Is my anxiety becoming a big deal?
Jessie Hull | Boerne

Is my anxiety becoming a big deal?

The struggle is real

As a mental health professional, I am confident that almost all of us experience anxiety. Someone recently asked me what I do for a living, and when I replied that I was a therapist and work with people who experience anxiety, they responded with, “Oh you’ve got great job security. We’re all anxious.” I agreed, but it’s also true that we deal with anxiety to different extents and in a myriad of ways. 

If you’re reading this, you might be wondering if you’re struggling with an abnormal amount of anxiety. Of course, there is plenty to worry about in life (meeting that deadline, awaiting those test results, watching the news) but maybe you’re asking yourself if you’ve crossed the threshold from everyday anxiety akin to minor stress, to all-consuming anxiety that’s become much harder to manage. 

Signs of anxiety

A helpful question to ask at this point is this: is the anxiety you're experiencing proportional or disproportional to the situation at hand?

Let’s take the deadline example for instance. It’s Wednesday, and that thing you’ve got to finish is due Friday at five. Does your anxiety cause a little stress? Does it linger in the back of your mind, and eventually motivate you to get to work? Does talking it out with a co-worker give relief? 

Or…does it send you spiraling? Do you start to question your abilities, your value, or your worth? Do you experience the anxiety physically (racing heart, loss of sleep, trouble focusing, tense muscles, tearful spells) or even have a panic attack? These are two very different responses, and the latter might signal that you have in fact, crossed the threshold. 

That said, you’re not alone, and you’re not weird. Crossing the threshold is not the beginning of the end. But what can you do to steady your responses to the anxiety provoking stimuli? Let’s focus on three things: your body, your emotions, and your logical reasoning. 

The body knows

If you’ve experienced the tell-tale signs of anxiety taking over your body, you know that it’s not an experience you can talk yourself out of. Telling yourself you’re capable of meeting that deadline will not necessarily slow your heart rate down or relieve your muscle tension. Why not? Your brain has perceived a threat, and is ramping up your nervous system in order to respond. Since our bodies don’t care to listen to logic, we need to communicate with them in a way that they do care about: we must talk to our bodies with our bodies.

How? Turn all of your attention toward your breath. If you can breathe deeply and with regularity, your body will start to recognize that it’s not actually under attack. Try this: breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, and breathe out for six seconds. Once you’ve done that three to four times, you should notice a bit of a change. Your brain and nervous system are calming down and getting back on the same page (we call this grounding). Now that they’re beginning to trust that you’re safe, they’re more interested in listening to what the emotional and logical parts of the brain have to say.  

No pretending

Next, take a moment to identify what’s actually driving the anxiety. Anxiety is a response to something deeper, so if it is to be managed, we must identify the source. Keep this part very simple, and ask yourself if underneath the anxiety you are feeling one of three emotions: fear, anger, or sadness. We typically have a negative association with one or more of these emotions, so we like to pretend that we don’t feel them. Doing so however, is one of the major leading causes of anxiety. 

That said, it’s critically important that we be honest with ourselves about what we’re feeling. If you’re scared about missing your deadline (even if you’re totally and completely capable of meeting it and have “no reason” to be scared) admit to yourself that you are in fact, afraid. Honesty and acceptance have the power to provide immense relief, and you might be surprised by how your anxiety retreats as a result.

Logic comes last

Finally, apply that logic. There’s a reason this one’s last. We need to prioritize our bodies and emotions because they are the foundational steps that allow our brains (our prefrontal cortexes) to think creatively and apply logical solutions to our circumstances. Now that you’ve given your body the time and space it needed to relax, you’ll start to see your brain shift gears toward what it wants to do next, i.e. meet that deadline.

Ride the currents

So there you have it! Understanding your anxiety and giving it the attention it deserves can make a world of difference. Remember to tune in to your body, acknowledge your emotions, and let logic flow in at the end. You're not alone even when the currents get strong, so try out these steps next time the waves hit you and move toward a calmer, more collected you. You've got this!

Jessie Hull | Boerne

Hi. My name is Jessie, and I like helping folks learn how to feel their feelings, improve decision making, and take some risks. I find that wisdom comes from the integration of logic and emotion, and that we only really change when we trust that we’re safe and we’re loved. It’s my joy to navigate that change with my clients, together.