02 Jul, 2024

Niamh Hughes
Niamh Hughes

Sometimes we can get short bursts of anxiety for example before an interview or presenting to others. These short bursts can feel uncomfortable at the time but are often manageable and can help us get things done and perform well. Short term anxiety boosts the immune systems response, however prolonged anxiety can have the opposite effect. If you feel your pet monster has been around long term it can make us become unwilling to confront anxiety.

But what is anxiety? Anxiety is a normal emotion that causes increased alertness, fear, and multiple physical symptoms, that can be:

  • Heart palpitations

  • Sleeping difficulties

  • Aches and pains

  • Disturbances of the digestive system

  • Sweating/shaking

  • Trouble concentrating

But what if we don’t associate anxiety as an everyday emotion? What if we think of it as our own personal pet monster. Now that pet monster has moved in, it is used to you, it likes being around you, its relying on you to feed it!

Fun Exercise: Get some paper and crayons, pencils, markers or whatever you have access to and doodle out your pet monster make them as big, small, colourful, pretty, ugly as you like. As I said, they are yours. When you are finished, think of all the things you might be doing unwittingly to feed them.

What can feed our pet monster?

  • Worrying

  • Bottling everything up

  • Avoidance

  • Poor nutrition

  • Stress

  • Lack of sleep

These are just some examples; they all seem like normal everyday things. So, what do you do if you think you are overfeeding your pet monster?

Remember, you are the owner, and you are in control. There is no magic wand to wave, to make them disappear, but you have the power to stop overfeeding them, and allowing them to steal all your attention, and possibly scaring you.

Take action to shrink that annoying pet monster

Example 1 - If you struggle with worry and it’s fuelling your anxiety, try activities like: The worry tree.

“When you sit down to think about your worries, a structured technique called ‘the worry tree’ can help keep you focused on understanding the difference between problems you can solve, and hypothetical worries that are beyond your control.”

Example 2 - If you find that you bottle up a lot of thoughts and emotions, and don’t talk often enough about how you are feeling, you can learn to identify the first grumbles of your pet monster. If you feel you are starting to struggle, then make a plan there and then, instead of waiting until you feel worse.

  • Reach out to a trusted family member or friend

  • Refer to one of the support services recommended at the bottom of this article

  • Practice mindfulness

  • Meditate/breathing exercise

  • Catch it, check it, change it 

    • Catch it: Identify when you might be starting to feel anxious or when negative thoughts start to arise.

    • Check it: Stop and think about what you’re thinking, is it true? Do you have evidence? This can be difficult - a good tip is to think if you’re giving this advice to someone else you would point out how they are being hard on themselves.

    • Change it: Substitute that negative thought for more realistic thoughts. Take note, are the realistic thoughts more positive than your current negative thoughts?

Example 3 - Avoidance

Article > Control your Pet Monster called Anxiety

It can be difficult to break the anxiety - avoidance cycle, this could be your pet monster's favourite snack.

Firstly, recognise the behaviours you have adapted and secondly understanding how these behaviours play a part in maintaining that pet monster.

Thirdly, challenge your avoidance behaviours. Helpful methods can include self-help CBT techniques.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of talking therapy that aims to change the way we think and act in order to help cope and manage problems we may face in our lives. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are closely linked and influenced by each other.

If we have unhelpful thoughts and feelings this can lead to unhelp behaviour like avoiding certain situations or places which can turn into a cycle of further negative thoughts. CBT aims to help recognise these unhelpful patterns and break down and approach problems/fears in a different way to improve how we feel.

If you feel like you or someone you know might benefit from more in depth CBT or other talking therapies chat with your GP about different services available in your local area or there is more info via the NHS Website.

Acceptance and breathing can be powerful.

Accepting your pet monster called anxiety, whether they are new or have been around a long time, can be helpful. When they show up you don’t have to judge or act upon it, simply observe its presence and remind yourself that we all have our own pet monsters, and everyone feels like theirs is the scariest. So, instead of battling it out with your monster, accept it’s there, by doing this you are no longer keeping the pet monster thriving by trying to fight and get away from it you are simply disengaging from it. You have accepted its presence, acknowledged it, and decided today it isn’t getting fed.

The best way to disengage is to use your breathing. Mindful breathing is such a powerful tool and understandably it can be hard to put a breathing technique into action when your monster is acting up but the more you practice the more it can become second nature to you.

My favourite breathing exercise is diaphragmatic breathing or deep belly breathing, as it is better known, this technique automatically slows the heart, helping to relax and become calm. It is the most effective relaxed way of getting enough air into your lungs and helps support the life skill of relaxation.

There are numerous guides and video clips out there, on how to complete deep belly breathing. My top tips for completing the exercise are as follows:

  • If you can get comfy by sitting or lying down.

  • If needed, you can do this exercise standing and it can be done anywhere at any time

  • Place your hand at the top of your belly where you would imagine the bottom of your lungs are.

  • Inhale through your nose, nice and slow, and as you do this notice your belly moving out pressing against your hand (Think of it as a balloon slowing blowing up).

  • Exhale through your mouth and nose slowly, and notice your belly dropping and your hand going back in with your belly as you breath out.

  • Repeat, if comfortable to do so, do it for a few minutes and introduce this into your daily routine.

Your pet monster is not likely to pack up and move away overnight, but being aware of overfeeding them and not letting them control you and steal all your attention is the first steps to learning how to live with this little monster. After a while, you might notice the monster behaving better, listening to you more and acknowledging that you are the one in control, not them.

Don’t struggle trying to train your pet monster on your own, when we start talking about our pesky pets, we realise we might not be the only one, others can give you tips on taming yours and likewise you can help others. You are never alone, and sometimes no matter what we try we need some help in taming our pet monster. There are numerous support services available below is some organisations whether you prefer to talk to someone, text or even web chat there is different options available to suit your needs.

Available support services

Article >Control your Pet Monster called Anxiety - image