“I can’t stop thinking about it!”
“I know it’s my anxiety; but, I just can’t turn my brain off.”
This is the impact of anxiety.
The inability to stop the near-constant barrage of negative, anxious thoughts
And with it comes so many other issues, both mental and physical.
It affects our relationships, our actions.
In short, every aspect of our lives.
This is the most obvious.
For most, we work hard to try to contain our anxiety in the hopes that nobody else will notice. From here our anxiety starts to “reproduce”. We have anxiety about our anxiety.
As mentioned in a previous post in this series regarding Cognitive Distortions, we have negative thoughts that have crept their way in over the years. Much like the Colorado River carving out the Grand Canyon over eons of erosion, our anxious thoughts carve away pieces of our self-esteem making deeper and deeper cuts in our psyche.
The toll that this takes really can’t be overstated. I often refer to it as a mental autoimmune disease where your own thoughts attack you. The problem is that because of your memory, you know all your past experiences, all your mistakes and all your insecurities. And you’re relentless!
This translates into thoughts that won’t go away. Rumination. Perseveration. And repeat
Where I often see this the most is at bedtime.
Bedtime is the playground of the anxious mind!
We toss and turn. We replay the events of the day or stress over what tomorrow may bring. And the record groove just gets deeper and deeper.
And the longer it goes on, the more and more we can come to believe the negative thoughts are true and certain.
And this is where it begins to impact the physical.
As mentioned above, our anxious thoughts will start to eat at our sleep cycle. Either through difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep.
This in turn impacts your energy level…which by the way, has a lovely effect on your moods and emotions creating a vicious cycle.
We feel run down. And when our anxiety gets going during our waking hours it often impacts us in the form of an upset stomach, nausea, headaches. Our appetite often suffers as a result.
There is a significant connection between anxiety and gastrointestinal as well as neurological issues.
It’s always important to get any physical symptoms checked out by a primary care doctor or specialist.
One thing that often goes unchecked is thyroid issues. After any physical issues are ruled out, it’s important to learn how to tackle your anxious mind.
But the detonation impact of anxiety stretches beyond, into other areas of life as well.
If you struggle with significant anxiety then you know what it’s like. Others that don’t deal with anxiety on a regular basis, often don’t get it. And this is where it causes problems for families, friends and romantic partners.
Statements like, “Just don’t think about it”, “Think happy thoughts” or other variations are often patronizing and frustrating to hear.
The anxiety can become the elephant in the room that drives a wedge in your relationship. Often our significant other wants to help us get over the anxiety; but, they don’t always know how.
Anxiety and other negative emotions are often the cause of so many relational arguments. Humans are social, relational creatures. And when we feel like we aren’t aren’t heard and understood or our needs aren’t being met, emotions run high and communication usually goes out the window.
In addition, people with anxiety often retreat into their own mind as opposed to openly communicating about their anxiety. Typically, this is over fear of how other people will respond or that we will appear “crazy”. Openly communicating our fears and insecurities makes us vulnerable to rejection, and nobody wants that.
This is where it starts to limit our behaviors.
As anxiety starts to weave a path of destruction on us mentally, physically and relationally; it will often cause us to limit our behaviors.
We begin to learn what triggers our anxiety and rather than face it we will cut ourselves off little by little to avoid the anxiety.
What we don’t realize is little by little we are becoming agoraphobic. On a long enough timeline with enough significant triggers and anxiety we would completely shut ourselves off.
We’ll avoid large gatherings. New places. New people. Changes short notice. Small talk. Relationships in person altogether. Phone calls. Elevators. Public restrooms. Ordering in restaurants. Shopping. And waiting in long lines. Just to name a few.
But the mundane day to day tasks that life requires aren’t the biggest impact.
The real tragedy is that anxiety will rob us of peak life experiences and relationships.
Seeing the Northern Lights. Kissing the Blarney Stone. Eating Ethiopian food.
It will rob us of the joy that is supposed to come from life.
They say, “Life is lived at the edge of your comfort zone”; but, so many of us won’t get close to the edge because of the fear and discomfort that comes with it.
So What Can You Do
Attack your anxiety!
I often use analogies and metaphors in my counseling. This time around I’ll quote Miracle – Disney’s adaptation of the Miracle on Ice. Anybody who knows me knows that I love sports and being active. One of my favorite sports is ice hockey (I could go on and on about it, but I won’t). Kurt Russell in his portrayal of Herb Brooks (Coach of the 1980 US Men’s Hockey Team) when speaking about how to beat the Soviet Team, explained, “You don’t defend them. You attack them! The team that is finally willing to do this, has a chance of beating them”
Our anxiety works the same way. You have to go after it! You can either be the hunter or the hunted.
Some days will be better than others.
But any anxiety that you face and systematically work at will improve over time. Anything that you avoid will get worse.
Learn about your cognitive distortions (translation: negative thoughts)
Figure out positive coping skills and boundaries (not avoidance)
Learn about Thought Stopping and Cognitive Reframing (coming in future a post).
Start a dialogue with your family or loved ones about your anxiety.
What Not To Do
Try to stay away from doing the following things:
Avoid things completely
Use alcohol or other drugs (it doesn’t fix it, it just masks it)
Avoid getting checked out by a doctor
Allow your anxious thoughts to run wild and unchecked
If you are a spouse or a loved one of someone who struggles with anxiety:
Don’t mock their anxiety! (Unless they are initiating it)
Try to be patient with them.
Let them know you love them and are here to listen and help if they want
Avoid the trap of reassuring questions. Help them to develop the ability to defeat their own anxiety/reassure themselves; but, don’t be mean about it.
Just LISTEN! Don’t try to problem-solve everything that they bring up. Sometimes they just need to vent and express that anxiety.
Up Next: The A-word: Anxiety – Furry Friends