What does your anxiety look like?

So many of us struggle with anxiety. In fact, some level of anxiety is just a normal experience given the world we live in. But what do we know about how it “manifests”?  What do you look like when you are anxious about something? What
behaviours would we see that would have us say “Ah look - Heidi is anxious - she is (fill in the blank)”? Much like the conversation we have had in these pages about the Love Languages and the Language of Distress… we all seem to have some kind of Language specific to anxiety.

Some people have very clear signs of anxiety - they bite their nails, pull their hair, scratch themselves, pace, have ticks.. physical manifestations. And while that’s not great - it’s also “visible”. There are also some of us who manifest anxiety by changes in our thinking. 

When my anxiety cranks up, and it does from time to time, I start to worry about ending up like my father. I’m a chronic poor sleeper .. and I have learned, I think, how to live with that. But - when I enter a period of anxiety, all of a sudden that poor sleep means it's a sign of encroaching dementia (my dad’s story). Me forgetting what the Wordle word was is a sign of impending doom. Not remembering the name of an actor - oh my lord that's trouble! Now if I had my wits about me, which seems to be a challenge when I’m anxious, I could easily say to myself that my lifestyle is absolutely nothing like my dad’s was, that I am very healthy, that I take good care of myself, that everyone forgets things, that there is not a single sign that I am going down that path. Further, my father was three years younger than I am now when he was no longer able to care for himself. So … but the problem is, my anxious brain doesn't care about all that proof. 

I have had clients who have had specific thought patterns come up when they go through anxious periods: some withdraw and isolate themselves. This results in the “anxious brain” winning - because you then have no data to challenge whatever the story is that keeps you anxious. 

Some spiral down to a place of self-deprecation .. so their anxiety manifests as severe poor self-esteem. This despite them being aware that they have a good life, a good relationship, manage a tough job well, and get acknowledgement of such from people around them. That anxious brain convinces them to not hear any of that. 

Sometimes anxiety triggers childhood traumas. Some folks, left alone with their anxious thoughts, end up feeling unsafe, and see most things as a threat in that state. Sometimes the very being alone triggers the anxiety - and then nothing feels safe. They may vocalize that, people close to them telling them they are being negative and then they withdraw and stay to themselves, the anxious brain winning again.

Another response to anxiety can be over-functioning - in a bid to control things. And then if that person feels their bid to control things isn't working they become reactive and combative - and the problem is not anxiety but people not letting them control. That’s how anxiety is sneaky. 

So what to do? One strategy that I believe comes from the world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to externalize the anxiety. We need to recognize what our “manifestation” of it is.. So for me, when I start to hear myself saying “dementia” I have to say “ah, there is my anxiety” .. externalize it, make it something of its own .. something separate and NOT spiral into that fear place where anxiety just keeps feeding on itself. And also .. then work on what in fact is making me anxious because it is not dementia. Does that make sense? 

Or if my manifestation is poor self-talk - to recognize that and say “Oh hold on .. ok I’m anxious what's going on”   It’s our brain's job - our anxious brain's job, to obscure what's actually going on so as to keep itself anxious. 

If I’m someone whose childhood traumas get “ignited” when I’m anxious I have to listen for what that sounds like - usually like I’m afraid, the world is dangerous, no one can help me … if you are a grown up in the world now - you do have the capacity to deal with things, you are not in danger. So what is the anxiety about? 

All these many ways of “handling” our anxiety tell me that for one: we never know what is going on inside of someone. Many of us are lonely - and believe it or not loneliness can be anxiety triggering. Many of us are overwhelmed with the state of the world, with the challenge of adult living (no small thing), with finding peace in relationships, families, and so on. No shortage of challenges to meet in a lifetime. And sometimes those challenges spark anxiety - which I think is pretty normal! What we don’t need is our anxious brain adding fuel to the fire. 

Recognize what your language is. Have compassion for yourself in this challenging world. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. 

Peace to you. 

What does your anxiety look like?

So many of us struggle with anxiety. In fact, some level of anxiety is just a normal experience given the world we live in. But what do we k...