Coping with and taming anxiety

Do you tend to find yourself "worried" and stuck in stressful thoughts? Do you find yourself avoiding situations that you wish you could attend out of the fear of being too uncomfortable? Does your worry and nervousness seem to occur with physical sensations such as chest pains, difficulty breathing, or a racing heart? If so, you may be experiencing anxiety.

Why do humans experience anxiety?
We're all wired for survival and the skills necessary to react to life-threatening situations. For example, if a tiger were chasing you, your body would provide you with stress hormones to allow you instinctive behaviors such as to run away or play dead. Unfortunately, in modern society, this old animal wiring of the brain isn't helpful when triggered during circumstances that are not life threatening. Becoming flooded with stress hormones when we are attempting to fulfill day to day responsibilities places enormous pressures on what would otherwise be a routine task. When these experiences of anxiety become a pattern, our mind and body endure unnecessary stress which can even manifest as chronic illness and stress-related disorders.  So while anxiety in small manageable doses can be motivating and helpful in accomplishing stressful tasks, in overwhelming amounts, it hinders us from pursuing the relationships, careers, interests, and sense of inner fulfillment we dream of.

What does anxiety looks like?
Anxiety presents differently for each person...for some it is the pervasiveness of thoughts, worry, anticipation of tomorrow and rumination of yesterday late into the night. For others, anxiety may arise in the body and feel "out of the blue". A racing heart, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and tightening of the chest are just a few common examples. These symptoms can be so frightening that such an experience can become a form of "panic", leading us to avoid these physical sensations at any cost. Unfortunately, this attempt to distance panic can have the opposite effect, and "panic attacks" can become a pattern. Several people describe their anxiety centering around social situations, fear of embarrassment, or social failure to the point that they are continuously guessing what others are thinking. (Interestingly, scientific studies have shown that those suffering social anxiety are prone to guessing far more critical and negative opinions of others than are actually occurring - but the voice of anxiety can be loud and convincing!) However anxiety manifests, it is most always a mentally and physically uncomfortable experience and unwelcome visitor.

The problem with avoidance
Frequently, this high level of discomfort leads us to finding ways of avoiding intense sensations and symptoms and we become increasingly isolated and less practiced at enduring our discomfort. Similar to an unexercised muscle, our skills for coping with anxiety "atrophy". Our world becomes increasingly small. Our brains, once skilled at keeping us safe, now detect danger signs where there is nothing, turning even positive experiences into a terrifying "close-call".

How do we reclaim our life from anxiety?
Fortunately, we don't have to be at the mercy of our brains- with practice and attention, the mental paths we routinely travel are highly re-wireable. We can learn ways of noticing our automatic thoughts, physical sensations, and beliefs -- challenging some of the out-dated survival oriented aspects of our brain that aren't serving us. We learn our own core beliefs and perceptions that produce anxiety and the origins of those so that we can prevent being blindsided and consider alternative possibilities. We become increasingly comfortable with tolerable discomfort once the illusion of danger is diminished and the metaphorical flashlight has shined under the bed. In time, we regain connections to all the aspects of our lives we lost through avoidance. Our world becomes larger. We are able to trust ourselves to handle shaky situations. We can pursue our dreams and take the pen back in our own story.

What would your life look like without anxiety? What is anxiety robbing you of? Take the first step in reclaiming your life from anxiety...call or message today to learn more and decide if working together might be a good fit!