This week I’m taking a look at anxiety. Which was already a go-to emotional state for a lot of us before the pandemic. And now it’s something that’s moved on in and made itself at home. I know that in addition to feeling anxious about the fate of the world and when we’ll be able to be together without fear of passing a potentially deadly disease on to our loved one, I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety about my kids’—and all kids’—mental health.
I feel like I can almost see my daughter’s anxiety coming into bloom, like a parallel growth spurt. I’ve got anxiety about her anxiety. And when something big and challenging is making itself known, I take that as a sign that there’s something it’s ready to be seen in a new way. And ultimately, to be healed.
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With that approach in mind, today’s big idea is that taking an objective look at anxiety
What it is, how common it is, and where it comes from—can help us start to shift how we think about it and what kind of effect it has on us.
Because when something feels as high-stakes and as interior as anxiety does, it’s really helpful to shine a light on it and observe it. Which helps you see it as something that is separate from you.
Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.” And that’s what we’re doing in this episode. Thinking about anxiety before we start talking about solutions to anxiety.
I mean, I’m in the solutions business, ha. I can’t help but spend way more episodes talking about ways to work with anxiety…
But for today, we’re just going to look at anxiety itself.
According to NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is a great resource for all things mental health, 20 percent of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder. Making it the most common mental health issue in the U.S. Calling it an anxiety disorder means it’s not just general anxiety or periods of feeling anxious. It refers to anxiety that is pervasive enough and long-lasting enough to have an impact on their daily lives. So if 20% of us have the disorder, you can just imagine how very many have a lower-grade version of anxiety. In 2020, it can almost feel like if you’re not feeling anxiety, you’re not paying attention.
If anxiety is getting in the way of you feeling like you can deal with your life, well, first of all, it’s OK not to be OK. You’re a human with a beating heart and you are feeling things intensely. What a perfectly natural and understandable response to be having to stressful times. My heart goes out to you. I also recommend visiting NAMI.org and searching for anxiety as a good first step.
I should point out that I’m not a trained mental health professional. And I don’t intend anything I cover in these podcasts on anxiety to take the place of a doctor or therapist’s advice. But I also believe that each one of us has an innate healing ability and that we have to be active participants in our own treatment. And I hope that this week’s episodes on anxiety (and probably some of next week’s, too, as there’s a lot we can cover!) will help you see anxiety differently and give you some tools and some ways of thinking that will help start to change your relationship to anxiety.
SO… let’s look at anxiety and where it comes from
I know that anxiety can seem like something that’s a result of how you’re wired. Not much to do about it other than learn how to manage. And it’s true that some folks are more prone to anxiety than others. And that is influenced by how you grew up, what the culture of dealing with stress was in your household, how safe you feel in the world, how much trauma has been a part of your life.
(There can also be some physiological contributing factors. Something I’ll talk more about next week in an episode on a couple of basic supplements that can help your mind and brain have the building blocks they need to function their best.)
Or maybe you’re in a season of your life or facing a set of circumstances that has an extra helping of uncertainty. And the anxiety you’re feeling is largely situational. I mean, hello, global pandemic, with all of its downstream effects on mental health, financial health, physical health. Anxiety is a pretty natural response to that, I’d say. And that’s on top of the numerous other things we already had to focus on.
There are also components of our go-to emotional states
And we all have them. That are habits. Maybe a propensity to worry has settled into a neural groove that’s easy to fall into even when the situation doesn’t warrant it. And habits are changeable. I’m not saying they’re EASILY changeable, or that it’s your fault for developing those habits in the first place. Not at all. But there is some level of plasticity in our habitual responses. And sometimes things that feel like nothing you can do anything about are habits in disguise (some other things that fall in to this category are overwhelm, confusion, and anger, just fyi). Anxiety is one of them.
So the takeaway when we look at anxiety is it happens for some very good reasons.
And it is normal, and will happen to all of us at some point. And at certain times, and for certain people we will experience it either more frequently or more acutely.
All that being said, no matter how long you’ve been feeling anxious or how many good reasons you have to be feeling that way, know that the brain, the mind, and the body, are resilient. You and your experience of anxiety can change, whether through medical treatment or things you do on your own, or a combination of both.
I believe that there’s a kind of alchemy in trying a couple different things or modalities—therapy and meditation and taking probiotics, for example, or some other mix that makes sense and works for you. So in these episodes, we’ll be exploring the things you can do on your end to change your experience of and relationship to anxiety and add to your mix of ways that you support yourself. I can’t promise any quick fixes, but I am trusting that you’ll find something in these episodes that will help.
This week I’m sharing acupressure points you can use when you feel the worries start to swirl or your heart rate start to rise, a time management trick that helps you give your worry a place to go without seeping into every part of your day, a way to pull yourself out of rehearsing unhappiness, and an interview with Leigh Medeiros, an author and artist who’s working on a memoir about her lifelong experiences of living with anxiety and panic, about what’s she’s learned and what has helped her through.