The relationship that the majority of the population has with their anxiety is definitely not a very good one. It is often toxic, fractured and built up on a foundation of fear.
I can already hear you ask, “Why would I have a good relationship with my anxiety??” or “Why do I even NEED a good relationship with my anxiety??”.
I hear you! When it comes to anxiety, or even your feelings and emotions, the more you resist them, the more they then persist. This is often due to a fear that comes along based around the unknown and unfamiliar territory that comes with anxiety. People fear being ‘caught up’ in those feelings and emotions, not being able to ‘get out’, not being able to handle them and the discomfort that naturally comes along with them. The reality is, that we feel discomfort around our feelings and emotions when we are not familiar with them and when we DON’T have a good relationship with them.
I absolutely love this topic! Because, believe it or not, anxiety plays an important role in our life (we might just not want it to play the LEADING role!).
Understanding anxiety on a deeper level, making peace with it, understanding the symptoms, what they are doing in our body, why they are showing up, having a real in depth understanding of our thoughts and the role WE can play in all of this IS a HUGE factor in changing that relationship with anxiety. As a result of this, the overall fear lessens, and your anxiety becomes less intense and less frequent (because knowledge is power).
Today, I will be answering some common questions in regards to this and sharing some strategies you can use to manage and repair a much-needed relationship with your anxiety.
1. How do I figure out what exactly triggers my anxiety?
Anxiety is very much like peeling an onion. It has so many layers to it, that each time you peel back a layer you learn and discover something new.
Anxiety triggers are a big part of understanding your anxiety, although sometimes it’s not necessarily the direct triggers themselves that impact the anxiety, but rather the layers in between. Take note of your anxiety, when it’s at its highest (morning or night), whether it increases around certain people or places, or maybe after eating or drinking certain things. Take note of these changes, write them down, including any physical or emotional changes in your body. It may not make sense at the time, but it’s a great way to become more familiar with any themes that might present themselves and have a better understanding of the way it all works for you.
Working with a professional is also advisable because by no means do you need to do this on your own. For a large amount of the population, there are no direct significant triggers, hence why it can become frustrating to try and figure it out.
2. How do I reach a place of acceptance in regards to my anxiety?
This is a big one! Accepting the fact that you are experiencing anxiety takes away a lot of guilt, resentment, fear and frustration. In your mind, accepting anxiety only makes it feel more REAL, your thoughts tell you that “there is something wrong with you” that “you are weak” and that “you are powerless”. In order to get to a place of acceptance, you must first look at anxiety through the eyes of awareness.
Try taking a different approach and asking yourself some questions instead. What is my body trying to tell me? What do I need right now in this moment? What emotions am I feeling? What physical symptoms am I feeling? Ask yourself these questions without any judgement.
Get to know what is actually going on because acknowledgment is HUGE when it comes to your feelings and emotions. There is this part of you that has been longing for and eagerly waiting for some acknowledgment for what you’re going through. Kindness with yourself through this process will go a long way here!
3. Will I ever be capable of completely eliminating my anxiety?
Having anxiety is an absolute NORMAL part of each and every one of our lives. You may feel it when you go to a job interview, anticipate results or step foot into the dentist! It can be normal to experience anxiety during life changing events, adversities, times of stress, etc… BUT when the anxiety carries on, impacts you daily, feels intense and unmanageable and does not pass when the anxiety inducing event has passed, then it’s time to reach out and get help.
As an anxiety coach my goal is to change your relationship with anxiety, so that you have the tools to manage it and it’s triggers. Unfortunately, during times of anxiety, our bodies can start to fire off that fight or flight response even during the times that it may not quite need such an intense response. For example, if you are being chased by a bear, you would expect to feel that way, but you don’t want to be feeling the same way when you are standing with a group of people. So, you really want your goal to be all about managing your anxiety, so that it occurs at the right times rather than completely eliminating it. It is there to protect you and guide you in times of perceived danger.
4. Did I cause my anxiety?
The cause of anxiety can be due to a number of factors. Those factors differ from person to person, but at no time do you ever need to blame yourself for experiencing anxiety. Anxiety is a response to a situation, person or event. It can sometimes just be a response to a build-up of stress and intense emotions over time. It’s the way your body copes with stress and it’s definitely not the way that you have to feel forever. There are answers to the way you are feeling, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and you have the ability to turn things around and take back the control over your life. Even though anxiety presents itself to be the same across the board because the symptoms are so similar, it is in fact, so different for each and every person! This refers to the thought process, the physical symptoms, the response and the behaviours that present themselves as a result of your anxiety.
I believe there are a number of contributing factors when it comes to each individual’s anxiety, hence why there are several elements to consider when working with each person. I definitely encourage people to be open minded during their treatment or when exploring options and tools to incorporate into their lives. Try to give everything a go because through this you will discover what works best for you!
5. What are some strategies I can use to overcome or reduce my anxiety?
Wow there are SO many to discuss here! I will share a couple of my favourites, because they are essentials and definitely important building blocks when working with anxiety.
