Why Do We Get Anxiety?

Many of the clients I see in my Annapolis, Md., counseling office suffer from anxiety, stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. Anxiety often slips slowly into lives, and it’s not always easy to recognize. I like working with clients who have anxiety because I know what it’s like to experience anxiety, and I realize the impact that it has on me. I also know that there’s hope. You can learn ways to manage anxiety that allow you to feel more in control.

When Anxiety Shows Up

Anxiety shows up in different ways. The most common form is called “generalized anxiety”—that is, you feel anxious about lots of things throughout your day. You might even have an anxiety attack occasionally, where you feel extremely anxious and experience intense physical symptoms.

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat. When you’re anxious, it’s because a situation or event makes you feel uncomfortable, out of control or unsafe. Sometimes these uncomfortable feelings are unconscious and below the surface. Then, the anxiety bubbles up and you don’t have a clear understanding of why. That’s scary and leaves you feeling like you have very little control.

When you feel unsafe—and this might be an unconscious feeling—your body automatically responds as if there’s danger. We are hard-wired to ready ourselves for a fight, to flee or to freeze when we perceive that we’re in a dangerous, potentially lethal situation. This hard-wired response stems from our primal beginnings, when we had to fight off dangerous animals for survival. Today, the danger may be real, or it could just be that something triggered a memory of a previously dangerous time, but our body doesn’t know the difference!

Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

When you perceive danger, your body jumps right in all on its own. Your brain releases chemical messengers that signal your body to be afraid and ready it to fight or flee. But that’s not all; they affect your heart, lungs, skin and internal bodily functions, too.

  • Your heart rate can increase.
  • You might breathe faster and shallower.
  • Your might skin get hot or tingle.
  • Your mouth and throat get dry.
  • You might have trouble swallowing.
  • You could get a stomachache, or feel nauseous. 

You can find out more about your body’s stress and anxiety responses in this New York Times article on Stress and Anxiety, The Body’s Response.

When Anxious Feelings Stick Around

For many people, anxiety comes and goes. But if you’ve had a lot of very stressful, very difficult experiences in your life, and you weren’t given the opportunity to process them, which can help relieve the stress, then you’re probably carrying anxiety with you all the time.

Anxiety’s Impact On Your Life

When anxiety is a constant companion, your body is living under stress most of the time. You might become used to living this way, but it takes a toll on your physical health, your mental health, your relationships and your interactions with your environment.

Some signs that anxiety might be ruling your life:

  • You’re easily startled.
  • Your startle response is out of proportion to the trigger. For example, you scream when someone touches you unexpectedly.
  • You often avoid people or situations because of uncomfortable feelings.
  • Stepping outside your comfort zone leaves you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
  • You experience anxiety attacks.
  • You worry all the time.
  • Your worries keep you up at night.

I know what it’s like to live with anxiety when it takes control of your life. It affected my sleep, my digestion and my relationships with friends and family. If I hadn’t gotten the help I needed, it might still be ruling my life.

How Anxiety Affects Relationships

You might isolate yourself when anxiety shows up

You might isolate yourself when anxiety shows up

As I mentioned above, anxiety can affect the quality of your relationships. It can make you irritable, and you might snap at your partner, children or friends for reasons that are not apparent to them, or even to you. You might isolate yourself because of your worries about stepping outside your comfort zone. You might be depressed with little motivation for new activities, because that little voice inside your head is whispering negative comments to you about your worth or abilities. Or you might think that there’s something wrong with you or that you’re damaged and can never be “normal.”

Whatever the impact, you can do things to move anxiety to the passenger’s seat!

5 Steps That Help You Manage Anxiety

  1. Recognize that anxiety often stems from fear. Try to go a little deeper to figure out what triggered your fear. If the fear seems unreasonable, as if it came from nowhere, or it stems from you feeling a lack of control, gently remind yourself that your body thinks this is a life-threatening situation, but you’re safe right here, right now.
  2. Learn and practice relaxation and grounding skills. Meditation, mindful awareness, deep breathing, taking a bath, hugging someone close to you, mindfully patting your dog or cat, or taking a walk in nature al all great options. Find what works for you, or try a combination of things. Sometimes just changing it up makes all of the difference.
  3. Exercise regularly. I can’t say enough about exercising regularly to help manage anxiety. Exercise releases the body’s  “make-you-feel-good” chemicals. According to the Anxiety And Depression Association (ADAA), “Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? You can find out more about exercise and anxiety here on the ADAA website. If you can’t do vigorous exercise, then take a 20-minute walk and try to be present with the environment.
  4. Create regular sleep habits. Getting a good night’s sleep is another great way to combat anxiety. If you aren’t sleeping well, your body doesn’t have a chance to reset and relax. So, you wake up already stressed from the day or night before. The, if you add the additional stressors of the new day, you can get very anxious very quickly.
  5. Eat a healthy diet. A healthy body works better and more efficiently, and the proper nutrition can help stimulate the body’s natural stress responses.

Individual and group counseling can also help because it gives you a safe place to process and difficult life events. It’s a space where you’re heard and seen without judgment, and it can give you hope when it might feel like there’s none. If you are struggling and you think counseling might help you manage your anxiety, call or email me and we can talk about it.

Want to know more? I have a few articles about anxiety, its causes and things you can do to help yourself on my blog and on my podcast Woman Worriers.

New support groups for women with anxiety are forming now and begin at the end of March! You can learn more here.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by Els Fattah on  Photo by Els Fattah on Unsplash

How You Can Manage Your Anxiety

My specialty is working with women who have anxiety. But anxiety isn’t just a woman’s issue. Men and women both experience anxiety. The good news is that most anxiety management strategies are gender neutral, meaning anyone can use them! Managing anxiety often starts with good self-care, because if you’re not taking care of your most basic needs, your anxiety isn’t going anywhere.

