Anxiety can show up in many different ways for each of us. While anxiety may be a familiar companion for some, the current world, environmental, and financial stressors may be contributing to an emergence of anxiety as a new presence for others. Anxiety tends to manifest as a result of the unknown, which is why it’s so common in this day and age. To start doing the work to manage our anxiety, it can be helpful to learn how to understand more about anxiety and depression itself. It can be a necessary step to protect and care for ourselves more effectively from the stress of the world around us. Especially when those stressors may be present for an unknown length of time.
What Are the Feelings of Anxiety
Those who suffer from anxiety may have thoughts of “people don’t understand me”, or feeling very different than others due to the anxiety, or any other mental health concern for that matter. Learning what your anxiety is and why it happens can be helpful to starting to manage it. Your autonomic nervous system (more commonly known by its initials, ANS) is a system in your body that regulates functions such as your heart rate, breathing, urination, sexual function, etc. It’s also the system that reacts when you are under a physical threat. The ANS produces the “fight-or-flight” response, which is biologically designed to help you defend yourself or run away from danger. However, we now know that anxiety is often triggered under less physically dangerous triggers, such as emotional pain or stress. Knowing the biological origins of anxiety can help us to have more self-compassion for ourselves, and reduce blaming for experiencing anxiety.
Leaning into discomfort is never easy or fun. It’s also not our natural state of being. As mentioned earlier, our mind and body is created to turn away from threats and discomfort out of safety and survival. Learning to override this initial reaction is hard, but can lead to more long term relief. A good, albeit difficult, first step is to work on noticing our emotions versus reacting to our emotions. When we feel irritable, angry, sad, frustrated, scared, worried, or any other uncomfortable feeling, we may naturally want to find ways to fix or get rid of it. We have a tendency to do this for others’ discomfort, as well. Unintentionally, we may be prolonging our own or others’ suffering. Sitting in and validating our feelings instead of pushing them away or playing along with them, can be far more beneficial.
If we can allow ourselves some space to explore and sit in our discomfort, we can potentially learn some things about ourselves. Knowing how our anxiety manifests can be vital in learning how to manage it. There are a variety of symptoms of anxiety, both physical and emotional. Cognitive and emotional symptoms include: difficulty concentrating, mind going blank, restlessness, irritability, worry, and fear. Physical symptoms include being easily fatigued, muscle tension, nausea, diarrhea, sleep difficulties, physical restlessness, stomachache, and headache. Taking our time to notice how we are feeling, physically and mentally, will help us to learn how our anxiety presents itself.
Once we have a better idea of how our anxiety presents, we can start to take note of potential stressors, no matter how big or small, that may be influencing our emotions. Finding patterns between our emotions and environmental stressors is the next step, in order to anticipate and manage anxiety symptoms. When we can draw connections between stressors and the manifestation of anxiety, we can prepare ourselves for future discomfort. Sometimes, there may be such small triggers for anxiety that they are seemingly non-existent. If your anxiety tends to appear without a clear trigger, it’s important to still treat our anxiety with the same compassion as we would when the trigger is obvious.
Sharing How You Feel With Others
Understanding anxiety can take time and may be a difficult process for some. Even more so, sharing and educating our family, friends, and co-workers can be an overwhelming task. We are allowed to be selective with who we share our most vulnerable moments. Confiding in our closest friends or family members, particularly those we trust the most, can be the best people to share what we’re feeling. Telling them about what to look for when you are anxious and what situations could be potential triggers tends to be the most helpful. If you are able to provide them more information as to what helps you manage your anxiety, they can assist you in practicing those skills, and help you to avoid or navigate triggers.
You are also allowed to set boundaries with people that may make your anxiety worse or do not take the time to understand or acknowledge it. Protecting our mental health is a critical part of anxiety management. When people “don’t understand you”, and don’t take the time to learn, that can take a substantial toll on your well being. Setting time, physical distance, and emotional energy limits with those people can be necessary practices to protect the work you’ve done on managing your anxiety.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, August). Recognizing and easing the physical symptoms of anxiety. Retrieved November 6, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/recognizing-and-easing-the-physical-symptoms-of-anxiety
National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.-a). NIMH Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved November 9, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml#part_145336