Rate How You Are Feeling

Next step in dealing with anxiety: Rate how you are feeling.

Extreme anxiety can, as explained, be caused by misuse of the imagination - by catastrophising and imagining awful futures for ourselves. So it goes with the territory, then, that we will often think things are worse than they are - or remember them as worse than they were. A good way to counter this and get a more realistic picture of how we are doing and coping is to scale how anxious we feel immediately after doing something we would normally find anxiety-provoking. It has to be done straight away or negative emotional recall will kick in!

Try carrying a small notebook around with you - it could be the same one you might be using for recording negative thoughts. Draw a line across a page and put a figure 1 at the left end, representing 'really terrible' and a figure 10 at the right end, representing 'really good'. If you tend to wake up anxious, scale yourself first thing in the morning. Maybe it will be a '1'. But then see how it goes through the day. How do you feel when you set off for work? How do you feel when preparing to go into a meeting/ attending an interview with your child's teacher/going into a shop/rushing to catch a train? How do you feel when you get home after a busy day? How do you feel an hour before bedtime?

If you do this every day for a few weeks, you will soon see whether certain activities make you more anxious than others or whether it is particular occasions or places that do so. You will also see how far practising your 7/11 breathing, countering negative thoughts and other self-help suggestions made so far, reduce your anxiety levels. If you have the proof before your eyes, you will have the motivation to continue. Or maybe the levels aren't falling yet. Is this because of a particular concern that actually needs tackling, rather than worrying about? Or because you are forgetting to apply the techniques? This is all useful information.

Some people like to scale at set times throughout the day and note down what they were doing at the time, so that they can build up a realistic picture of how anxious they really do feel in a 24-hour period. Sometimes we forget all the things that we enjoy or feel on top of because the anxiety is so overwhelming and unpleasant when it does kick in. Some people, therefore, deliberately scale their anxiety levels after pleasant activities - both to remind themselves of the times that they don't feel anxious or to see if they are spoiling even pleasure by worrying.

And don't be black and white in terms of what you think is a satisfactory improvement. Of course, it will be terrific if you reliably start shifting from a '3' to a '7'. But what if you just go from a '1' on one day to a '2' the next. It doesn't seem much, yet it actually represents a 100 per cent increase in anxiety control! If, in a week, you double that, to a '4', and then in three weeks double it again to an '8', you have still soared from your lowest point to an '8' in just a month! This could be quite an achievement if you have suffered disabling anxiety for years.

Be prepared, though, to slide up and down the scale at certain times. This isn't relapse, however. It is a natural process which provides you with useful information you can learn from. For example, what specifically was happening that made anxiety soar at a particular point? Was it a situation, a person, or a thought? And what techniques could you make a point of applying to help counter that?

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Separate yourself from your anxiety