Never underestimate the power of the breath! When you feel panicked or anxious, you tend to either hold your breathe OR breathe too quickly. This sets the body’s panic responses into over drive. When you experience the fight or flight response, you need something to calm the body and the adrenaline running through it. As you know, your heart begins racing, your hands become sweaty and you may even feel light headed. Paying attention to your breath and doing some intentional breathing during this time will help the body calm down. When you are intentional with your breathing, you are sending messages to your body that you are, in fact, ok and that there isn’t any perceived danger around you (which is what the body thinks), that you ARE getting enough air through your lungs, that this too shall pass. A great little breathing exercise to start with is just closing your eyes (if you are in a safe place to do so) with 1 hand on your heart and 1 hand on your abdomen and take a deep breath in to the count of 4, hold that breath, and breathe out to the count of 5.
Understand your thoughts
Your anxious thoughts are constantly chatting and communicating with you, every day.
Talking to you about what you can and cannot do, what you are capable of, cautions you might need to take and the what if’s and could have’s. Its important that you know that you don’t have to accept every thought that pops up in your mind, that you ARE allowed to answer them back. The more aware you are of the anxious thoughts, the less ‘power’ they will hold over YOU, your mood and emotions. Essentially, what you don’t want to do is push those thoughts and feelings away, regardless of how comfortable they might make you feel.
When you are aware of them coming up, identify them, label them and then choose to either answer them back with something like “thanks but I am not interested”, use an affirmation to anchor and ground you, or process the feeling by asking yourself a question such as, “What is my body trying to tell me?” “What do I need in this moment?”.
We may not have any control over what thoughts pop in to our mind, but what we do have control over, is the way we react to those thoughts and what we do with them. That’s what matters most! Just remember, that as far as your anxiety is concerned any attention is good attention.
Fuel your body
Our diet plays a bigger role than most people give it credit for! What we put in our bodies plays a huge role when it comes to our mood, feelings and emotions.
Apart from the significant link between our gut health and brain health (which I will discuss soon) there are also certain foods and drinks you might want to steer clear of, or cut down, as they tend to be triggers for many people. Things like coffee, energy drinks and alcohol are all linked to an increase in anxiety symptoms for a large number of the population. It is recommended to take note of how you feel after drinking coffee, for example, and how your body responds. For those of you who find they are more sensitive to it, try replacing it with decaf, a caffeine free tea such as camomile, peppermint, rooibos or even one of my fav combos reishi-camomile-honey tea, which is fantastic for sleep! Energy drinks are also usually high in caffeine and sugars, and get the heart rate going, disturb your sleep and increase your anxiety levels.
As far as your diet is concerned, you want to aim to include a wide variety of fresh whole foods and focus on cutting back on the refined sugars. Eating regularly and avoid skipping meals where possible is another important factor, even if that means replacing breakfast with a smoothie and adding some oats to keep you going for longer. I find prepping healthy nutritious snacks in advance and having them on hand is always great when I am busy or on the go.
Ok let’s talk about the gut! Did you know that it communicates with our brain on a regular basis and is responsible for approx. 70-80% of our serotonin?? (Serotonin is the feel-good hormone and we all want lots of it!). You want to make sure you are feeding the good bacteria in your gut with a good probiotic and fermented foods such as kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi to keep it healthy. Aim to reduce everyday stressors by practicing things like meditation, mindfulness and amp up the self-care. Our stress levels really disturb the flora in our gut, so ensuring we are keeping those levels down as much as possible, is very beneficial to your overall gut health. The gut is not only responsible for our digestion, it plays a role in our sleep, mood, emotions, immune system, hormones and balancing our blood sugar levels!
6. How can I protect my kids from taking on my anxiety?
This is such a great question! Probably one I get asked regularly because I know that as a parent all you want to do is protect your children.
Personally, I feel it’s important for kids to become familiar with a range of feelings and emotions, learn how to identify them and most importantly learn tools and strategies on how to cope and manage them. This is often learnt by example.
If you are experiencing some anxiety or just having a bad day and the kids pick up on it, just let them know that you are feeling a little anxious today and invite them to join you in a guided meditation practice, a relaxation breathing exercise or writing down what you are feeling and thinking. Explain to them that this is what you find helpful during this time. As a parent, it is ok to feel overwhelmed at times (because don’t we all!), just familiarise yourself with the right support networks and tools that you find helpful to manage those moments. I like to include my son in activities that help us practice mindfulness together, such as colouring in or doing crafts (which he loves!). Be sure to ask them questions like “what does that feather feel like?” “what colour is that pencil?” “can you hear the sound that the pebbles make?”. These practices involve their senses and encourage them to focus and be present in what they are doing.
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos”. -L.R. Knost
For more tips on managing your anxiety, download Amanda’s “Top 10 Tips to Managing Your Stress andAnxiety”and read her previous guest blot post“How and why anxiety can affect you in motherhood”.
About Amanda Cavallaro