This year has been challenging in many ways. Anxiety is rising in people who haven’t ever experienced it before as we have less certainty than ever.
A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on anxiety – basically saying that we can strive to change our thoughts from negative to positive as they pop into our heads.
Obviously, it is a lot more complicated than that.
I am so thankful that Brittany Barker reached out to me to help me unpack this issue that is impacting so many of us.
Brittany is a long-time Wilcox Wellness & Fitness client and a psychotherapist/LCSW (licensed clinical social worker). She works full-time in the local healthcare system, but also has a private practice where she sees clients via telehealth during this pandemic.
Anxiety is a stealer of joy. It is complicated. It is deep-rooted. And if it is left un-checked, it can take you away from living your very best life.
Brittany’s passion is working with women of all ages, building up their self-worth, using cognitive behavioral therapy to restructure faulty thinking styles, and uncovering old toxic core beliefs so they can live life now. No more waiting.
I think you are going to love hearing from Brittany to better understand the impact of anxiety on your life.
Are you in the driver’s seat of life, or is your anxiety?
When we start to explore why we don’t “feel good” or what we think would make us happy, we are tasked with some serious reflection. We notice that we’re spending an awful lot of time in our minds thinking unhelpful, negative, “what if” thoughts, often cutting ourselves down or stopping ourselves from dreaming too big. Those negative thoughts happen without a whole lot of (or any) data/evidence to support them. We can usually detect a trend in the way these thoughts make us feel physically and emotionally, and also how we respond to them. This is basically the framework for anxiety. Anxiety is birthed in our thoughts and it shows itself in our emotions and actions. We may not be able to see or touch it, but it is real, and it impacts over 40 million adults in our country.
When we have a thought or a series of thoughts over and over again, we begin strengthening that neuronal pathway in our brains. If we’ve been thinking a certain way for years, we’ve essentially “practiced” thinking this way. Doing something over and over again usually tends to result in improved performance. Great. Our brain just kicks into gear, without us trying, acting almost as if it’s run all by itself and our consciousness or control wasn’t invited to the party. It’s “just the way I am” we say. We get really good at thinking anxiously. Like, really, really good. We don’t need to put in any effort, it just “happens”. Day after day.
So, what’s the point to all this mumbo jumbo? Stay with me! We’re just getting to the good part!
When we experience negative emotions (caused by anxious thoughts) our brains produce and release hormones - cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones exist for a reason... technically they keep us safe in times of danger. They help our bodies fight against a threat (think big scary bear in the woods on a casual hike). They help athletes win the game or run the race. Well that’s great, if you’re in the woods or you’re running a race.
But what if you’re sitting at home on the couch thinking? Thinking about applying for that promotion, going to the gym by yourself, going to the post office, or what the results of that ultrasound might be? And then the hormonal release happens. No bear, no race.
It feels just awful.
We might feel lightheaded, like we can’t catch our breath, like we can’t get to a restroom fast enough, like our hands are numb, like we want to run away, or we’re suddenly overcome by irritability and can't get to sleep at night.
We decide that whatever we’re thinking about is clearly not a good idea. Whatever we’re thinking about is “the problem”. So we stop. We avoid the thing. We don’t go to the post office. We don’t take the next step.
And we definitely don’t ask that person out!
And slowly, subtly, we start shaving away the things in our lives that we think “cause” the feelings that we dread. We begin living smaller and less authentic lives, forfeiting what we want in exchange for just not feeling like “that”. We start making choices based not on our desires and wildest dreams, but on what allows us to stay comfortable.
It just makes sense. If going out to dinner alone makes us want to vomit, we’re probably not going to do it. If asking for the promotion keeps us up at night and resurfaces that old habit of biting our nails or eating an entire sleeve of Double Stuffed Oreos - it’s highly likely that we’ll tell ourselves, “I don’t really want it. It’s too much work anyway. I don’t really care about progressing. I’m just fine where I am. I can’t even ask for it for the love of Pete, what makes me think I can actually DO it?”. And it snowballs from there.
We do less of the things that create passion, excitement, and joy.
We put off so much of what we dream about, sometimes we stop dreaming entirely. And this often makes us feel depressed. Hopeless. Bored. Stagnant, etc. We say we’ll do it when we’re – thinner, older, richer, wiser etc. We’ll do it some other time when it feels easier.
If this feels at all like something you’ve experienced, you’re not alone. You are so very much not alone. Not even a little bit. Do you want the good news or the bad news? The bad news is, if you don’t address it – it probably won’t just go away on its own. The good news is, you can address it and regain your life and start living. Is it easy? No, it’s really not. Is it worth it? 100%. How do I know? Because you are worth it. You’re so unequivocally worth it.
Join me next time as we learn about 5 techniques you can start to integrate into your life now as you begin to target your anxiety and live your life fully.
Wow – that was the best explanation of anxiety that I have ever heard. Thank you so much, Brittany, for breaking it down for us.
I am certainly excited for the next post on how to target anxiety in order to live life to the fullest.
In the meantime, if you are interested in talking with Brittany directly, you can set up a time to chat by clicking here.
Lots of love,