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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Patiño

Why am I Anxious?

3 Causes Rooted in the Way You Think

Hispanic man sits with hands clasped at his mouth.

Hello everyone! Natasha, here.


As I begin my journey with you as “Your Companion in Healing” I want to make sure I cover one of the most common and distressing foes in our daily lives - Anxiety.


According to this article about Anxiety and Depression during COVID-19* published by the Center for Disease and Control in April of 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety and depression jumped from 36.4% to 41.5%. This number continues to be on the rise, with one in four adults who experience these symptoms reported not receiving therapy for their mental health.

What does this all mean? That you are not alone!

Anxiety can make you feel out of control and often feels like it comes out of nowhere. The pressure on your chest, the heart beating fast, the mind racing, and being on the verge of a panic attack. That out-of-control feeling where you sometimes even think you might be dying. Realizing what may be contributing to it, can help us start taking action to do something different. Here are the three causes of anxiety:

 

Catastrophic Thinking

Woman holds gas mask to her face in a cement tunnel.

This is where one thinks the worst-case scenario about the future, always predicting the worst. Often when we say, ‘what if,’ we are doing this. “What if I fail this test, what if therapy doesn’t work, what if I don’t get that job, what if I made the wrong choice?” All these will create so much anxiety in you, that you cannot think right, and it is hard to function. Sometimes it is difficult for us to recognize when we are doing it! Not only can it be the root of anxiety, but it can become so common that it feels like just our normal way of seeing the world. Of course, we all do these during different times of our lives, but it’s the pattern of constant negative thoughts that result in anxiety.


Conquering Catastrophic Thinking:

Tip #1 - The easy way to help you on how to conquer these thoughts, is to do the complete opposite: think positively. Seems easy!! But it’s not, it takes a lot of time and hard work, but with guidance you can create a new ‘normal.’


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a great therapy approach that helps us with changing this pattern of thinking. This is an evidence-based approach, which means it incorporates the best evidence from well-designed studies. Basically, it works and is effective! CBT stresses the importance of what our thoughts are. We often focus on the feeling (anxiety, depression, fear, irritation, happiness) or our actions (shutting down, self-sabotaging, blowing up, getting an attitude) but we don’t often make the connection of where this starts. So how does this work?!


There are three steps with CBT:

1.) Thoughts

2.) Feelings

3.) Actions

…in that order.

Everything starts with our thoughts.

Now let’s do an example to show the steps. What if we start doing the whole ‘catastrophic thinking’ for a school test, with thoughts like “what if I fail, what if I don’t get into college, I’m not going to do anything with my life….” then automatically we start feeling anxious, scared, hopeless. Our actions then become heart racing, tightness in chest, breathing becomes rapid, have difficulty concentrating, can’t make decisions, and in the end, we do not do as well as we could have. Probably fail! I think you would agree this pattern doesn’t work too well for us.

Now WHAT if we reframe how we think? What if we thought “I studied hard, I’ll do the best that I can, I just need to take things one question at a time.” Then yes, we would still be nervous, but we would feel calmer, more hopeful, steadier. Finally, our actions would be that we would be physically and mentally calmer to take the test, and as a result we will do much better.


Tip #2: Having the guidance of a therapist of course, can help you work on this process to help you with figuring out what the thoughts are exactly. In the meantime, a great CBT workbook that can help you start practicing these steps is “Retrain Your Brain. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 weeks by Seth Gillihan.



Avoidance

This is where instead of facing a problem, we avoid stressors such as not calling that person back, not taking a chance on things, even avoid thinking about it. For example, if you avoid going to all social gatherings at church because of fears of what people will think of you, you may start having social anxiety. Not trying out for the high school sports because you ‘probably won’t make it,’ will create a lot of anxiety. Not going to that job interview because you feel you will not get it…avoidance.



Facing Avoidance Head On:

Tip #1: A simple tip to help with facing problems, is a strategy called “gradual exposure” where you can identify mini challenges to help with facing fears. For example, if you fear social situations your challenges can be 1.) sit with one coworker during lunch break. 2.) go to weekly yoga class at gym. 3.) join sister at her book club of 4 ladies. 4.) have lunch by yourself at restaurant. 5.) Ask nice coworker to go for dinner after work one day, and so on. You would identify the challenges (not the therapist), and number them easiest to hardest.



Tip #2: Another tip is to just breathe and take time to get away from a hard situation to reset and think. It can be taking a walk, play with pets, visit a friend, clean the house, listen to music, whatever to help you relax. Feeling calmer now?! Now think and process the situation more, and if you realize that something needs to be addressed, take action. Make the phone call, visit that friend, have that talk.


Hiding Your Feelings

When we do not express ourselves or our thoughts, we swallow them in which is very bad for us. For example, if I’m upset at my sister for bailing and not going to a party with me, it will create anxiety and tension. Same thing if my friend made a joke that I found offensive, but I did not say anything. We get a sense of relief when we get things off our chest. Speaking up can be scary, especially if growing up we were not encouraged to have a voice.


There are three communication types: passive, aggressive, and assertive. Passive is where we prioritize other’s thoughts/feelings so keep things bottled in and don’t say anything. This can lead to being taken advantage of, even with well-intentioned people. With aggressive, the person only communicates their needs in an (often) disrespectful manner where the other person’s needs are not considered. Both are not good to have healthy relationships, and often result in anxiety. Assertive is healthy and our goal, where we express our needs and thoughts respectfully, while still considering the other person’s perspective.


Bringing Hidden Feelings to Light

Tip #1: Use “I” statements to help you express yourself, respectfully. Say something like “I wanted you to know…, I feel hurt that…., I did not like that…..” These ‘I’ statements will help you get the point across assertively.


Tip #2: Say something positive before and after the ‘hard’ part, to help soften the blow. A lot of professionals use this ‘sandwiching’ strategy with communication to be assertive yet communicate a difficult topic. An example would be with a friend who is always super late to dinner, to say something like “I know you’ve got a lot going on with work and with the kids, so I get how hard it can be to leave the house. I’ve just been feeling frustrated, though, when you arrive at dinner half an hour late, and I’m left here waiting alone. Can we please work on trying to get here on time or rescheduling to a later time? Because I love hanging out with you and really do look forward to our dates.”

 
Now….did you recognize any of the 3 causes of Anxiety in your daily life? What about in the life of someone you know?

It is hard to realize that ways of thinking and acting that are so common to everyone, can cause incredible pain and fear if left to themselves. If symptoms of anxiety are robbing you of your time or happiness, therapy can help you take your mind and thoughts back! I have helped many clients breathe easier and think clearly through therapy. Please reach out to me or a mental health professional to start your journey to wellness today.


I hope you learned something and have greater hope that we can heal!


Knowledge + Hope = Empowerment!


See you next time!


 


Opmerkingen


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