Since the pandemic started, scientists have been tracking a surge in anxiety and depression in the U.S. and worldwide. More than 42% of people surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in December 2020 reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, an increase from 11% the previous year.
“I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon,” said clinical psychologist Luana Marques, at Harvard Medical School, who has been studying the mental health impacts of the global coronavirus crisis.
In my private clinic, I coach and mentor women with all sorts of trauma and stress-related conditions. Anxiety is one of the most common issues I see.
I really like the approach to helping people heal their anxiety and get back to living life to the fullest as summed up by Barry McDonagh’s life-changing book, DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast.
Anxiety, as I see it, is a natural response that visits us from time to time. Our goal should not be to get rid of it but to embrace it and get rid of our fear of the anxiety. Anxiety can sometimes get pretty intense, but it is the fear of anxiety that needs our attention. You can read more about my approach to anxiety in my previous blog, “Knock, Knock, It’s Your Anxiety!”
McDonagh presents a four-step process for changing the way you manage your anxiety: Defuse, Allow, Run toward, Engage (DARE).
The mistake most people make about the physical sensations of anxiety
One of the main challenges that I see in women who deal with anxiety is that the physical sensations become frightening for them. Women often mistakenly conflate these sensations with the anxiety itself. These sensations are not anxiety. They are the body’s natural response to stress.
I remember one woman’s terrified face as she described her physical symptoms to me: headache, nausea, rapid heart rate, diarrhea. “My body is telling me that I’m about to die,” she said. In turn, her reaction to these symptoms would intensify her anxiety. Once she learned to accept the sensations as messengers, she could thank her body for alerting her that something needed her attention. In the language of DARE, she could run toward her anxiety with greater force and demand more of it, not less. I know the idea of requesting more from your anxiety sounds counterintuitive. But once you cut off your “fear of fear” and ask your body for more sensations or “messengers,” your anxiety level will decrease.
I usually help my clients develop a script they can use to challenge their inner monologue once the anxiety starts. Let’s say that you suffer from social anxiety. You start having physical sensations and discomfort as you’re about to walk into a social event. “What if” thoughts bubble up.
“What if my voice starts shaking?”
“What if I humiliate myself?”
“What if I don’t feel good?”
The more you nurture that inner “what if” monologue, the higher your anxiety will rise. So you have to redirect your thinking and reframe your inner monologue.
“So what if I’m nervous? I’m also excited!”
“So what if I don’t feel well? I can always excuse myself and get some fresh air.”
“It’s just a sensation. It’s not dangerous. I’m safe!”
“It’s okay to feel the way I feel. I’m human!”
Don’t let your anxiety define you.
“You are not a weak or cowardly person for having an anxiety problem.”
― Barry McDonagh, author of DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast
My conversations with women who deal with anxiety usually start by acknowledging the shame and embarrassment they feel around their anxiety. Women usually reach out to me once they feel controlled by their anxiety and are avoiding fully engaging in their lives because of it.
Avoidance has consequences. The longer you avoid dealing with your anxiety, the longer it takes to heal it.
One of my clients had a major breakthrough once she stopped judging herself. She saw herself as weak and was disappointed that she allowed the anxiety to take over. Her anxiety seemed to get worse. I explained to her that the nature of anxiety is that the more you are aware of it, the stronger it feels. I encouraged her to share about her anxiety with people who accept her unconditionally. As she released the shame and began to share and receive compassion, she realized that she wasn’t alone. Other people in her life suffered from anxiety too.
As she became more experienced with releasing the judgment, accepting the anxiety, and addressing the “what ifs,” she began managing her anxiety better. I got excited in one of our sessions when she said, “Managing my anxiety takes a lot of work. It feels like dealing with my anxiety is all there is.” Then I knew that she was ready to discover the critical piece of healing anxiety.
The critical piece of healing anxiety
Addressing your anxiety can feel like work. It takes awareness and effort to catch the anxiety bubbling up and take the necessary actions so that it does not control you. Be careful not to become obsessed.
The critical piece of managing anxiety is learning to live side by side with it, and not allowing it to steal away your joy.
Losing joy as you go through a self-healing journey is common.
I remember a time when I was so committed to the process of my personal growth and spirituality that I did not enjoy it. It just felt like work. A lot of work. Awareness. Evaluation. Correction. And no joy.
Imagine an “ON DUTY” sign that lights up every time you try to manage your anxiety. Does the light ever turn off? What if you allowed yourself to be “OFF DUTY” from time to time and to simply…enjoy yourself?
Remind yourself to EMBRACE CHANGE WITH JOY (one of the Beacons of Change 12 Practices for Living at Full Power.)
The process of healing your anxiety is more effective when you do it in balance with living life.
Start small. For the next seven days, spend a few minutes each evening looking back at your day and making a list of the happy, joyful moments.
Focusing on joy and looking for indications that you already have those moments plugged into your day is a great energy shifter. You can also intentionally engage in activities that bring you joy.
Let joy and anxiety live next to each other. They might even become good friends.
If you need help developing a process for healing your anxiety, send me a message and tell me a bit about yourself and your experience with anxiety.