We covered this topic in an episode of our Podcast, Talk Therapy To Me. If you prefer to listen rather than read, you can do that here:
We’re going to be starting a series on anxiety, and the ins and outs of it. It’s something that I think we’re all familiar with to some degree and I think there would be a great benefit of digging into it more. Just like with every mental health struggle, anxiety can show up and express itself differently in each individual.
Let’s break it down a bit. At its root, anxiety is feeling like you’re on edge, nervous, worried, or even fearful. Mentally, this can be exhausting because we’re constantly thinking about a multitude of events - basically a never ending list in your mind of things you need to do or focus on. Then, of course, we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, accompanying that list is the breakdown of different scenarios that could make a situation, activity, or relationship worse for us.
Thus, begins the spiral.
You may be wondering how you can recognize your anxiety before it becomes overwhelming. Something that I find really helpful is checking in with your body.
Remember when we talked about all the different parts that make us who we are? Emotional, mental, physical, etc.? They’re all connected. So, if we learn how to tune into those different areas, we’ll be able to understand ourselves on a deeper level.
Physically, anxiety can look like a number of more obvious things, like a rapid heart rate, breathing heavily and quickly, excessive sweating, or fatigue. Sometimes, if left unchecked, our body will respond to heavy stressors by absorbing them. This can lead to internal issues, like chest pain, heart palpitations, an upset stomach, muscle aches and soreness, headaches, and panic attacks.
It is definitely something to address if you feel like you are constantly experiencing one or more of these symptoms. Ask yourself these questions:
What’s going on for you?
Have you had a recent life change?
Are you taking on too much responsibility and don't have enough time to recuperate?
It’s important to check in with ourselves and adjust our priorities, in order to help ourselves heal and grow.
It's important to keep in mind that we all have our own individual limits. Sometimes when you reach yours, your body will say “No thanks, I need a break from this.” That can lead to depression as the two are very well-connected. Perhaps you notice you feel depressed after feeling anxious for a number of days. This feeling can result from your mind and body struggling to maintain that high level of energy and anxiety over a lengthy amount of time. At some point, you’re going to be tired.
Unchecked anxiety can also lead to your mind and body becoming accustomed to that stress and anxious energy. This is typically defined as “high-functioning anxiety”, where you have pushed aside these feelings and dealt with them how you see fit - and it still affects you. Long-term anxiety and panic attacks cause your brain to release stress hormones on a regular basis. This can increase the frequency of symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and depression.
When you feel anxious and stressed, your brain floods your nervous system with hormones and chemicals designed to help you respond to a threat. Adrenaline and cortisol are two examples. While helpful for the occasional high-stress event, long-term it can place you in a continuous fight or flight response.
Long-term anxiety also results in a state of constant alertness. Your body never receives the signal about returning to a normal state, which can ultimately weaken your immune system and ability to respond appropriately to situations.
There are many ways to help soothe our anxious nerves and bring us back into a state of calm. For specific exercises, I would encourage you to check out Shayla Brown, a fellow therapist, who has videos on our Youtube page. She walks through mindfulness exercises, bilateral breathing and grounding exercises, and even her morning routine.
So, while pondering what anxiety looks like for you, check out our Youtube channel. Next time, we’re going to have Shayla to go more in-depth with anxiety and what that looks like for certain populations - and even more ways to check on it for yourself!
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