Please note: This episode was recorded prior to the killing of George Floyd in the United States. I have since added resources for anti-racism education and trauma and mental health support below.
How do you manage anxiety in an anxious and uncertain time?
Our world is still coping with a global pandemic. People have experienced the loss of loved ones, job loss, reduction in income, and have been unable to meet basic needs. There’s been so much change, pain, fear, and uncertainty. Our emotions are charged and for many of us, our anxiety is heightened.
This is a time when people who aren’t normally anxious are feeling anxious about everything we’ve been dealing with in the past few months. For those of us who already struggle with anxiety, your symptoms might be even more intense right now.
That’s why in this week’s episode, I’m sharing effective, easy ways to better manage your anxiety so you can spend less time worrying and more time living.
What is anxiety? How do you know when you have it?
Anxiety is persistent worry or fear. Feeling occasionally anxious is normal for most people, but for some, anxiety interferes with their daily lives making it difficult or even impossible to do the things they want to do.
We may feel straight-up fear right now with what’s going on in the world, but that’s different than anxiety. For a lot of people, anxiety is like a constant companion that’s always along for the ride. It could be a low-grade or a high-grade feeling, but for people who suffer from an anxiety disorder, you’re almost always feeling it. It can present as a constant nervousness and inability to deeply relax. It’s almost like there’s always something to worry about, even when all seems well. When you have anxiety, you consistently feel nervous, restless, and tense. It can feel like you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop or something to go wrong. If it’s very intense, you might have a recurrent sense of impending doom, danger, or panic. You might have physical symptoms, like a pit in your stomach, tenseness in your chest, or tingling in your limbs.
Other signs and symptoms are:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Feeling like you can’t get a good breath or hyperventilating
- Shaking or sweating
- Feeling physically weak or like you might pass out
- Trouble sleeping or staying asleep
- Frequent upset stomach or GI issues
- Perseverating thoughts or feelings of worry
- Avoiding situations or people that trigger you
- Trouble concentrating
- Brain fog or fatigue
The causes of anxiety disorder are multi-fold and can be different for everyone. If you have experienced trauma, grew up in a chaotic or dysfunctional family system, or saw anxiety or worrying behavior modeled in your childhood, you are more likely to experience anxiety. While it is not yet fully understood, there is research supporting that there is also a genetic component to anxiety disorders.¹
Anxiety can be a learned behavior. If you came from a long line of worriers, you might have unconsciously been taught the way to care for others is to worry about them. Now, this doesn’t mean that your parents wanted you to walk around feeling anxious or nervous. It’s just that when we’re kids, we’re like little sponges absorbing and learning from everything around us, so if that kind of behavior was modeled for you when you were growing up, you might have inherited that trait.
The truth about worrying is that it doesn’t do anything productive, right? Worrying is projecting fearfully or catastrophically into the future. If you think about all the things you’ve spent time worrying about particular things, many times those things do not come to pass.
Worrying, when you are not in danger, is like praying for the opposite of what you want to happen. What we focus our mind and energy on expands. How we view ourselves, how we view our worthiness, and how we experience the world has everything to do with what we have the power to make happen in our lives.
I don’t want you to waste another moment in a state of exhaustive worry, so let’s get into some things you can do to get empowered to better manage your anxiety.
1. Understand Your Downloaded Anxiety Blueprint
The first thing to do is to raise your awareness and get some more understanding around what factors in your past might be impacting your experience with anxiety.
In this week’s guide, I’ve included some questions to help you get more clarity around your family history with anxiety because there are both nature and nurture components that might be contributing factors. You can download that right here.
2. Rule Out
Next, if you’re experiencing anxiety regularly, it’s important to take a look at your lifestyle choices, so you can rule out whether external factors are exacerbating your feelings.
What are you putting in your body? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you regularly use marijuana or alcohol to “take the edge off”? What does your caffeine intake look like in a day? These things can all impact your levels of anxiety.
Too much caffeine can absolutely mimic the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Believe it or not, dehydration can intensify anxiety symptoms, so check how much water you’re drinking each day to be sure it’s enough. I’ve included a checklist of anxiety-reducing habits in your guide, so be sure to grab that right here.
3. Do an Anxiety Inventory
Think through where you feel the most anxious. Is it around a particular person? In a specific situation or location? I have more prompts for you inside the guide because it’s important to identify where and why this is happening.
