I think it says quite a lot about our societies that we have emoji icons for anxiety. Worrying is a part of everyone’s life, without exception. For some, worry can spill over into a dominating force in their lives. Today we are going to practice English listening comprehension skills and the topic we will talk about is anxiety.
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Anxious Phobia Anticipate Imagination Relaxation
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One of the things I notice at the moment, is that people’s anxiety seems to have grown. It seems that the pandemic and the lockdown have had an effect, making lots of people more anxious. The noun ‘anxiety’, ANXIETY and the adjective ‘anxious’, ANXIOUS can be difficult for English language learners.
The trick is that the X is pronounced as a Z in ‘anxiety’ and the X is pronounced as a SH, ‘shhh’ sound in the word ‘anxious’. ‘Anxiety’ and ‘anxious’. Anxiety is another word for ‘fear’ or ‘worry’ and ‘anxious’ is an adjective to describe the person who has ‘worry’ or ‘fear’. And it’s that particular kind of fear that happens when something is going round and round in your head. It might be when you’re in bed, trying to sleep.
Anyway, I’m seeing a lot of anxiety in my practice. As you might expect, some of the anxiety is about the actual pandemic. So this could be anxiety about catching the virus, especially if you’re someone with a health condition, with a medical condition that increases your risk of being ill.
Some people are anxious about getting the vaccine – does it work, is it safe? And others are understandably anxious because the pandemic is making it hard for them to work, to do their jobs. Their businesses may be closed and money may be an issue. Or they’re anxious about whether their businesses is going to be able to get back to normal. So many of those things are what we might call ‘real-world anxieties’.
They’re worries which are valid, which are real, which are understandable in the real world. I’m sure we’ve all got some real world anxieties, either about the pandemic and its effect or about other aspects of our lives.
Then there are those anxieties which start off as real world worries, but which seem to grow out of proportion, they become bigger than they should be. Sometimes people can be completely taken up with anxiety that doesn’t really seem valid to other people, it doesn’t seem to be about something that’s worth worrying about or something which is likely to happen.
Of course, here you could be talking about something like a phobia, PHOBIA. This is a more extreme fear, a more extreme anxiety. We use this word ‘phobia’ in English – and I suspect in many, many other languages too, to describe what you would call an ‘irrational’ fear – ‘irrational’ means that it’s not logical, it doesn’t make sense – it’s ‘not rational’. ‘Irrational’ is the opposite of ‘rational’.
A photograph a pine tree grove in the jungle. Who knew people could be scared of trees?
So something like ‘dendrophobia’ – ‘a fear of trees’ might fall into this category. Someone who has an extreme fear of trees – it might be real to them, very real to them – but it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. You might say ‘How can a tree hurt you?’ But it’s very real to the dendrophobic person.
But the vast majority of people who have too much anxiety – what it’s really about is a tendency to worry too much. Their anxiety isn’t as extreme as phobia. And their anxiety is based around real world concerns, but it’s just it seems to have got bigger than it should be. Somehow the anxiety and the anxious thinking are being ‘fuelled’. It’s like there is a little flame of anxiety – and without intending to, you give the anxiety lots of ‘fuel’, lots of ‘oxygen’ and it burns out of control.
It’s helpful to identify when it’s what I call ‘anticipatory anxiety’ – meaning anxiety that’s ‘in anticipation’ of an event or a situation. ‘To anticipate’ in English, ANTIPICIPATE (that’s a long one!) means ‘to think about something in the future, to expect a future happening’.
It could be a meeting that you’ve got in the morning, with a customer at work, or it could be that visit to the dentist that you’ve been putting off because of your anxiety about the dentist. This ‘anticipatory anxiety’, anxiety about a forthcoming or a future event is normal - to a point. If you’ve got a customer meeting in the morning and you’re worried about it, then it’s sensible to prepare, make sure you’ve read the necessary material, you’ve got the necessary documents.
Perhaps also you’ve decided what your route to the customer’s office will be. You’ve looked at the train timetable or what route you’ll take in your car. These are sensible, real world preparations – and sometimes just doing those, will bring down your level of anxiety. You can say to yourself ‘I’ve got a meeting in the morning. I don’t know how it’s going to go.
But I’ve done all the preparations, I’ve thought about how I’m going to get there. There’s nothing more I can do about it now. I’m going to bed, so that I’ll be feeling good in the morning’. ‘Job done’, as we say.
But what happens for lots of people – we’ve all done this, I’m sure – instead of stopping there, where you’ve done the sensible preparations and the ‘sensible worrying’, you’ve done all you can for now. Instead of stopping there, your mind continues to think about that meeting tomorrow.
And your thinking goes way beyond the practical or the real world view. You start to say to yourself, ‘What if this or that goes wrong? What if the customer is really difficult? What if my presentation goes badly?’, ‘What if I freeze in the middle of it?’, ‘What if they don’t show up to the meeting?’ ‘What if my train is late?’ ‘What if they ask me questions and I know don’t the answers – will they think I’m an idiot?’ And if it’s really bad, you might get to ‘What if they don’t like me personally?’ or ‘What if my throat closes up when I’m trying to speak?’ or ‘What if the roof falls in?’
This ‘what if’ questioning can be really bad. It tends to take on a negative feeling. And before you’ve realised it, you’re playing out in your mind all the different ways in which your meeting could go wrong!
Some of them might be more likely and some of them much less likely and some of them might be extremely unlikely to happen. But if you can imagine them, if you can see them in your mind, then it becomes something bigger and more real to worry about.
The more time that you spend doing this, the more anxious you become. And if you make this into a habit, you get better and better at using your imagination like this – negatively! We tend to talk about your ‘imagination’, IMAGINATION – your capacity to see things in your mind, your creative ability, if you like – we tend to talk about imagination as though it’s always positive, always good. And it is, if you use it for positive things.
But if you use your imagination to visualise, to see in your mind all the things that could possibly go wrong with what you have to do tomorrow, then this isn’t positive. It’s a negative use of your imagination. And it can be very ‘anxiety fuelling’ for people. It takes the tiny ‘flame’ of your worry and it piles on lots of ‘fuel’, gives it ‘lots of oxygen’, until it becomes a big fire!
Or to put it another way, you ‘water the weeds’. A weed, WEED, is a plant – and it’s a plant that’s growing in the wrong place. There’s nothing wrong with this plant, except that it’s growing in your vegetable patch, where you planted your carrots.
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You didn’t put it there and it’s taking water and nutrients that your carrots need. If instead of removing the weeds, you water them and you feed them – then they’re going to grow. And so it is with anxiety and worry. Beyond the sensible preparation, the more time you spend ‘watering your weeds’, the bigger the anxiety gets and the more anxious you become.
And there’s no advantage in doing this – there’s no upside. So one good piece of advice – learn to spot when your ‘anticipatory anxiety’ has got out of control and it’s gone beyond what’s needed for ‘good preparation’.
Notice when you’re using your imagination to ‘water the weeds’ – and try to stop it. Go and do something nice instead! Read a book, phone a friend, watch TV, listen to a podcast – or if it’s in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep – do a meditation or a relaxation exercise instead. But the first step is to notice that you’re doing this. And it’s very sneaky – that means it’s like a thief, it creeps up on you. The more you realise you’re doing this, the less anxious you will be.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.