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Making Friends with Your Anxiety

Welcome back! Today, I wanted to dig into a topic that would appeal to the widest range of people. As a therapist, I would say anxiety is the number one symptom that people carry. All people. Young, older/wiser, driven, depressed, accomplished, those with wonderful childhoods and those with terrible ones. At some point, anxiety finds us all. Generalized anxiety disorder and depression are close cousins. Sometimes they meet up together, but they can run solo. In a nutshell, the DSM-5, also known as the "Therapists' Bible" defines Generalized Anxiety Disorder as follows:

  1. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least six months, about several events or activities (such as work or school performance).

  2. The person finds it difficult to control the worry.

  3. The anxiety and worry are associated with: Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep).

Before you diagnose yourself with anxiety, it's important to note that some other conditions are in the same family, so to speak, but affect people very differently. Examples of these are other mental disorders like Social Anxiety Disorder [social phobia], Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, reminders of traumatic events in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or having a serious physical illness causing anxiety disorder. And of course, the blanket mention to the fact that the anxiety disturbance is not coming from physiological effects (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

This uninvited life guest, Anxiety, sometimes arrives when we most expect it, like when you are moving to a new city, starting a new job, or ending a relationship. We generally understand how to deal with anxiety when we know where it's stemming from. But, what about the times when you have no clue why you're having anxiety at work, in a relationship, at certain times of the day or night? What if you feel that you have anxiety and depression at the same time, and can't seem to put the pieces together to dig yourself out of the hole?

My suggestion? Make friends with your anxiety. I know, I know... WHAT?? Making friends with your anxiety is probably the last thing on your mind. After all, this anxiety is behaving like an intrusive relative. It's arrived uninvited (often with the worst possible timing while you're juggling a ton of other "life things"), ruins your once enjoyable daily routine, won't stop interrupting your train of thought, and is overstaying its welcome to boot! The phrase "please just leave" seems ridiculous because you know it won't work. Anxiety just digs its heels in even deeper because the more you want it to go, the longer it stays and the louder it gets inside of your head.

Que depression. Great, anxiety's cousin. Also uninvited. But nonetheless, here for an open-ended stay. Not what you had planned. You might wonder "When is this stress going to end?" The universe is reminding you... "You don't have the control you thought you did." And it's infuriating.

Here we circle back around to... making friends with your anxiety. So, if you've tried some things that don't work (or work only for a little bit at a time under specific conditions), try something different. Someone intelligent once said that "doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is the definition of insanity". Stop chasing your tail. Be a compassionate, curious observer of yourself. Ask yourself (WIHTOUT JUDGMENT), "Why do I have anxiety?" Why did it need to make its appearance when it did?

If it's anger for being hurt by someone, feeling that you don't have control, or believing that no matter how hard you try it's not good enough, I have news for you. Your anxiety is trying to help you. It's the alert system trying to get your attention and tell you: "Something is wrong! Take care of it!" and most importantly "Make sure you protect yourself!" Once you figure out what is triggering the visit from Anxiety, you can acknowledge the source of the threat and either do something about it (if it's in your control, of course), or make peace with the fact that you've done all you can for now and that's okay. Of course, there are a ton of tools to help you do this (mindfulness is my favorite, and one of the most effective tools), but the basic concept is simple. Observe. Without j

udgement. And the answer will come. However, if you try to push Anxiety out the door before it's been given some attention, it will kick and scream because you're not listening to the warnings. And after all, if Anxiety's job is to keep you protected, it's just trying to help. Right? Making friends with your anxiety will help you to understand it and embrace it as a special part of you that is trying to make sure you stay emotionally safe. The sooner you hear the warnings and act or make peace with life's circumstances, the sooner your anxiety will pack up its bags and head on home. Once you master how to listen to Anxiety, you may have a brief visit now and then, but the stays will be shorter and much less intense.

Try practicing some mindfulness with the tools below, or some others on your own. There are tons for free on youtube!

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