As a therapist, I’m always looking for patterns: patterns in your thoughts, your relationships, and your behaviors. Only you can connect the dots of your own lived experiences and the more information you have the easier it will be for you to manage and calm your anxiety.
Even if your anxiety is purely physiological and is a result of your unique brain chemistry, it’s still a good idea to take this inventory, because when you can identify your personal triggers, you can start to make different choices and practice calming and coping methods that can help you feel better.
4. Lifestyle Shifts (that can make a big difference!)
In my 23 years as a psychotherapist, there are so many things that I’ve figured out with my clients that have helped to lessen their anxiety. I have a complete list for you in the guide, but here are some to get you started:
- Move your body.
Besides the obvious benefits you gain from exercise, it also helps you discharge excess nervous energy which can help decrease your anxiety. If you’re not someone who works out regularly, you can start small, with just 10 minutes a day, and then gradually increase that as you get stronger. Do not underestimate small steps. They are really the only path to sustainable change.
- Get enough sleep.
If you’re stuck in a cycle where you’re not sleeping well, then drinking a ton of caffeine just to get through the day, then lying wide-awake and anxious night after night, it’s probably time to upgrade your sleep hygiene.
Commit to figuring out the sleep thing. I’ve given you a ton of ideas inside the guide to help you create better habits and rituals around bedtime so you can soothe your nervous system and get the rest your body needs.
- Write it out.
Create a scheduled time in your day to journal out how you’re feeling and what you’re worried about. It’s a great idea to rate your anxiety each day so you can start to gather more information about yourself over time. Getting it out of your head and onto paper (or in a Word doc) can help to declutter your mind and reduce overwhelm.
- Talk to your doctor.
If your anxiety has skyrocketed through the last 3 or 4 months, reach out to your doctor, be open and honest about your symptoms, and get a professional recommendation for a treatment plan. Virtual therapy is a valid and effective option and I’m proud to have partnered with Better Help, an online therapy platform that matches you with a licensed and accredited mental health professional. The treatment options are flexible and affordable: you can text, email, and do phone or video sessions with your Better Help therapist and get the support you need for as long or as little as you want. If you’re interested in learning more, just go to terricole.com/betterhelp.
I’ve created a comprehensive “Manage Anxiety Now” guide for you with so many more ideas, tips and suggestions, so be sure to download that here now.
If you liked this episode and it added value to your life, please share it in your world and on your social media platforms and tag me @terricole so we can connect and keep this conversation going.
I’m always looking to share tools, techniques, and strategies to lessen your own suffering and to increase your joy. So drop me comments or questions here about what you need help with or what you want to learn more about. I personally read them all.
I hope you have a calm and restorative week, and as always, take care of you.
Below you will find a list of resources we are finding helpful and hope you will, too.
I encourage you to learn from and support these Instagram accounts:
@cicelybelle_xo (Cicely Belle Blain)
@curlytherapist (Sana I. Powell, M.A., LPC)
@dr.marielbuque (Dr. Mariel Buquè)
@glowmaven (Latham Thomas)
@prestonsmiles (Preston Smiles)
@rachel.cargle (Rachel Cargle)
@mspackyetti (Brittany Packnett Cunningham)
To further educate and act:
Vote in your primary election
Support a BIPOC business in your local area.
Visit the Anguish and Action website to;
- Find the mental health care and trauma support you need
- Learn about police violence and anti-racism in America
- Take steps and lend support to encourage reform
- Connect with organizations on the front lines of social justice
Check out the Anti-racism Resources page to:
- Find articles to read
- Podcasts to subscribe to
- Books to read
- Films and TV to watch
- Resources for parents to raise anti-racist children
- Organizations to follow and support.
- Plus more anti-racism resources to check out.
View the article : 13 mental health resources for black people trying to cope right now. To find:
A selection of mental health resources specifically for black people, recommended by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI)
Get Additional Support:
If you need additional psychological and emotional support right now, get into therapy. Talking with an unbiased professional about what you’re feeling and experiencing right now could be exactly the self-care you need.
I’ve partnered with Better Help, an online counseling platform that can match you to a licensed, professional therapist, often the same day, that you can talk to from the comfort of your couch. It’s affordable, private and just as effective as face-to-face sessions. You can find out more here.