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María Rojas-Marcos: "Anxiety is seen as something foreign"

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According to recent research, one in four people has or will have a mental illness in their lifetime.

To understand more about this phenomenon, We spoke with the psychologist María Rojas-Marcos, who in her day-to-day life helps people with anxiety problems, among other forms of discomfort.

  • Related article: "Types of Anxiety Disorders and their characteristics"

Interview with María Rojas-Marcos: Why are we all vulnerable to anxiety?

María Rojas-Marcos Asensi is a General Health Psychologist with a practice in Seville, and she specializes in caring for adults, adolescents and couples. Here she tells us about the characteristics of anxiety, and about what reinforces it.

Do you think anxiety has an undeserved bad reputation?

I understand that anxiety has deservedly earned a bad reputation because it is usually accompanied by strong physical and psychological symptoms and produces a great feeling of lack of control and fear which can be very limiting.

The problem with the bad reputation of anxiety is the prejudice and rejection that this entails. It is seen as something foreign, that you have had to suffer, and it seems difficult to manage, when in fact it is something very personal that you have cultivated and that you can manage if you first learn to listen to yourself.

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Accept it, it is your body or your mind asking you for help and informing you that something is not right, that you need to stop and think about yourself, listen to yourself and see what you need and want.

What are the habitual “trap thoughts” that lead to falling into anxiety over and over again?

It is estimated that we all have a particular vulnerability to mental disorders, and that this is triggered or does not depend, to a great extent, on the vital experiences to which we are exposed, such as losses, uncertainty…

When anxiety has invaded you, it is as if you had negativity glasses on that give you a new and distorted view of the world and what is happening to you. Some "trap thoughts" are produced that are called "cognitive distortions". They are the ones that make the hole in which we fall deeper and deeper and have more power.

In order not to fall, learn from them, since they are the product of your discomfort. The most common are:

-The personalization that makes you personalize everything or see it in a harmful way for you, like when you say "everything seems that the world is against me", "I never have luck".

-Selective abstraction, which occurs when you are only able to see the negative side of things: "I'm sure he told me that to look good in front of others, not to flatter me”, “arriving late made it spoil the whole night, it was impossible for it to be right"...

-The catastrophic posture: I always put myself in the worst and I feel that this allows me to be prepared: “my boss has seen that I have wrong, I'm useless, I'm useless in life”, “no matter how hard I try, they don't like me, I'm the worst, I don't fit in with anyone part"...

-Dichotomous or polarized thinking: I do not see things realistically, I move between extremes without balance, in my thought the speech is devastating: “I will always be useless”, “I will never be able to pass”, “no one else is going to love me”, “everything goes wrong"...

Do not believe everything that fear makes you feel or think, do not let it make decisions for you because otherwise it will gain ground.

If you had to name three routines and habits linked to Western culture that generate unnecessary anxiety in us, which ones would you highlight?

The three most common habits that generate anxiety are, first, the habit of constantly comparing ourselves. When you compare yourself, you fall into the trap of constantly competing, of measuring, of judging, since you look for arguments to know where to put that person. It's like depending on the results and that your value depends on what you get, so you easily get caught in the “never enough”, the comparison is a never ending battle. Therefore, this constant frustration or struggle easily ends up generating imbalances and a fragile self-esteem that constantly struggles to prove its worth.

Second, not wanting to feel bad. It is understandable and it would make sense if we were machines, but we are not, we learn from experience and from all our emotions. Emotions such as discomfort, rage, anger, pain, tell us that something is not going well and needs to be checked. Not wanting to suffer makes us fragile in the face of suffering because we do not learn to manage it and it does not allow us to resolve that situation that causes us discomfort. Simply, covering doesn't work, so you fall into anxiety, based on not facing what you feel.

Thirdly, the "speed" at which society is going, the advances, the changes and the lack of time. These are times of many changes and a lot of pressure, it is a long-distance race that requires constant adaptation and striving to keep up to date so as not to easily become “obsolete”. In the end, this requires a lot of effort and time, and this is not easily reconciled with having a life or a family. Not having time to disconnect, rest, recover, but always live with the pressure of "I have to, I have to, I must..." It is a breeding ground for developing discomfort.

Why is it on the rise in the general population and especially in adolescents?

Habits and the rhythm of life mean that we are subjected to a multitude of internal and external demands in order to be able to "meet up" or "get everything ahead".

We know that it is complicated with so much pressure to have a good balance between what I want, how I want to live and what seems really important to me. Stability, peace, balance between work and family, that sacrifice allows me to improve, not just survive, are some of the things we need, but we don't always get.

Emotionally, it has been a hard stage with the pandemic, something especially hard for the youngest; anxiety disorders have increased by 20% among adolescents, since they have fewer tools and capacity to regulate emotional and that is why the situation of confinement, the lack of certainties... has caused many more emotional consequences than the Adults.

Would you say that the tendency to compete more and more in all areas means that many companies and organizations promote work spaces that generate anxiety and stress, seeing it as something necessary to be efficient?

The work environment in which each person develops has a clear impact on their life and on their physical and emotional health. It is proven that the better the work environment, the better the productivity, but it is difficult for us to maintain that fine line that separates healthy competitiveness from that which is not.

It is true that companies need to be competitive and obtain results, they must stop to see the values ​​that it promotes and favors workers in the work environment. It is a challenge to become aware of the importance of managing human resources and focusing it on a constructive and sustainable direction for everyone in the company in the long term, to achieve a win to win.

What are the challenges facing psychologists in the coming years to help people manage anxiety appropriately, as society continues to change?

In this new stage, the objectives to be developed in psychology go through several paths, from continuing to develop scientific research to having increasingly effective treatments. Continuing to publicize our work is increasingly valued in the care and prevention of mental health. Even the fact of facing intrusiveness and lack of regulation, which causes a lot of confusion about what psychological therapy is.

The challenge of the psychologist in the consultation is to offer more and more useful tools adapted to the needs of each person. In this society of immediate and easy satisfaction, quick or at least practical solutions are demanded, so even doing a long and deep treatment with the person, he needs to see more and more results so as not to be discouraged by the road. Improving adherence to treatment in psychology is one of our great challenges.

We must also recycle ourselves and study constantly, you cannot work with someone if you are not aware of their environment, that is, their priorities, needs... And this is reflected in the urgency of getting to know, for example, the new virtual generations, who think and relate to each other in many ways a completely different way and that they will continue to evolve, thus giving rise to new associated disorders, such as those of the new technologies. Now we must prepare ourselves for the revolution that the development of the virtual world will continue to bring.
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