Secondary anxiety appears as a consequence of the suffering of living in a perennial anxiety-inducing state. Few realities are as exhausting as the feeling of not being in control of yourself.
It is like living in fear that at any moment a panic attack will reoccur and that the symptoms of anxiety will intensify. This universe of contradictory and distressing emotions deriving from a primary disease, anxiety, is defined by doctors as “secondary anxiety”.
Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, or living with a disease such as cancer, often lead to more than one psychological disorder. In any case, everyone happens at some point to suffer from prior anxiety.
It is completely normal, it can arise due to pressure at work, relationships or the inability to cope with stress. But if we can manage these dimensions skilfully and effectively, we will avoid the appearance of secondary anxiety.
When we feel overwhelmed, when we can’t deal with so many opposing feelings, thoughts and emotions, anxiety feeds itself. The effects can also be quite severe.
What are the symptoms?
Anxiety is built on the basis of many layers of stress superimposed on each other. It is particularly common in generalized anxiety disorder, where since adolescence the person has a tendency to worry excessively, to feel overwhelmed by obligations, to experience excessive fear, not to know how to manage their emotions.
Gradually, the primary anxiety is internalized until the day the first panic attack appears. This experience is always very shocking. There are those who have a clear feeling that they are going to die, that they are suffering from a myocardial infarction.
However, when the doctor makes it clear that what has happened has a psychological rather than a physical origin, the person moves on to a new phase; that in which secondary anxiety appears , which is defined as the fear of anxiety itself and its consequences. Here are the most common symptoms:
- Generally, people with secondary anxiety are very demanding of themselves. Hence, the fact that they suffer from anxiety and panic attacks makes them feel a certain anger and self-denial for not being able to “control” those emotions. The anxiety itself ends up generating more anxiety.
- They are characterized by hypervigilance. In other words, they are always alert to possible threats in their environment, overreact to sounds, smells, sensations they feel around them.
- They feel defeated and overwhelmed most of the time.
What are the dangers of secondary anxiety?
Albert Ellis, creator and promoter of Rational Emotional Theory, was the first to emphasize the importance of distinguishing between primary and secondary anxiety.
The most serious cases, such as panic attacks and generalized anxiety, originate from the habit of primary anxiety to lead to a deeper, more complex and dangerous reality in many cases.
It is therefore important to know that a panic attack will never appear if we are able to manage our emotions before secondary anxiety appears. But what happens when it has already appeared and we have internalized it?
- Secondary anxiety ends up taking away any sense of control we have over ourselves. It also undermines the foundations of self-esteem and self-confidence.
- When we are in this state it is very difficult to use a rational and thoughtful approach to understand why we have come to this point.
- We overestimate anxiety in such a way that we tell ourselves that there is no longer a solution. Therefore, very rigid psychological approaches are recreated.
- Secondary anxiety is the basis for the appearance of other disorders. Therefore, it is common for it to lead to agoraphobia, major depression, and even for some patients to resort to drug abuse.
Treatment for secondary anxiety
On average, the therapeutic approach to secondary anxiety requires first of all knowledge of the patient’s individual reality. A diagnosis will be made, its characteristics, context, circumstances, medical history, etc. will be investigated.
Secondly, specific treatments are followed, sometimes a pharmacological approach will be necessary, with others that are wider always depending on the needs of the person. The following strategies are common :
- Inform the patient about what anxiety is and what panic attacks consist of and teach him to recognize them. So, bring him closer to the reality of his diagnosis (if he suffers from generalized anxiety, phobias, etc.).
- Identify the wrong behaviors and approaches that the patient uses that intensify his anxiety.
- Help the patient to use cognitive strategies and techniques to avoid worries, catastrophic and automatic thoughts.
- Relaxation and breathing techniques.
- Promote controlled exposure to feared situations or stimuli.
- Offer time management strategies, social skills, plan enjoyable activities, work on life goals, etc.
Help must be sought before primary anxiety becomes secondary. In this way we would avoid reaching situations of strong psychological exhaustion where in many cases there are other latent realities, such as depression.
However, with the help of a good professional we can deal with these feelings much better to promote our well-being and regain control of our life.