What is anxiety?
Anxiety is not necessarily pathological, it’s protective a lot of times. I think, people get anxious and then they assume that the whole process is something that’s run afoul, or this isn’t necessarily a good thing, but in context, it’s protective and a lot of times motivating. Pain motivates a lot of times better or more than pleasure. Perhaps both, depending on where you are in New York City, I guess. But anxiety disorders, however, are a situation that is something gone a bit awry, where you’re stuck in a sympathetic nervous system over-response. The anxiety you feel being out of proportion to the stressor. So, it’s one thing if you have a stressor and in proportion, you have a response of anxiety that’s protective, but when you’re stuck in high gear for anxiety and your anxiety is totally out of proportion to the stressor, that’s when it can be pathologic, that’s when it can be a problem, and that’s when people should probably look to manage it in some way.
From a psychiatry point of view, what are the triggers that people may experience that can lead to anxiety or anxiety disorders?
A lot of times people have obviously excessive worry or they feel anxiety about a certain thing. Other times they might have more subtle tells, but like a tell in poker, you might get a feeling that your mind is looping or That’s probably unfortunate gesturing, right? But your mind is stuck like a record that gets stuck and keeps going over and over things. It’s called anxious rumination. A lot of times you can have tightness of the chest or an upset tummy or getting tremulous or feel as if you’re having a pounding heartbeat.
And I think at the right of it, really the idea in this is to keep yourself from going into the red zone of the … almost like a speedometer, where you’re reactive and anxiously ruminating about a topic. So, a lot of times people have something occur and they don’t realize that they have thoughts in reaction to it that aren’t necessarily something they have to follow. But if you don’t understand that you’re not your thoughts, your thoughts are just a part of you, then it’s really difficult to make the distinction that you can choose to follow certain thoughts or not. So, you have an element of control there.
What would you recommend from a professional point of view other than seeking out and getting professional help with anxiety?
I guess the first idea to acknowledge is that you have some say in which thoughts you choose to follow or not. And your mind is kicking up thoughts all the time, it’s like debris, right? And your reality is very much defined by which thoughts you choose to focus on.
So, knowing that you have some agency in what you allow yourself to follow, gives you a means to actually control the situation and calm yourself down. One thing would be not to get into an anxious circuit to begin with or anxious system. So, that’s monitoring yourself throughout the day and choosing to get involved with things or do things, knowing that certain things will drive you into that red zone, over the line.
And to the point, people aren’t at their best right now, they’re not as resilient generally. There’s this pervasive anxiety that’s engendered by the pandemic and our response to it and shut down or just all the things going on in the world, politics, and everything else. So, the mind holds on to that stuff and is always thinking about it and ruminating about it and it can’t really solve it. So, it’ll keep tracking and going around and around in the background. And I think that people have less resilience in that they are likely to be more reactive to certain situations and get into an anxious state. So, one way of managing it would be to monitor your tells or your signs or whatever your prominent symptoms are, like the tightness of the chest, or I start to get a headache and then you know, “Oh, I’m starting to get …”
What’s your go-to coping mechanism when things get a little bit hectic?
Well, I have a certain way of looking at things that I rely on and I’m always trying to improve the process, it’s by far from perfected. But the way that I look at things is that we go about in the world and we’re unaware of how things generally work, we’re just living our experience and reacting to things.
But generally what you want to do is, and what I do is, I create a mindset that allows me to address obstacles and issues that are coming and do it in a way, do it in a manner that gives me not only the ability to get something done but do it in a way that’s energetically buoyant. So, it gives you an element of control. So, if you populate the intervals every day, if you structure your days, which is something, I think that’s very important for people right now. And when the beginning of the pandemic happened, I think most people thought, “Okay, well, Netflix and work from home and chill by myself.”
The biggest takeaway from today’s episode about anxiety:
Mental health is a journey it’s not just a one fix, the next day you’re going to be fine. It doesn’t work like that. You are going to have to put the work in, but for someone who has come through the other side and still lives with a mental challenge, it’s about applying and wanting to get better because you are so much more than your anxiety. You’re so much more than your panic attacks. They’re just a small part of you, just as you have so many other incredible qualities. And we’ve covered it off, but it’s about when you’re on this bit of a journey, you can actually use your anxiety and this state of panic to drive and motivate you through any life struggle.