Anxiety is creeping into more and more peoples’ minds and bodies, taking over their days and keeping them awake at night. In fact, 65 million Americans will experience a clinically significant anxiety condition at some point in their life, making it the most common mental health problem. Women have to be especially aware since we are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety. So, if you are suffering in silence, know that you are not alone. Also know that you have way more control over it than you probably imagined.
So, why are women being hit so hard by this anxious epidemic? There are various theories that women are more prone to talk about it than men, but I have some other thoughts. I feel like the pressure on women is at all time high. You can argue that women living through wars and the Great Depression had it much harder. Absolutely, but the pressure now is different. It’s internal and has to do with our self worth. Women put high expectations on themselves to be beautiful, fit, successful in a career they are passionate about and not to mention, they need to kill it at home life, too. Perhaps this has something to do with the instant access to our close friends, acquaintances and strangers across the globe who are making it look seemingly effortless? Key word-look. We have to remind ourselves that this is not reality, every single person has some struggle they are dealing with, some bigger than others. So, show yourself and other women some compassion and kindness.
I talk to many of my clients about their anxiety and it manifests in somewhat different ways with various physical, cognitive and behavioral symptoms. Some may experience social anxiety, panic attacks or a more generalized anxiety. Even if you’re not severe enough to be clinically diagnosed, anxiety may still be impacting your life in some very major ways. So, read on.
There seems to be an idealized goal to never feel anxious again. Let’s be real that everyone on this planet will experience some anxiety from time to time. It’s a normal emotion stemming from fear. It’s when your anxiety starts to interfere with your personal, social and/or work life that it becomes a problem.
The work comes into play in learning how to manage it so that it does not persist.
I use an amazing book called the Anxiety & Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution by David A Clark, PhD as a tool with my clients. It talks about how anxiety can last a short amount of time for some, a few hours for others, or may feel constant, but that it does naturally decline. This statement really resonated with me.
If anxiety declines naturally, how do we turn it into a persistent state?
This may require a hard look at yourself, but what are you doing to escalate your anxious thought cycle?
Let’s discuss this negative loop we sometimes get ourselves trapped in. First you need to understand how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works. This is a really fancy term for how our thoughts impact our feelings, which in turn impact our behavior.
Here is an example of Emily. She is fearful that she’s going to be late for an important meeting tomorrow with a new client. She has a habit of being late to work on Mondays and she starts worrying as she lays in bed on Sunday night. Pretty much the Sunday scarries, but on level 10.
What if there is an accident and traffic is really bad? What if I oversleep and don’t hear my alarm? And what am I going to wear? Oh god, I don’t know how I even got this job. They’re going to realize I’m not qualified and fire me.
Does this cycle sound remotely familiar?
The first step to getting unstuck and putting a halt to this madness is creating a pause in the cycle. Most of us live on autopilot, meaning we just blindly listen to our thoughts and take them as facts. We never stop to question them.
Emily is escalating her feelings by falling into some cognitive traps. Sure, she may sound extreme, but I’ll bet if you caught yourself in a negative loop of thoughts, it’s not pretty, either. Cognitive traps are thoughts that are distorted by anxiety. Here are some that you may be falling into.
All or Nothing Thinking
You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
Jumping to Conclusions/The Fortune Teller
You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.
You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
When you create this pause/stop/break in the cycle, it gives you a minute to take a breath. You can then be more objective about your thoughts and ask yourself, Is anxiety clouding my thoughts? Am I jumping to conclusions? By identifying what is occurring, you become more aware and can then challenge the thought.
If thoughts are not necessarily facts, then challenge them. Take a few long deep breaths and ask yourself the following questions.
What is the evidence for or against it? Can I reframe it or see it from a different perspective?
What’s the worse that can happen? What’s the likelihood of this? Can I handle it?
Will this matter in a week? A month? A year?
If your best friend came to you when they were feeling anxious, what might you tell them? You’d probably be a whole lot more compassionate and supportive. Turn that love and support inward.
Will you believe this right away? Maybe, maybe not. You might have to fake it til you make it. This is a skill that takes practice, just like anything new. The beauty is you can start implementing this helpful tool right now. Begin feeling more in control, so you can live your life more freely, as it was meant to be.
This is such a huge and important topic, so I’m going to do a series of posts. There are so many pieces to the puzzle when treating anxiety, so up next are more strategies to redirect your anxious thoughts. Read them here. Send any questions or comments my way. xx