Today, we are talking about anxiety - a very common feeling that is experienced in our day to day lives. Sometimes, anxiety can be felt in small ways, for example when you are rushing to your favorite workout class, or running to the subway platform. Other times, anxiety can be felt in bigger ways. For example, waking up in the middle of the night, or feeling unable to eat. Anxiety can often leave us feeling uneasy and emotionally unbalanced. It can sometimes be very challenging to learn ways to cope, to know even what anxiety is, and to know how to feel at ease when we do feel anxious (especially when you’ve already tried some other helpful tips, such as a 5 minute meditation.)
We are so grateful today to learn from Julie, who helps us to understand where anxiety comes from, what anxiety looks like, and offers us 6 concrete tips to make our day to day lives a little bit easier, anxiety and all.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could push a button and make your anxiety disappear?
Sounds calming but unfortunately, it’s not possible! It also wouldn’t be adaptive to totally get rid of it because humans need some level of anxiety in certain situations. It’s helpful to remember that it’s the most common mental health concern that people deal with.
Anxiety is a physiological tool that humans need for survival. Signs of it serve to alert you to potentially dangerous situations. When you struggle with excessive anxiety, a tool meant to protect you becomes overly sensitive to threats- leading to recurrent and unnecessary false alarms. Your mind might be tricked into believing a whole host of untrue things about you and the world around you. It can lead you to believe that you’re unsafe, unloved, unattractive, incapable… and can result in much difficulty trusting your decision making skills.
Beneath our anxious feelings often lies a need for control and fears about judgment or negative evaluation. The experience can become self-attacking, obsessive and very preoccupying. It’s been compared to “being trapped in quicksand”, “swimming in the dark with a stomachache”, and like “the most convincing worst critic.”
Anxiety is often experienced when a person is faced with transitions, stress or the unfamiliar. When anxiety is too high, it can leave us feeling overwhelmed and stuck. The good news is: if you’re able to manage anxious feelings effectively, just the right amount can actually help motivate you.
Anxiety can show up differently depending on the unique person and presents itself in the form of various symptoms including:
Bodily sensations: (sweating, blushing, shaky voice, pounding heart, nausea, butterflies in stomach, tingling or numbness in body parts, shortness of breath, dizziness, light-headed, restlessness, muscle tension)
Emotional: (feeling afraid, nervousness, fatigue, a sense of detachment)
Cognitive: (worries, racing thoughts, poor concentration, negative thinking)
Behavioral (avoidance, hypervigilance, irritability, sleep disturbance)
A bunch of factors can contribute to the development of anxiety. You might have a genetic predisposition, as anxiety is passed down through generations. The environment and parental modeling can also play a role (e.g., if you have parents who are anxious, it could influence your own anxiety). It may be difficult to pinpoint the main contributor or exactly how it developed; it may be more beneficial to stay in the present and learn to limit behaviors known to exacerbate your symptoms.
Avoidance is the most common human response to anxiety provoking situations. Understandably, you’d want to stay away from what you’re afraid of. The problem is that although it appears to work in the short-term, in the long run it perpetuates your anxiety and you end up feeling more isolated and discouraged.
1.) Avoid avoiding - What we resist, persists! When you avoid or deny your experience, it gives it the strength to hang around longer. The more you can face your fears (gradually), the more equipped and empowered you’ll become overtime.
2.) Accept that it’s here - Simply recognizing that your difficult experience has a name, and labeling it as “anxiety” can be helpful. Know that it’s impossible to get rid of anxiety altogether, and it wouldn’t be adaptive because it’s a normal human response to danger and stress.
3.) Get comfortable with discomfort -“Fear of the fear” is what fuels anxiety. Look for opportunities to gain exposure to being uncomfortable. It is through learning to tolerate uncomfortable emotions that will help you to manage your anxiety in different situations.
4.) Ground yourself in the present - The link between the mind and body is powerful. A more relaxed body leads to a more relaxed mind and vice versa. To help refocus your energy away from anxious thoughts & feelings and into the here and now, practice grounding exercises such as: slow deep breathing, increasing mindful awareness of your surroundings through engaging all 5 senses.
5.) Create a positive coping statement - Noticing unwanted thoughts and intentionally changing them is a main component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT, an effective and evidence-based treatment for anxiety). You’ll notice that when you focus on calming thoughts, it helps redirect attention away from fear and allows you to feel more connected to your inner strength. Some examples of positive coping statements:
“Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway”
“I can survive this feeling”
“This too shall pass”
“Courage comes from feeling fear first”
6.) Reframe anxiety & speak out - Remember that anxiety is extremely common and it’s normal. It’s not a weakness and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Reframe fears as opportunities for growth and expansion. Know that you are never alone with your experience. It may feel like the last thing you want to do, but getting support and talking about it does help. Any time we can put words to our experience, we become empowered.
We hope these tips have been helpful for you in learning how to cope with some uncomfortable anxiety feelings. Huge thank you to Dr. Julie Groveman for her perspective today.
To see Julie talking through these tips as close to IRL as possible, check out our Instagram stories (and highlights on this and other topics) @findmywellbeing.
What topics do you want to hear about most? We’d love to source experts to share more perspective with you. Let us know at [email protected]
Dr. Julie Groveman, PsyD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in New York City, specializing in working with adults and adolescents. Julie is committed to helping others manage anxiety, and is passionate about building self-esteem and inner strength with her clients. She supports client by helping them to conquer fears and to lead with compassion. To learn more, please visit Julie’s website at: www.askdocjulie.com or on social @askdoctorjulie