The First 3 Steps Toward Managing Anxiety

Regular exercise can help with anxiety

Regular exercise can help with anxiety

  • Exercise: Exercise is different for everyone. Some of my clients have physical limitations that prevent them from doing strenuous exercise, and some are able to work out intensely every day. I encourage you to do what you can, and do it regularly. That means at least three times a week. Why? Because our bodies want to be used physically. They are hardwired that way. When you exercise regularly, your body releases endorphins, the chemicals that make you feel good naturally.
  • Nutrition: Our bodies need nutrition, so it’s important to pay attention to what you eat. A balanced diet also balances your body and your mind.  
  • Sleep: Get a good night’s sleep. I can’t say enough about how important sleep is for overall good health, and mental health especially. Research suggests that seven to nine hours of sleep a night is a basic requirement for most adults. Without enough sleep, your body and mind don’t have a chance to “reset.” So if you’re extremely stressed when you fall asleep and you only sleep for a few hours, it’s likely you’re waking up stressed. A good night’s sleep gives your body a chance to recharge and relax. If you need some tips on improving your quality of sleep, check out the National Sleep Foundation.

Daily Anxiety Management Ideas

Day to day, you can do several things to help you keep your stress and anxiety at manageable levels. Here a just a few to get you started:

Constantly searching the Internet can increase anxiety

Constantly searching the Internet can increase anxiety

  • Stop Googling. If you’re a worrier, chances are you check Google (or another search engine) a lot. Maybe you check out a disease symptoms, or plane accident statistics, or mental health issues. Unfortunately, searching for and finding answers that might confirm your worst suspicions only reinforces your anxiety. It tells your anxious brain that you were right to worry. It might even give you things to worry about that you weren’t aware of before your search. So when you get the urge to Google, put the phone down, walk away from the computer, take a walk, or take some slow deep breaths and allow that maybe it’s OK not to know this time.
  • Meditate. Your breath is a cheap, easy way to help you manage stress and anxiety. You can use your breath as an anchor in meditation, or use structured deep breathing methods. Either way, your breath is helpful in easing anxiety. Some other great benefits of meditating, according to this article in Healthline, include: stress reduction, promotion of emotional health, enhanced self-awareness, pain management, blood pressure regulation, increased focus, increased positive feelings toward self and others, controlling addictive behaviors.
  • Move. Anxiety often makes you feels stuck. That’s because when anxiety shows up, you can get caught in the freeze response. You feel powerless or frozen, which adds to your anxiety. I encourage physical movement when you’re feeling stuck. Walking mindfully, moving your arms across your body or swaying can help to activate the part of your brain that helps you feel unstuck.

Calling A Truce With Anxiety

I hope these strategies were helpful for you! I've launched a podcast soon called “Woman Worriers,” where I share more strategies on managing anxiety, but I'm also diving deep into why women are twice as likely as men to experience anxiety. I explore the psychological, biological, social and cultural issues that contribute to women's anxiety. I also share many strategies for anxiety management, like mindfulness, grounding techniques, meditation and other interventions that you can use to help stop fighting against your anxiety and call a truce in the battle.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979. 

Photo by Justyn Warner & Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash





Preventing Stress This Holiday Season

Making yourself a priority can be difficult anytime, but it's even harder during the holidays. This week, my post focuses on ways you can take care of yourself while managing the season's craziness. I posted 30-tips to help you make it through New Year's a couple of weeks ago and over the next month I'm breaking it down by topic. Last week’s post provided tips on keeping you organized and your life under control to help you reduce stress and anxiety during the holidays and this week is all about taking care of yourself.

Practice mindfulness

Paying attention to your senses can calm the mind.

When stress overwhelms you, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. I know that frantic shoppers might not seem very calming, but if you take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses, your body can relax and you might find something to appreciate in all of the craziness.

Allow feelings, even the icky ones

Let yourself feel your feelings, and know they, too, will pass.

Take time to enjoy the holiday

If we’re caught up in all that needs to be done, we forget why we’re celebrating.

Get a good night’s sleep

A good night's sleep reduces stress, is good for your body, and does wonders for your outlook on the day.

Eat healthy

Your body will thank you. Eating junk food can make you feel lethargic, bloated and uncomfortable.

Take time each day for self-care

Taking care of yourself can reduce stress.

Self-care can be as easy as reading for pleasure or taking a walk, just spend some time doing things that nourish your spirit.

Find time to relax

Calming your mind and body can help recharge you for the next task or challenge.

Fit exercise into your to-do list

Burning off that excess energy and stress does wonders for anxiety.

Check in with yourself

When stress and anxiety hits ask yourself, “What do I need in this moment?” and pay attention to those needs. If your body is screaming at you to take a break and relax, then do it!

I hope you have a happy holiday, but sometimes, no matter how much you try to take care of yourself, you still end up feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or anxious. If you’re struggling this holiday season, know that you’re not alone. The holidays can be a very difficult time and therapy can help you talk about what’s bothering you, grieve for those you’ve lost or help you to process the difficult life experiences that keep you from moving forward. 

If you're wondering whether counseling is for you and you would like to talk about it please reach out. 

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist in Annapolis helping adults and adolescents manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling — 410-340-8469.

If you'd like more self-care tips during the holidays check out Laura Reagan's LCSW Therapy Chat Podcast episode #61.

Photos courtesy of Samilla Maioli and Kash Goudarzi for Unsplash.com.