Today I am taking a break from sharing my typical shopping and fashion post. Instead I am writing about something I know all too well, and I have a feeling you do too. Anxiety. It’s on the rise, and arguably it’s a mental health concern that the majority of us have dealt with – even suffered from at differing degrees.
Let me be very upfront about this – I am not writing this to diagnose anyone or offer treatment; I am sharing what I know as a licensed mental health professional for more than 25 years and as a school counselor. Maybe the best part of what I have to share comes from the fact that I too deal with anxiety. Familiar with the quote, “Healer heal thyself?” I am here to tell you, I am not healed but I know how to manage it.
I’ll also share the fact that I have been hesitant to use this space to discuss mental health issues. You might wonder why after reading the above paragraph. It’s because we live in a litigious society and in grad school (back in the early 90’s) we were cautioned. Be careful what you say at parties and in social situations, someone may overhear, misinterpret and you’ll be responsible. It seems that licensed professionals are held to a different standard than let’s say any one of the number of “Life Coaches” that are popping up everywhere. I carry malpractice insurance for this very reason.
What is Anxiety
Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, unease, and worry. Typically it has to do with an uncertain outcome. When I worked in oncology I saw it all the time. Rightfully so as the individuals and families I worked with encountered unchartered territory. In most cases, once a treatment plan was established and with some good support (sessions with me!) the anxiety dissipated and for the most part, life carried on. Of course there were was a new normal but the every day activities of life carried on.
When Anxiety Becomes too Much
When the anxiety, or fear becomes excessive and interrupts the execution of your daily activities or keeps you from interacting with the world around you in an appropriate way, you can safely assume the anxiety is now a “disorder”. The symptoms include: inability to sleep, focus, eating too much or too little, diarrhea, vomiting, profuse sweating, increased heart rate, fear of impending doom, rapid breathing, and trembling. Just to name a few – rest assured there are others that may be unique to the individual.
What to Do
If you are feeling anxious about a certain event but it’s not keeping you from participating in your daily life, you can try several strategies. Getting in touch with the signals your own body is sending you is key – think of this like an indicator light in your car – there are signs that will tell you something is off. Here are some strategies:
- Try the 3 3 3 rule – focus on 3 things you see, 3 sounds you hear, then move 3 parts of your body. This may help in situational anxiety – like a dental appointment. I have used this with children at school who were anxious.
- Staying in the here and now. Since anxiety is all about what may or may not happen in the future – remind yourself of what you need to do right now. Try to push these feeling aside by asking yourself, Am I safe right now? What can I do right now?
- Breathe – yes, this works too. I call this intentional breathing. Stopping what you are doing and focusing on deep breaths in and out.
- If you are in fact, suffering from a panic attack, your body is in the fight or flight response mode – relabel what is happening- you are not dying, you are panicking and it is harmless and temporary. That doesn’t mean it’s comfortable but remind yourself it will end. Step away and breathe.
- Use this acronym for FEAR : Future Events Appearing Real. Dissect the problem. Are you having anxiety over a work presentation or task? Are you imagining the worst outcome? Is it likely? Has it happened before? We sometimes get ourselves worked up over a situation we’re about to encounter and it’s one we’ve encountered before. Think back to what happened and challenge your thoughts.
When to Get Help
Anxiety is not fun. It’s also so common that nearly 30% of adults will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. However, when it becomes excessive, get help. Counseling may be beneficial as well as medication – I honestly cringe when I hear how many are taking anxiety medication without counseling. I realize many people are not comfortable with the idea of talking about feelings and taking medication is easier. It can certainly help but learning strategies to deal with the issue is empowering and, in my opinion, better overall.
I’d caution you about taking some of the natural remedies available at health food stores. Check the ingredients and do a little research yourself. Just because something is “all natural” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily safe.
My Own Experience
I grew up with a mother who is an “awfulizer” – yes, she imagines the worst case scenario all the time. Gloom and doom. If things can go wrong they will, everything happens to me, and I have no choice in matters. This was the mantra of my childhood and continues to be her modus operandi. As I pursued psychology I came to realize this and knew this was not the road I wanted to travel down.
I have worked hard to separate myself from this, while still loving my mom. I see the negative effects and point them out (often) but she is firmly planted in her beliefs, just as I am in mine. Establishing boundaries with her has helped me tremendously.
I do believe there is a genetic component and a predisposition to anxiety. Anxiety took a toll on me physically several times in my life and I realized I needed to do something. What works for me is a combination of medication and helpful strategies – like the ones listed above. I have experimented (with my doctor’s help) with stopping the medication but for now, I am staying on it. For me, it helps me to see things a bit more clearly and takes the edge off. I am able to recognize when the anxiety is amping up and I have strategies to employ.
Some of the things that I get anxious about include upcoming trips or plans. I often find myself making plans and then immediately considering ways to get out of them! Even when I know I will ultimately enjoy them, I fight the urge to cancel. This has given me strength to say no and mean it sometimes. I am not always comfortable in social situations. I prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings. But there was a time when I thought I needed to push myself and say yes when I really wanted to say no.
I find myself getting anxious when I have a lot on my schedule or calendar. This is when writing out what I must do and checking it off as I get it done helps. I find that what I get anxious about is feeling a lack of control; so I exercise control over what I can. Like cleaning the house and eliminating any clutter or messes. Messy house, messy mind. I am also hesitant to cancel my plans to exercise – even when I am tempted – I keep my reservation at my bootcamp class. I also resist the urge to reach for “comfort foods” – they are typically high in sugar and carbs and while they seem comforting while I’m eating them, past experience has taught me I’ll feel worse later.
A little self-talk goes a long way. Don’t discredit that – the messages you give yourself are so important. I have challenged those beliefs many times and always come out better for it.
What I Hope You Take Away From This
Anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed about, it is very common. Help is available and you can control it before it controls you. I hope you know you are not alone and that gives you hope and freedom to talk about it.