Anxiety: Revealing the Truth
Think of the last time you were asked to do something that sent your body and mind into a state of panic. It could be when you were asked to do a presentation or meet a potential client. Maybe you were competing in THE sporting event of your calendar. Or perhaps it was as simple as walking into a room full of people.
Did you acknowledge the feeling? Did you share your nerves with others? Or did you hide behind your mask of competence? I am working with more and more people experiencing anxiety, whether that stems from a fear of not being good enough and living up to others’ expectations, also known as Imposter Syndrome, generalised anxiety or worry brought on by specific events.
Feeling anxious is a normal, short-lived emotion that we all experience at times. But our response to these feelings is critical in terms of our future experience. What we do in that moment of self-doubt or panic can entirely shape our capacity to cope and manage the challenge next time.
How Are We Anxious?
Anxiety has its roots in fear. When the fight, flight or freeze symptoms associated with feeling nervous persist, we can feel an ongoing nagging sense of anxiety, irritability, anger, loss of confidence, concentration problems, trouble sleeping and eating, headaches and other physical symptoms. Reflect on how this can impact on our ability to function day-to-day and the fact that anxiety, along with depression, is the most prevalent mental health disorder experienced. We need to acknowledge its presence among our friends, family and colleagues and start taking it seriously.
Anxiety is characterised by increased vigilance and sensitivity to perceived threat. Negative thoughts such as ‘something bad will happen’ or ‘I won’t be able to cope’ feed feelings of fear such as racing heart and butterflies, and these trigger unhelpful behaviours such as avoidance, disruption and escape. This cycle becomes self-perpetuating, the unconstructive behaviours feeding the anxiety and reinforcing its existence. Add to that ‘safety’ behaviours such as eating, drinking, smoking, medication and the impact soon adds up.
Some people are more prone to worry or anxiety than others. Trait anxiety is associated with high sensitivity to or production of fear hormones (adrenalin, cortisol), low sensitivity to or production of pleasure hormones (endorphins, serotonin) and possible family history of anxiety. Others of us experience anxiety related to specific events, places or conditions, for example, illness, disability, family problems, work worries and social issues.
Regardless of why, we know that when anxiety becomes excessive and causes significant distress, resulting in fear or apprehension that is out of proportion to a situation or developmental stage, and it impairs the ability to function, it can feel debilitating.
Whether anxiety is low level/ sporadic or having a more significant impact on your life, the strategies outlined on my blog will help.
When If you experience or notice signs of anxiety in others, here are some strategies that can help. Remember that everyone is different and so it’s about trying different approaches to find which works best.
- Check for underlying reasons that can be addressed. Have the conversation! Normalise talking about feelings and supporting each other.
- Look for and celebrate positives and strengths that the individual shows, particularly where they have been confident/ successful in other similar situations.
- Ensure your environment/ leadership is creates psychological safety that minimises anxiety, while enabling individuals to experience ‘adversity’ safely and successfully.
- Explore the worst-case scenario and then consider how likely this is and how bad it would be in reality.
- Practice simple relaxation techniques, such as 7/11 breathing (the out-breath extending for longer than the breath in, to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system), visualisation of calm, confidence and success
- Mindfulness in the simplest form: focusing your attention on the here and now to stop your imagination running on over-drive thinking about the past and future. In a nutshell, use all your senses to ground you in the moment. Great for walking, in the shower, making a cup of tea, eating food… anything really!
- Distraction to refocus your mind away from catastrophising e.g. mental games (count backwards), environmental focus (read notices)
- Identity and challenge negative thinking. What’s the evidence? What are alternative perspectives? Model positive thinking. Reminder yourself that worrying is normal and can be appropriate.
- Describe what is happening, not what might happen.
- Be assertive! Say “STOP!” when you notice feeling tense.
- Plan ‘worry time’ when you give yourself permission to sit with the anxious feelings and give them attention. Outside of that, park them.
- Name/ see/ size the sensation of anxiety. Where is it in the body? Shift it. Acknowledge ‘I am not my anxiety – it is separate,’ as it helps individuals take control.
- Measure the anxiety on a dial and turn it down. Or, put the worry thoughts in the basket of a hot air balloon and watch it get smaller as it glides away. Or undo a zip in your tummy and let the butterflies escape. Or imagine breathing out bubbles that contain negative thoughts and pop them with your finger. The list is endless!
And finally, remember to be A.W.A.R.E…
A – accept the anxiety – don’t fight it. Say “Hello!”
W – watch the anxiety. Be detached. Rate it from 1-10. You are not your anxiety!
A – Act normally. Continue to do what you intended. 7/11 breathing
R – repeat the steps until it reduces to a comfortable level
E – Expect the best. What you focus on is what you get
As with everything mental health, talk, be open and honest. Notice changes in others’ behaviour. Tune into what is going on inside your body and mind. And take positive action.
For more information, get in touch!