We all experience stress and anxiety sometimes. It’s part of being human. Other times, anxiety can morph into something so big that it makes it hard to keep it together on a daily basis.
You are exhausted from constantly worrying. You experience unexplained aches and pains, tightness in the chest, and racing thoughts. You have another tab open where you’ve recently typed the words “is this anxiety or a heart attack?” into your Google search. Panic attacks may have led you to question if you can even trust your own mind and body anymore.
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to feel anxious forever.
Just because you have felt this way as long as you can remember, does not mean you have to keep feeling this way. Healing from anxiety and panic attacks is within reach, and I can help you get there.
Where did my anxiety come from in the first place?
There are a few common factors across people who experience high anxiety. Some people are born with a genetic predisposition to experiencing higher levels of anxiety. Growing up, you may have also seen your parents worry a lot, and you learned that this was how to prevent bad things from happening and maintain a sense of control. You could have also experienced painful events in life that led you to feel chronically anxious, fearful, and even panicked.
Regardless of what is causing your anxiety, people who have anxiety feel tightly wound, tense, and are constantly worrying. You toss and turn at night with thoughts about all of the bad things that could happen tomorrow, a week from now, and ten years from now. It’s like a bad movie that keeps playing in your mind. Feeling this way can make life really hard.
You appear to be just like your peers or coworkers on the outside; but on the inside, you’re suffering. Anxiety is a silent battle that can be overwhelming and isolating, and you don’t have to keep going through it alone.
How can therapy help me feel better?
Treatment for anxiety involves mental health, physical health, and daily habits.
Let’s start by taking a look at what keeps you up at night. First, we get to know your worry thoughts better and understand what’s going on in your mind. You have some thoughts running in the background everyday that shape your experience- thoughts that you are not even fully aware of. People usually don’t realize the impact these thoughts are having until they have the chance to pause and explore in therapy. We often end up taking a trip back into time to childhood, early relationships, and formative experiences in your evolutionary years that may have contributed to the development of anxiety.
Once you’ve acquired some insight and understanding about what’s going on in your mind and where the seeds for your anxiety were first planted, we can start to implement some specific strategies and coping skills that help reduce the tendency to worry -the fancy term for this is COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY or CBT.
CBT helps you take control of your thoughts, rather than feeling imprisoned by them.
Through an intentional examination of your default thought patterns and perceptions about the world around you, you can have a profoundly positive impact on your emotions and behaviors. CBT empowers you to change your life by challenging limiting or negative beliefs about yourself and the world and to foster a sense of control over your life again.
Another integral part of healing from anxiety involves practicing MINDFULNESS, or being present for what’s right in front of you, rather than living in the past or future. All you have to do is pick up a magazine and you’ll probably find an article about mindfulness and how it can improve all aspects of your life. A regular mindfulness practice is proven to reduce stress, increase positive emotions, improve focus, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
*Disclaimer on mindfulness: You may have already tried mindfulness before. You saw someone on Instagram sitting on a meditation pillow and thought, “if I could just be more Zen like them, my life would be better.” So you sat down with a free trial of a meditation app and tried a few meditations out.
Then something terrible happened. Your mind wouldn’t stop thinking! You found yourself feeling sad about something that happened yesterday. You felt physically uncomfortable. You were completely frustrated for failing at the end of that ten minutes and convinced yourself that you did it wrong. You deleted the app and decided mindfulness is not for you.
There’s actually nothing wrong with what happened during that ten minutes – you actually did things exactly right, but pop culture trends about mindfulness may have set you up for unrealistic expectations of what was “supposed” to happen.
The goal of mindfulness is not to force ourselves into a state of calm (although this is an added bonus that happens organically with repeated practice).
Mindfulness is actually about learning to observe all of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise in our minds and bodies exactly as they are, with compassion, patience, and nonreactivity.
At the core, mindfulness and meditation are about being able to ground ourselves into reality – instead of trying to escape it. We learn to look at our lives, our thought patterns, our pains, and our joys dead in the eye – without running away.
Through this process of being right here in the present moment, we learn to increase our tolerance for a full range of emotions without reactivity and fear. If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, you know reactivity and fear all too well. Mindfulness is a key part of learning to face our anxiety with courage, rather than further avoidance of root problems that are causing us pain.
When we learn to live right in our bodies instead of in yesterday or tomorrow, anchored by controlled breathing, we can find our way back home to a sense of safety within ourselves. When we feel safe within ourselves and learn to accept all aspects of the ups and downs of life, we feel less anxious and more in control of our lives.
Physical Health & Daily Habits
We are living in an exciting time where we are learning a ton about how the mind and body are connected, and how focusing on how physical health can impact mental health. What you eat, how much sleep you get, how much you exercise, how much water you drink, how much time you spend on a screen, and how much time you rest- ALL of these things play into how your anxiety manifests.
Modern medicine once considered the mind and body as two separate entities. If you were struggling with your mental health, you went to talk therapy and the buck stopped there. Research has evolved and we now know that the mind and body are inextricably tied.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are very real and occurring at a cellular level in the body. When feeling anxious, our breath becomes shallow and rapid, blood rushes to the extremities as we prepare for flight or fight (which can lead to dizziness and tingling in the hands), our pupils dilate, and we start to sweat. A brigade of stress hormones rushes through our bodies.
If we are chronically anxious and stressed, these stress hormones are constantly bombarding our nervous system. This overloaded stress response lead to other physical health problems, such as insomnia, physical tension, headaches, and more.
Therapy helps us work out the “why” of anxiety. Where did my anxiety come from? What keeps it going? We can learn to logically understand these things.
Careful consideration of our physical health and learning intentional strategies to support anxiety reduction allows us to feel this healing in our bodies. This is especially relevant if you suffer from panic attacks.
There are many holistic strategies to improve mental health: nutrition, being in nature, yoga, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, float therapy, etc. You name it, I’ve probably tried it! While I am not an expert in all of these disciplines, part of my job is to connect you to other professionals who can help support all aspects of your health. What helps your mind and body feel better will be unique from what helps someone else, so learning about how to best take care of yourself is an individualized experience. We can also spend time making a plan for organizing your daily habits to best support your mental health.
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