip Six.  Learn to Say “NO”.  If we allow ourselves to become over-committed, then we lose time, energy and focus.  Saying “No” does not mean rejecting everything and everyone, it simply means getting to know your own limitations and not allowing others to impose their agenda on you.  Saying “No” means just setting boundaries, and most people respect us for this. 

Tip Seven .  Seek Help From Others.  If you find that your anxiety is too difficult for you to manage, then it probably time to enlist friends and family to help you.  If you are still having difficulty coping, then make an appointment to speak to your doctor.  He or she will determine how best to treat you and put you on the right track.  

So now back to my arthritis.  I could choose to see this as the worst possible thing that could happen to me.  I have always dreaded paper cuts and splinters because I hate pain.  However, rather than viewing this as a negative (which could be one way of seeing this degenerative condition), I see it as my early warning system for anxiety (I actually scrunch when I am angry as well, so I feel pain then too).  I put all of this into perspective – I am not in pain while I am keeping still, I am extremely     fortunate to have lived many years virtually pain free, I have a reliable “early-warning system” for when I am experiencing heightened negative emotions, AND I trust that the medical system will continue researching this common condition and over the years there will be better management and pain-relief as I get older.  So you see – all is good J!

By Sally-Anne McCormack
Dip T (Psych Maj); Postgrad Dip Psych (Ed); B Ed; M Psych (Ed & Dev)
Psychologist M.A.P.S.

Sally-Anne McCormack from WebPsychologist is a Melbourne psychologist, media consultant, author, former teacher and a mother of 4.  Her first book -“Stomp Out The ANTs” – for people with anxiety and depression was launched March 2010.  You can purchase advanced copies through any of her 3 informative websites: , and which offer advice, resources and FREE email newsletters.  

Sally-Anne is registered as a media spokesperson with the Australian Psychological Society (A.P.S.). She has practices in  Blackburn and Burwood East, runs adult and child/teen groups for depression, anxiety and insomnia, sees individual clients.  Sally-Anne also offers online counselling (although it is not covered by Medicare).  
She can be contacted via email ( or by telephone (03) 881 22 373.

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