Easier Said Than Done: Managing Anxiety
Updated: Apr 3
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” - Captain Jack Sparrow
Anxiety is many things. Anxiety is worry that is in excess to a situation. Anxiety is thoughts that interfere with everyday functioning. Or the feeling of being ‘here,’ but wanting to be ‘there.’ Anxiety is restlessness, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, or difficulty concentrating. In the moment, it can feel like sweaty hands, racing heart, and thoughts of despair.
Anxiety affects about 40 million adults in the U.S. annually. Anxiety affects all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. A person may experience anxiety that persists for months, or even years. Anxiety can affect how we approach basic needs such as sleep, food, and exercise. Anxiety is often associated with depression, substance-related concerns, panic, physical health issues.
Anxiety causes the body to produce excess cortisol, an important steroid hormone that is used to respond to stress, however the extra cortisol can be harmful because the constant state of stress readiness negatively impacts the body and mind over time. A person living with chronic anxiety is at risk of encountering health issues such as headaches, indigestion, heart conditions, or a suppressed immune system. Extreme anxiety can affect our mental processing such as concentration, and memory.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), anxiety is anticipation of a future threat. In our modern world there are global pandemics, constant crisis news, economic/financial instability. With these ever present stressors, it becomes easier to worry about perceived threats and how they affect us and our loved ones.
So how do we deal with anxiety? Well, sometimes we fight anxiety, wrestling it mentally until we’re exhausted. Sometimes we lie down and cry for a while. Or maybe we eat a box of donuts, listen to really loud music, and try to run from our anxieties. Hey, everyone’s got their own coping mechanisms! But, what if there is a better way, even a way to overcome anxiety?
The first step is realizing when we feel anxious. For example, the same event can have wildly different emotions for different people. Why does one person feel anxious when the other does not? The CBT short answer: perception. Perception is based on many things including values, culture, experiences, and beliefs. Our perception in turn, affects our emotional state.
Imagine being able to focus on the present while gaining useful relaxation strategies unique to you. What about the thought - feeling - behavior relationship, can this give clarity to lowering the impacts of anxiety? What if you could live a more peaceful life? This is precisely what Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) aims to do.
The CBT process includes psychoeducation about anxiety and how it may present in the contexts of life, such as social anxiety. For instance, do you know which life events make you feel anxious? Do you take a specific thinking/behavioral approach to these challenges? Is it working?
Oftentimes, we fall into thinking and behavior patterns we do not even know we have. We may have developed these patterns early in life, or after a traumatic event. Once you can identify troublesome thoughts, ask: are they realistic thoughts? Are they productive? Helpful?
It’s important to pull up our thinking processes, examine the routes our thoughts take, and apply a restructuring effort. Otherwise we may risk the chance of remaining in an anxious loop. For example, do you believe your anxiety levels can change? Be reduced? Or even eliminated altogether?
Our behavior is equally as important as our thoughts. We also need to spend time assessing, does this behavior work effectively? Is there an alternative? A key component to managing behavior pertaining to anxiety is knowing what your values and beliefs are. Knowing what values are most prevalent to you can establish priorities and boundaries with yourself and others. For example, knowing that being in nature is a value to you may help when deciding between going for a hike or engaging in another activity.
A crucial component of CBT is taking the time to examine these values. Additionally, a neat way your behavior ties back to your thoughts is that it becomes harder to be worried all the time when you are living out your values. For example, one may worry about their health, but after eating a nutritious meal, exercising for an hour, and engaging in a soothing self-care activity, it becomes harder to have a thought like, “I’ll always be unhealthy.”
With anxiousness running amok, fed by the all too real external events symbolizing potential threats to our daily lives, we need answers that work. CBT teaches you that your perspective affects you, and if you change your thought/behavior patterns, you can change your life.
Author: Nicole Skeele, Licensed Clinical Social Worker If you feel like you can benefit from group therapy, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know which group you’d be interested in joining, or call (888) 588-8995 and a New Member Expert can help you sign up.