Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen
This past year has presented many situations and interactions that have allowed me to learn more about myself. As a result of the pandemic and personal life transitions that have occurred, I’ve gradually noticed how the anxiety I experience has fluctuated and changed. My anxious thoughts have affected the ways I interact with others and have caused me to worry about things I haven’t worried about before. I wasn’t sure if I could handle big changes or if I’d be able to get through whatever task I needed to do.
There is a part of me that has always thought of myself as a “worrier”. Over the years, I’d like to believe that I have grown a lot in taming that “worry voice” inside of my head but somehow it seemed as if the voice got louder as things kept changing. I started to notice that worry voice when I was mentally trying to prepare myself to meet with friends and go to social gatherings. I also noticed that worry voice speaking up when I was preparing for a huge licensure test. When I worry, my mind naturally goes to the worst case scenario, the type of scenarios that are unrealistic and have a low chance of happening. But when I worry, it seems so real. The thing about unrealistic worry though is that it typically overestimates the probability of threats and underestimates or overlooks a person’s ability to manage realistic demands. Personally, I saw how the worry and anxious thoughts were affecting my life and realized that something needed to change.
What is Anxiety?
So, what is anxiety? According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. Anxiety is a feeling of intense discomfort. Anxiety is an adaptive biological response that arises when we are facing dangerous situations. Experiencing some worry and anxiety is a natural and actually normal thing. Our bodies actually have a biological way of letting us know we’re getting anxious.
How Do I Know I’m Experiencing Anxiety?
Our bodies’ physical and emotional health are constantly interacting through a mind-body connection. The mind-body connection is the understanding that there is a link between the thoughts that we think, the attitudes that we have, and our physical health. Essentially, there’s a connection between our mental and physical health. When someone is experiencing mentally experiencing worry and anxiety, different symptoms physically may also show up. Some physical sensations of anxiety include a fast heart rate, chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, numbness, muscle tension, nausea, sweating and/or chills.
Everyone deals with anxiety and their emotions differently. Sometimes people tap their feet, start pacing, feel annoyed, start thinking about the situation non-stop, have trouble sleeping, bite their nails, or avoid altogether. Anxiety is usually linked with avoidance. For example, when I rewatch a movie, sometimes I fast forward through the parts that make me feel uncomfortable because I don’t like going through it again. Has there ever been a time where you avoided something because it made you anxious or fearful? The thing is, every time we avoid an anxiety-producing situation, the anxiety tends to get even worse the next time around. What do you tend to notice about yourself when you’re feeling anxious? It’s important that we recognize when anxiety comes. When you’re aware that anxiety is present, you have the opportunity and power to do something and alleviate it .
How Do I Talk about Anxiety?
Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In a previous blog, I discussed how fear is meant to inform us. Neurological studies have recognized networks in our limbic system that, when stimulated, produce fear. Experiencing fear and anxiety is a normal brain function. A certain amount of anxiety can actually be a good thing. It informs us that something doesn’t feel right about a situation or interaction or that something needs to be changed in order for us to feel safe again. In order for us to stop avoiding the things that make us anxious, we are encouraged to explore and talk about them! Of course, at whatever pace is manageable and makes you feel safe. We can start talking about anxiety by identifying what triggers (or sources of anxiety) the discomforting feelings. Once you identify thoughts begin to reflect on questions like: What are the situations when you feel most anxious? What do they think in a situation like that? What thoughts come up? How do you usually respond in these situations? How is it affecting your life? When we’re able to identify and familiarize ourselves with these things, the power of worry and anxiety may lessen and we can start to believe that we can handle the once anxiety inducing situations.
Starting the conversation to talk about anxiety can itself cause discomfort or worry. You don’t have to do it alone! If you’d like support in exploring anxiety and learning practical ways on how to regulate worry responses, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!