“Anxiety is a bitch” – J. Ostler 2021. It could be an oversimplification but he’s not wrong. Anxiety as a feeling alone is uncomfortable, even if it is a normal feeling to experience. Anxiety as a clinical condition however is on another level entirely. It can be debilitating and has been for both Jeff and Lee throughout their lives. One of the main things we want to acknowledge is the major difference between the feeling and the condition.
Healthline.com said it best.
“It’s normal to feel anxious about moving to a new place, starting a new job, or taking a test. This type of anxiety is unpleasant, but it may motivate you to work harder and to do a better job. Ordinary anxiety is a feeling that comes and goes, but does not interfere with your everyday life. In the case of an anxiety disorder, the feeling of fear may be with you all the time. It is intense and sometimes debilitating.”
Everyone feels uncomfortable in certain situations, whether that’s a new job or meeting new people. In those moments it’s normal to feel anxious about things. But the point of our recent episode discussing anxiety is to highlight the difference between that and what a lot of people are out there suffering from, often suffering in silence.
The ‘fight or flight’ reaction is perfectly natural, it’s a survival instinct. But it’s one that’s much less useful now than it was back in the ‘caveman’ days. The threats to our lives are much fewer than they ever have been, but the instinctive reaction exists and in some cases is useful. The issue for those of us with chronic anxiety is that we attach this response to situations or events that don’t warrant it. Jeff’s wife suffers badly from this and there have been many times where just a simple trip to the supermarket has been too much for her. Lee has had times where he’s had to work himself up to be able to hang out with a group of friends. Jeff has occasionally been halfway to work and has had to pull over, to give himself to convince himself that work is a safe place.
There’s no logical reason for these reactions. Deep down we know that our friends are safe, the supermarket isn’t a life-threatening journey and our workplace isn’t going to bring us any physical harm. But our anxiety tries to tell us that there is a threat, that there’s something that we need to worry about.
Both Lee and Jeff have different ways of dealing with this when it comes up. Those that know us might have thought, in listening to the podcast, that these seemed to be flipped around.
Jeff’s go-to method is the ‘five senses method’ which uses four of your five senses. It’s a methodical approach to bringing your mind back into ‘reality’ using your senses. If you find yourself kicking into the anxious or panic mode then stop yourself and ask these questions.
- Can I see anything that’s going to harm me?
- Can I hear anything that could endanger me?
- Can I smell anything that I need to worry about?
- Can I feel anything that is a physical threat to me?
We leave out taste, unless you’re panic is over something you might be eating.
This approach allows your mind to focus. Firstly to remove the focus from the feelings of anxiety that are rising. Then the focus shifts onto real, tangible things and step by step you adjust back to what’s actually happening around you and not what your mind is trying to convince you is happening.
Lee’s approach used to be one of stubbornness. For a long Lee’s default position to battle his mental health issues was just to stubbornly refuse to accept it. If he was feeling anxious he would just tell himself that he wasn’t going to let the anxiety take over. While that’s a method that has worked it’s not necessarily something that addresses the cause of the anxiety.
The method he has employed in the last few years is to engage the logical side of his brain. The side that he discussed as being overactive in our overthinking episode. He catches himself early. Then goes through the steps to work out if there’s any logical reason behind his anxious feelings. If there is then he knows what to address. If there isn’t then he makes sure to tell himself that so that he can take the oxygen out of the impending anxiety and move forward.
That paragraph makes it sound much easier than it has been for him. It’s taken a lot of practice but with a determined effort it has helped Lee to reduce the instances of crippling anxiety.
The other method that both Jeff and Lee use is the ‘cold light of day’. There’ll be many many times where your anxiety tries to tell you that something is wrong when really, it isn’t. In the ‘cold light of day’ you’ll realise that what you were anxious about really isn’t that big of an issue. When you feel that sense of logic later, hold onto it, file it away and bring it out if that particular anxious event ever rises again.
We’ve talked a lot in the podcast that there’s an increasing amount of acceptance of the range of mental health difficulties that people are facing. It’s great that the stigma is starting to lose its grip on us all. But we still need to step up the level of understanding people have around conditions like anxiety. This is one in particular that has an extra challenge because everyone experiences some form of anxiety in one way or another. For most people it’s a short-term thing, centred on a particular moment or event, and then it passes. Only as we increase the conversation around clinic anxiety conditions can we increase the understanding and the sympathy around it.
Not everyone understands anxiety and that causes a lot of issues for people. Both Lee and Jeff are sure that the ways in which their anxiety has manifested have cost them friendships, either through avoidance on Jeff’s part or neediness for Lee. But with those that understand the issues, the risk of that happening is much lower. So let’s all continue the conversation and increase the awareness around exactly what anxiety means to people.
What are your experiences with anxiety? We’d love to keep the conversation going and hear from you. Join our Facebook group if you’d like to share or get in touch. For our full conversation about anxiety check out our podcast episode below.