Our brains are just like giant problem solving machines, always on the look out for danger or problems that might be going on in our surroundings that requires our attention.
From a biological perspective, responding to the cues our brain gives us about danger has been useful for ensuring our survival. The way our brain functions continues to serve us well in many ways such as when we need to get out of the way of a car that hasn’t seen us as we’re crossing the road.
However, more often than not, the struggle with anxiety, or more specifically the struggle to get to get rid of anxiety, can leave us feeling discouraged, isolated and hopeless, believing that things will never change.
If you find yourself feeling anxious, you are not alone!
The National Post reported on a recent poll surveying 1,500 Canadians. It found that 41% of people identified themselves as someone who struggles with anxiety and 33% of people had been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Statistically speaking, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health condition. They are more common in women and peak during midlife.
For some people, anxiety is an uncomfortable but fleeting feeling that pops up on occasion during particularly stressful times.
However, for many others, anxiety may be more present and colour more of their daily life.
Either way, there are some sticky lies that anxiety likes to tell us that get us stuck in a struggle to get rid or or eliminate our anxiety.
It is this struggle that’s can amplify and worsen our experience of anxiety and decrease our ability to cope effectively.
Does any of this sound familiar?
1) You Need to Solve Every Problem Anxiety Dredges Up
How often are you aware of your own thoughts? Our thoughts tend to bubble up from our subconscious without much control from our conscious mind. For those experiencing anxiety, many of these thoughts will be negative and frightening. They may seem very compelling for us to try and solve.
Often, anxious thoughts are not rooted in the present, they are about things yet to come in the future or events and regrets from the past that haunt us and trigger our inner critic who floods us with judgement.
We anticipate the worst, try to problems solve scenarios that have yet to happen or beat ourselves up for perceived failings.
We get lost in our heads overthinking, problem solving and criticizing ourselves, hoping to control, prevent or avoid these terrible scenarios.
We get stuck spinning our wheels, and flooding ourselves with stress hormones and we play terrible scenarios over and over again in our minds.
One helpful thing you can try when this happens comes from Russ Harris, one of the pioneers of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. He calls this ‘Thanking Your Mind’. This allows you to notice the crap your mind is saying, briefly acknowledge it, and turn your focus back to more meaningful activities.
Check out this video for a demonstration of how this works:
2) There is Something Wrong With You
Beyond frightful emotions, anxiety often comes with physical sensations like tightness in the chest, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath. In other words, it can feel like you are dying. The more we notice these strange sensations in our body, the more that the sensations can amplify and consume ever more of our attention. This creates an anxiety feedback loop in our body and can be very distressing.
Slow, deep breaths have been shown to instantly calm a person. The most important part of this, is to focus on exhaling all the air out of your lungs. Try breathing in for a count of 4 and breathing out for a count of 6. Your heart rate will slow, your muscles will relax, your entire body will return to a normal state of being. Don’t underestimate the power of just taking a moment to breathe.
3) You’re the Only One
But you’re not.
Remind yourself of that ancient dialogue your mind and body are having and know that, in reality, this is something that happens to others too.
One of the things that can happen for people who struggle with anxiety is that they can begin to view themselves as flawed, broken or damaged as a result. This does nothing to ease anxiety, but rather increases the pain of it by layering on negative self-judgement.
Tip: Practice self-compassion. Respond to yourself in the same way you would a good friend who was having a similar experience. Self-compassion and coaching yourself through a difficult moment with kindness can help you build resilience and navigate anxious moments more effectively
4) You’ll Always Feel Like This
Once you learn to be an observer of your thoughts and learn how to stay present in the moment using your breath, and apply self-compassion by reminding yourself that you are knowing you are having a natural reaction to what your brain (amygdala) perceive as a threat, you can navigate difficult moments of anxiety more effectively.
While anxiety may still show up, you can learn to handle moments of anxiety more effectively. Over time and with practice, it is possible to behave in ways that give your life more richness and meaning and feel that anxiety has less on an impact.
If after reading this you think that you might benefit from some help learning to manage anxiety more effectively, don’t hesitate to reach out! I offer free 15 minute consultation appointments so we can make sure we’ll be a good fit. All of my appointments are being done online through a secure video platform or by phone for people who live anywhere in Nova Scotia.