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.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Anxiety

Welcome to our blog on Anxiety.  There is so much we want to share with you on this topic. 

Anxiety is often experienced as a powerful reaction. Our hearts race, we sweat, we flush and our breathing quickens. We also start to think and feel negatively about our selves, others and the world around us.

Anxiety touches our lives in many ways – it affects our ability to think clearly, it makes us want to avoid people or situations, and important relationships can be seriously affected. When anxiety gets the better of us, it can become difficult to function at home, work or school.

Today’s blog is  the first in a series of three blogs on anxiety. Through these blogs we’ll be sharing with you how anxiety can be a healthy or unhealthy factor in your life. In our two next blogs we’ll discuss the impact of anxiety — on your self, your partner, your children, and those you interact with everyday at work. Following this, we’ll be sharing some scientific-based simple solutions. Stay tuned. You don’t have to live with anxiety forever!

For now, we’re so glad that you’ve joined us for our initial blog. We’re hoping that what you’ll read here today will help you make sense of this powerful experience.

The first thing we’d like for you to consider is that anxiety can be healthy! Research in psychology and neuroscience has uncovered anxiety’s vital role in survival. It’s a signal that tells us that we might be in danger — it also helps us to start protecting ourselves against whatever is threatening to us. A powerful fight-flight-freeze reaction – an important evolutionary response originating from our ‘old’ brain (i.e., the brain stem and amygdala) – occurs and prepares us to take action — this response is largely automatic, extremely fast and happens outside of our awareness. When this system is turned on, we experience fear and anticipate and look for negative things that might endanger us.  Anxiety prepares us to survive — to fight, flee or freeze to escape the danger. This response would have helped our earliest ancestors to flee from a sabre tooth tiger to ensure their survival!

These signals are, therefore, adaptive because they promote survival — they help us take protective action in moments of danger. With the development of the ‘new’ brain (i.e., the frontal cortex), we developed the ability to think and assess whether a situation is really dangerous. For example, our ‘old brain’ may be sending us a strong signal about an impending threat at work. Our mind might be screaming for us to run away from the situation — but first we must evaluate the reality of the threat. This process is really important because we don’t want to overreact but we also don’t want to ignore our anxiety. It is an important source of information. Even when the threat is real, we have to assess the situation and plan action that addresses the threat in an appropriate way. For many people, learning how to assess and deal with this can be challenging.

Anxiety can be unhealthy then — and become a problem for you — especially, when your ability to assess the situation is compromised. People who have experienced stressful events, may be particularly prone to these types of difficulties. Stress can cause this system to be overly active — the switch is always turned “on” even when not needed — in these cases, it becomes difficult for a person to calm him or her self down, and objectively assess the reality of the threatening situation.

When we’ve faced a lot of threat and danger in our lives, we tend to anticipate the possibility of it happening again — we may over-interpret the world as a dangerous place.

Anxiety signals to us that there is threat and danger — when this signal is constantly on, your capacity to think, reflect, and assess the perceived threat and to make appropriate decisions is impaired.

The good news is that scientifically supported treatments have been developed to help those who struggle with anxiety, which we implement in psychotherapeutic treatment. For example, you can learn how to notice physical cues that can alert you that anxiety is coming! This allows you to “catch” important moments and engage in coping behaviors to deal with strong sensations, and negative thoughts and feelings. Essentially we can learn how to calm our selves and manage these experiences in more effective ways. There is a lot to learn about anxiety and we want to share so much more with you so that you can begin to master this powerful force.

You won’t want to miss our next blog where we’ll share important information about how anxiety affects your relationship to your self, others and your workplace — we’ll also provide you with tips on how to deal with anxiety at home. We’ll look forward to connecting to you again in our upcoming blogs!

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

THE CBT CLINIC and CPRI (Centre pour les Relations Interpersonelles – services in French) Grand Opening is January 2023!