Anxiety and You

by Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic

Welcome to our second blog on anxiety. Today we’re going to talk about how anxiety affects your relationship to yourself.

We all experience anxiety at different times in our lives — sometimes more than others. When anxiety gets the better of us — or when our brain’s fight-flight-freeze response kicks in — it’s hard to slow down our mind and our thoughts, feelings and body can become very uncomfortable!

You’ll recall from our first blog, when anxiety is unhealthy it becomes tough to accurately assess threat or danger — when you can’t calm down enough, it’s difficult to reflect on your experiences in a healthy and adaptive way — and if the threat is real, feeling anxious can make it hard to plan how to deal with danger. It’s as though our mind becomes a rollercoaster with no brakes to slow things down — the rollercoaster feels out of control and going in one direction — and we can’t change direction easily. When this kind of anxiety kicks in, our relationship to our self becomes challenging. 

So today, we’re going to share with you some important information about how anxiety affects your relationship to yourself — we’re referring to how you think and feel about your self — body and mind. When the fight-flight-freeze response is in overdrive it affects how we think, feel and behave. We’re also going to offer you some practical tips to deal with anxiety — we hope to show you how psychology can help you slow down your mental motor. 

Anxiety causes us to get stuck on fearful, recurring negative and critical thoughts (e.g., overthinking about the past, excessive self-criticism and worry). You may become scared of what you’re feeling (e.g., intense anger, loneliness). Sometimes anxiety can cause us to become overly self-conscious about expressing ourselves or dreading certain sensations (e.g., pounding heart, sweating, flushing, muscle tension).  When this happens our mind and body tells us we aren’t safe! And we get stuck in a negative feedback loop — our negative, fearful recurring thoughts create more fearful sensations in our bodies, and our sensations indicate danger. This cycle continues to fuel our worry and negative thinking — this is the cycle of anxiety! When your mind and body are in overdrive like this and running on fear, you can’t stop this negative feedback loop — the capacity to reflect and respond appropriately to the threat becomes compromised. It’s as though, you can’t dislodge from the thoughts and sensations that crowd your mind.  There’s no inner peace, relaxation or safety. You become uncertain, self-doubting, and feel unease.

Eventually, anxiety can start to drive your entire world — it’s persistent! When you can’t slow down your motor — it’s hard to sit alone with yourself with all that bodily tension — you’ll have to do a lot of things to calm yourself down eventually. You try to discharge the tension (e.g., distract, exercise, run), you avoid people, places, and/or situations, you lose focus and get distracted, you do repetitive things to calm yourself, you get aggressive with others who you perceive as threatening, you don’t show up to work, school, and even go outdoors to keep yourself safe! Maybe you over or under eat, over or under work, procrastinate, drink alcohol too much, have too much sex or risky sex, use illegal substances — these behaviours are in response to too much anxiety related tension!  Or maybe you think about things you’ve said or done, mistakes you’ve made during the day, over and over again — trying to think about whether what you’ve done or said during the day will bring about bad things for you. Either way, it’s hard to feel good and confident about yourself when your world becomes more and more confined, and you feel like you’re losing control. 

The good news is that psychology can work for you by providing you with strategies to deal with your anxiety! Here are some tips to lower the physiological response of anxiety!

Slow down your motor! 

It’s important to deal with all the fear and stress-based negative arousal going on in your body. Learning how to do this gives you a sense of mastery over your own self and body. Here is a site to help you learn to breathe and relax so your muscle tension is not so overwhelming.

Observe and let go of distressing thoughts and feelings! 

Learning how to observe and let go of negative thoughts and feelings also helps reduce distress. It is important that we learn how to stay in the present — not let the anxious brain get the better of us; by staying focused in the present (i.e., learning how to stay with our breath, and observe our thoughts, with some sense of detachment and focus on the present so we don’t jump too fast in anticipating bad things happening). Visit this site to learn how to be mindful, more present and aware, and let go of distressing thoughts.

Explore the ‘truthfulness’ of the negative and fearful thoughts!  

Ask yourself, how real is the danger I am anticipating? What evidence do I have that my fears will actually transpire? Is there any possibility that my fears won’t transpire? 

Mental health professionals at CFIR administer scientifically based treatments in the area of anxiety, and can offer you many more strategies to deal with your anxiety. We also can help you to address the underlying emotions, and patterns that are at the root of your anxiety.  Typically, it’s more difficult to get to these underlying emotions, needs and patterns — at the root of your anxious thoughts — on your own.

Read more about our Anxiety, Stress & Obsessive-Compulsive Treatment Service.