It’s 3 am, and yet again, I am lying awake with what I call Monkey Brain. My brain is working overtime, tackling my to-do list.
Does this ever happen to you?
Anxiety affects us all at some point or another. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada, one in four Canadians will have at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime. In Canada, anxiety is the most common mental health problem in Canada (alongside mood disorders).
[ctt template=”3″ link=”78g16″ via=”no” ]Anxiety doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Anxiety can manifest itself as a response to stress.[/ctt]
Anxiety doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Stress happens to us all, and we’ve all discovered moments of anxiety during this pandemic. Anxiety can manifest itself as a response to stress.
Anxiety isn’t necessarily the problem. The problem is when anxiety gets in the way of you living your life. When we avoid things or change the way we do things because we get anxious, we need to avoid it.
Simply defined, anxiety is when we get scared.
I get scared, and I’m sure you do too! When we examine our anxiety, it allows us to understand what is happening and recognize what we can do about it.
There are three parts to anxiety: our thoughts, our body sensations, and actions.
Thoughts; Something bad is going to happen. When I wake up in the middle of the night with Monkey Brain, I’m worried that I will forget an important deadline which will affect my reputation. We get anxious about a performance review because our thoughts make us think that perhaps we will get a bad review or even get fired! We worry about going to the grocery store because we might catch Covid, which will make us sick or have to miss work for two weeks while we isolate!
Thoughts are normal. We all have had a little anxiety-filled moment over a multitude of things.
Body Sensations: Our body is getting ready to fight, run, or freeze. You feel the anxiety; your heart beats so fast you are sure it is coming out of your chest, you can’t catch your breath, you get all clammy and sweaty, and your stomach starts performing backflips.
Actions: What do you do about your thoughts and body sensations? We yell, we cry, we potentially avoid things, or we can’t think straight and are paralyzed by our fear.
But do you let it take over? Does the anxiety become the only feeling you have?
When I woke up at 3 am with Monkey Brain, I knew exactly what I was anxious about. Unhelpful anxiety is much more vague and dangerous.
Here is how to deal with your anxiety:
– Identify the root cause of the anxiety. If you are clear about what is causing the anxiety, move to the next step. If you cannot identify what is at the root, spend some time reflecting on what is going on, what you are thinking about, what you are worried about. We need to identify what is at the root before we can move on.
For instance, perhaps you are feeling anxious because you have a meeting with HR Friday afternoon, and you don’t know what the meeting is about. If you examine what is causing the anxiety, you might be worried about this meeting’s consequences. It is to offer you another job (which would be good), or is it to let you know you are unemployed (which would be bad). Are you worried about your job, or are you worried about not having a job? Are you worried about paying your bills? Are you worried that you won’t find another job? What is the root of your anxiety?
– Focus on what you can do and control. Brainstorm all your options with special attention to those things that are in your control.
When I’m anxious about pending deadlines in the middle of the night, I focus on what I can do to release some of the anxiety and pressure (fear). I can write a to-do list; I can get up and work now; I can work late; I can get an extension, etc. I realize that there are quite a few things that I can do.
[ctt template=”3″ link=”oa4g0″ via=”yes” ]Our brain doesn’t want to be logical when we are suffering anxiety.[/ctt]
Our brain doesn’t want to be logical when we are suffering anxiety and are focusing on the things we can’t control. Instead of the helpful list that I mentioned above (because my brain is quite logical while it is focused), it worries about how tired I’ll be and calculates how many hours of sleep I’m missing, and how many hours until daylight, etc. None of that is anything I can control, which makes me even more anxious.
I make a point to say to myself, “Focus on what I can control,” instead of letting my fears spiral into things that I can’t control and make me more anxious. Pure discipline to make myself focus on black and white issues is what is required. It isn’t easy, but it does work. Sometimes we need a friend or loved one to help us with this step because we are too far into the actions of anxiety to pull ourselves out.
– Implement calm. Meditative breathing is extremely helpful here. Take a breathe in for a count of four, and breathe it out for a count of eight. Initially, you likely won’t be able to do that because your heart rate is too high. Don’t panic; keep focusing on slow deep breaths in and long deep breaths out.
When you focus on your breathing, you control your subconscious mind from spiraling out of control. You can’t panic and focus on your breathing at the same time. Your left brain is focused on counting, and it will prevent your right brain from dominating.
Give yourself permission to be human and recognize it is okay to be anxious about some elements of our life. This has been an incredibly difficult year, and we’ve had to learn many new skills.
Perhaps one of your new skills will be managing your anxiety.
I’m heading back to bed now, feeling in control and refreshed. My anxiety is under control again.