My Working M.O. For Chronic Anxiety

Through my work over the years, I’ve come into contact with many, many people whose lives have been impacted greatly by anxiety and depression. Luckily for me (I guess??!!) I have always understood where these clients and friends of mine were coming from as I have my own personal understanding of what it’s like to live in an anxious mind that can take you down a road of depression. I also have practiced and figured out tactics, strategies, and interventions over the years that have worked for me to be able to shed the anxious mind (most of the time).

Anxiety symptoms can include: dizziness, numbness and tingling, chest pain, headaches, neck tension, upset stomach, pulsing in the ear, burning skin, nausea, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, shaking, repetitive coughing, twitching or “tics”, shooting pains in the face, heart palpitations, sugar or carbohydrate cravings, weakness in legs, chronic pain and an inability to rest. And that just a short list of how physical symptoms can manifest from anxiety.

Anxiety symptoms also include a feelings and thoughts of impending doom, endless worries about anything and everything, overthinking every situation and occurrence, catastrophizing every situation and interaction, ruminating thought patterns (worries and patterns of thoughts that won’t stop and just loop over and over in the mind), feeling unworthy, and feeling shame.

In my professional and personal experience I find that anxiety unchecked almost always leads to times of full-blown depression for most people. That is how anxiety and depression get linked. It is also why figuring out how to manage our anxiety as soon as we recognize the symptoms is so imperative.

My close friends know I love aging. I love the process of getting older and I always have. I’m not trying to rush out of here or anything…. its just that the older I get, the less I experience anxiety symptoms. That’s probably due to the years, days, months, and minutes of practicing mindfulness, working on coping skills for stress, and figuring out how to become aware of my brain’s need to send worries into the forefront of my mind over and over and over..... and then learning how not to believe the thoughts....and then practicing how to let the thoughts just “be”.....and then figuring out how to relax into more helpful thoughts.

Ruminating thoughts of not being good enough? I recognize them, visualize them floating by, and replace with thoughts of self-worth. Ruminating thoughts that the person I love the most might die? I recognize the thought, thank my amygdala for trying to prepare me (even though it’s unnecessary) and focus on my more helpful thought, “everyone is safe right now in this moment.” 

It’s not about positive thinking. I believe the positive thinking concept is too simplistic and doesn't work for someone with anxiety….we just “over-think it and know its BS anyway”. It’s about what can I control and what can’t I control and how to put my attention on more helpful thoughts rather than putting my attention on the repetitive worries my brain continues to spit out. 

Our brains are magnificent and one of the greatest things I learned about the brain is that it will go where we choose to put our attention. We often think our brain runs the show. And it does. Until we step in and train it for how we want the show run. Through practice, effort, and patience, we can control our brain, our narrative (our story), our life.

A big moment for me in being able to ditch a lot of my anxiety was when I started embracing it in my mind. Paradoxical, you think? Not really. Telling my brain, “Thank you for trying to protect me” (after all…an anxious brain is just a hyper-protective brain trying to keep us safe and prepare us for anything and everything), creates a whole different cascade of thinking patterns and feelings and actions than thinking, “Brain, I hate you! Why do you keep torturing me with terrible thoughts that are wrecking my life??!!” See how that works? Being grateful for anxiety and thanking it goes a long way to taking away it’s perceived power over me. My brain is not in charge. I am.

The repetitive worry-thoughts are often still there in the background of my brain buzzing around, but as I age and practice my thought-strategies, it’s a low to mid-low hum back there most of the time. This leaves lots of room and energy in my mind to create the narrative of the life I want. A life filled not with worries and ruminating thoughts, but full of life, love, peace, meaning and purpose.

Other strategies to help with anxiety:

Mindfulness/meditation techniques and/or spiritual practice

Eating whole, healthy foods that include enough protein, carbs and fats for your individual needs

Regular exercise

Sleep hygiene

Relaxation techniques

Showing kindness/helping others/altruism

Asking for help and getting support from family and friends

Therapy (I hesitated including this one as I’m a therapist and it seems weird to then recommend a therapist but the truth is, if you can find a good one that you click with, it really can help alleviate the anxiety and get you on track to learning about more strategies that work and how to implement them into your life).