What Is Anxiety?

Having chronic anxiety is being scared all the time. It’s the constant fear of failure coupled with the debilitating fear of trying. It is wanting friends, but feeling overwhelmed about socializing. It’s wanting to be alone, yet being terrified of being lonely. It is feeling everything all at once while being paralyzed to create change.

My coworker, (who I fondly refer to as “my work sister”) was discussing her work with people who battle anxiety. I was curious to know her definition of anxiety. “You know – it’s when people feel the beginnings of fear and foreboding. For some, it wraps around their shoulders like a heavy blanket. For others, it’s tightness in the chest and struggle to catch their breath.” Upon hearing her definitions, my own breath caught as I began to realize what she was telling me. All I could think was, “WHAT!?? That feeling I have always had in my stomach that moves its way into my gut and settles in my heart is actually anxiety!?? Who knew!?”

Like any other mental health concern, anxiety exists on a continuum. On a good day, anxiety are the butterflies that flutter uncontrollably when we are about to have a job interview. On a bad day, anxiety overtakes our entire body and results in panic attacks. Most days, most people experience anxiety on the continuum, somewhere in between the extremes. As with other mental health concerns, anxiety occurs due to biological, psychological, sociological and spiritual concerns. The why of anxiety is of  little interest to the person experiencing it. Most of us who live with anxiety are more interested in how. How to stop it. How to control it. How to prevent it from taking control of us?

I don’t believe anxiety can be cured, but I do know it can be treated. The best outcomes I have experienced both personally and professionally have been a combination of therapies. If anxiety is the result of adverse childhood effects, post-traumatic stress disorder, or inability to regulate emotions stemming from a constant state of ‘fight, flight, or freeze’, a medical assessment from a physician is recommended. Therapeutically, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy combined with Mindfulness Training can be beneficial. For me, both therapies work somewhat like this…..

I sometimes feel, seemingly out of nowhere, a slight feeling of panic bubbling up from somewhere inside me. Once I recognize the feeling, I also become aware of how the panic intensifies and  is now above my belly-button and starting to settle in my gut. My chest begins to tighten and I know I had better do something before it completely takes. I need to think, “this is anxiety. It’s a feeling, but it doesn’t need to take over”. I need to do, “deep inhale through my nose. Full exhale out my mouth. Close my eyes and continue to breathe. Deep through the nose, full out the mouth. Wiggle my toes and press my feet into the floor”. Think, “I am right here, right now. I am safe. Do, “Close my eyes. Breathe. What do I hear? What do I feel?”. 

It has helped. I haven’t found a way to win the battle against anxiety but I have worked hard at finding ways to stop it from overtaking me. If you struggle with anxiety and are interested in learning about potential tools for your toolbox to manage, reach out. I’m here to help.

wiggle my toes
I am right here, right now
I am safe