Let's Talk Anxiety

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Let’s Talk Anxiety

If you were to ask us what the best way to describe anxiety is, we would say it’s like having an uninvited guest show up at your party. No one wants it around but dealing with it is inevitable. Most people have experienced anxiety at some point in their lives and still it seems like something that is impossible to understand. It’s frustrating but absolutely normal. To help us understand anxiety a little bit better we contacted a psychologist from New York City who answered some of your questions and gave us valuable advice on how to manage this tricky feeling we can experience called anxiety.

Before we dive into the interview let us introduce you to Dr.Julie. She is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Manhattan. Dr. Julie specializes in treating anxiety, social anxiety, depression, body image dissatisfaction, relationship concerns and coping with life transitions. She has a passion for helping women navigate significant transitions and build their self-esteem. She also leads wellness workshops focused on managing anxiety, empowerment skills, mindfulness and the rediscovering of inner strength. We recommend following her on Instagram as she shares daily advice and inspiration.

Your questions answered:

1. What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be understood as your body’s natural response to stress. A feeling of fear, nervousness or apprehension about what’s to come. It can manifest mentally (e.g., uncontrollable worry, blanking out, difficulty concentrating) and/or physically (e.g., muscle tension, stomach distress, insomnia, change in body temperature, chest tightness etc.).

Some level of anxiety is adaptive and completely normal as it’s the body’s way of alerting you to potential signs of danger. It can also illustrate that you care about a future event (e.g., when making a big decision, desiring to make a good impression, or wanting to resolve a problem or perform well). Just the right amount of anxiety can serve as a motivator (e.g., to be on time or to prepare).

Anxiety becomes problematic when one’s level of fear or worry is constant and overpowering, and it begins to get in the way of your daily life.

2. Anxiety is usually triggered by something, but what about those moments in which you’re just laying in bed trying to sleep and you still get the feeling in your chest and become anxious for no specific reason? What causes this to happen?

Slowing down and being idle may trigger anxiety (bed time can be a vulnerable time for many people with anxiety as this is a time when you have the most alone time with your thoughts). This is because when you’re still, thoughts that you’re usually distracted from during a busy day can pop into your mind.

3. Does your diet, coffee, sleep pattern and exercise routine affect anxiety?

Diet, caffeine intake, sleep & exercise patterns can absolutely influence anxiety. Certain foods have been found to produce calming physiological affects such as complex carbs, (whole-grain breads and cereals). On the other hand, sugary foods and beverages can negatively affect one’s anxiety, as the after effects of a sugar high may worsen anxiety symptoms. Eating protein produces more energy to maintain steady blood glucose levels and staying hydrated is also beneficial to managing anxiety.

Caffeine consumption affects the body much like stress, as it increases heart rate and blood pressure and can result in an “edgy” feeling. It may exacerbate anxiety as a result of mimicking stress and suppressing the body’s calming neurotransmitter (GABA). Caffeine is also linked with insomnia. If you notice that anxiety’s already been keeping you up at night, it’s helpful to limit your caffeine intake.

One way to look at anxiety is to see it as energy in your body. Exercise is a healthy coping skill that helps you effectively manage anxiety for several reasons. It allows you to physically release pent up energy, provides a distraction from what’s on your mind, and it mimics some of anxiety’s physiological affects which allows you to be exposed to these distressing symptoms in a new way (i.e., increased heart rate, change in body temperature, shortness of breath).

4. What kind of therapy is best to treat anxiety disorder?

Research has shown that therapy can be very helpful in treating anxiety. Therapy helps you to: a) become more aware of what types of situations tend to trigger your symptoms, b) uncover underlying causes of worries and fears, c) look at your fears and situations in new, less frightening ways, and d) teaches you strategies to relax and better cope with anxiety when it pops up.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy are evidence-based treatments that have been recognized as effective for treating anxiety. CBT incorporates aspects of exposure, and as you gradually face your fears, you learn that your level of anxiety naturally decreases over time. Mindfulness and meditation are also very helpful in reducing anxiety.

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5. Is it easier to accept anxiety rather than fight and avoid it? 

Yes! What we resist, persists! Meaning, when you resist reality (whatever you’re experiencing in the moment), it works against you in the long run. There is much healing in surrendering to anxiety. “Surrender” doesn’t mean that you’re giving up or that you’re totally okay with how you’re feeling, it is simply accepting what is happening and allowing your experience to be as it is. Remember, avoidance of anxiety enables it to hang around longer.

6. Often people feel they can’t voice their emotions because they think no one will understand them. What can a friend or family member do to help someone with anxiety?

When someone feels fearful and overwhelmed, it’s understandable that they’d want to keep feelings private, even though reaching out and getting support is what will help them the most.

If you’re a friend or relative of someone struggling with anxiety, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Educate yourself about anxiety and about healthy ways to cope

  • De-stigmatize their experience (communicate that you don’t view their anxiety as a weakness or a flaw & be a nonjudgmental support)

  • Assist your friend in seeking professional help as needed

7. Ideally anyone with severe anxiety should visit a professional for help, unfortunately not everyone is able to. What should a person in that situation do? Are there any free resources available? 

In certain cases, there are real barriers to seeking professional support. I recommend exploring self-help websites such as anxiety.org, and self-help articles found on psychologytoday.com. There are also some really great apps like Calm and Headspace that provide guided meditations to help you to quiet thoughts and re-focus on your breath.

8. What would you tell to anyone reading this who is currently suffering with anxiety?

For anyone out there struggling, I want you to know that you’re not alone! Anxiety is so incredibly common. Being anxious does not mean you’re crazy and it isn’t a weakness. However, it’s a huge sign of strength to be able to know when it’s time to seek help.

Remember, the goal (in life and in therapy) is not to get rid of anxiety all together. It’s a natural stress response and a survival mechanism designed to keep humans safe and out of harms way. Instead, the aim here is to learn healthy ways to manage it so that it no longer interferes in your everyday life.

From LNNY to anyone experiencing anxiety:

Overcoming anxiety on a daily basis is not easy, it can be scary and despite that you continue to move forward each day. That makes you one of the bravest people we know. This journey doesn’t have to be a lonely one, we are here with you. Seek help if needed, let it all out when necessary and remember it is okay to not be okay. The first step into getting better is awareness and you have that just by being here reading this. You will be okay.

Remember: anxiety is an illusion not a reality.

If you have any other questions or have any tips regarding anxiety feel free to share below!