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Anxiety - Part III (Psychological)

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
— Steven Hayes

Well, well, well... we meet again, friends. As promised, I'm going to tackle anxiety from the next angle. And for today's post, I'm going to focus on the psychological component of anxiety. More specifically, I'm talking about our cognitions (read: thoughts). I'm not going to get into biology or genetics this time (it's coming, don't worry), but I am going to get into how our cognitions, in particular, can impact our anxiety. 

As an important note, cognitions are not the be-all-end-all of anxiety. One of my biggest frustrations is my experience of many counselors believing that all types of anxiety can be taken care of by thinking differently. ENHHH (*airhorn*), WRONG! While this is helpful in some contexts, it's not typically enough in and of itself.  

 
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Preventive Thinking

When we focus on the very specific cognitions related to anxiety, we're starting to shift our mindset into preventive thinking. This is a key piece of the puzzle. Once we're in that state of panic and/or high anxiety, we can't really think our way out of it. I mean that seriously. I'll cover this more in the biological blog post on anxiety, but when our brains are that highly activated, there's no 'cognitive' way out of it. However, if we start to adopt changes in our mindset and thoughts, then we can modify how and when anxiety floods our system (and hopefully lessen the intensity of it).

Mindfulness

Again, we're shifting focus here. We're going from "help me, I'm anxious" to "I'm going to set my life up in such a way that I stave off anxiety in a healthy fashion!" What we can start to do, and something that we highly advocate our clients to start doing, is adopt a mindfulness practice. Now, before you click off this blog because you've "heard this before" and we're "just more counselors telling me to 'be present' in life," hear me out!!

First off, mindfulness takes many different forms. It's not just a meditation, it can be anything from walking in nature, meditation, praying, or taking 10 minutes where you unplug and focus on your breathing (which might happen at the tail end of your yoga practice - #SavasanaForTheWin). I don't really care what sort of practice you do, but I do care that you start to incorporate some sort of mindfulness practice. The benefits of a practice far outweigh the downsides (of which there are very few, if any). One thing I am telling you is that a mindfulness practice is highly related to lowered anxiety, overall (click this for a non-sciencey supporting article and click here for a sciency supporting article). 

Long story short is that mindfulness is proven to be very effective at lowering anxiety, but not while in the midst of intense anxiety. If you were really struggling with anxiety and I talked with you about changing your thoughts, you would probably tell me to "eff off." A) You've heard what I've said before, and B) You've tried to think about different things and anxiety keeps showing up. I'll say it one more time, when you adopt a practice of mindfulness prior to experiencing those intense, acute episodes (or when dealing with a general sort of anxiety), then you're anxiety is likely to de-intensify. Pretty freaking awesome.

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Important Things to Keep in Mind When Starting (and Maintaining) a Mindfulness Practice

  1. Practicing feels good, but then you feel better, so what's the point of doing it anymore? 
    It's a trick!!! Don't fall for this one. I find myself having this conversation with clients frequently. Once we feel good, but we haven't been doing something long enough to make it a habit, we attribute it to magically feeling better, but neglect to realize the importance of keeping our practice alive! This is funny when it happens, but not funny to fall straight back into old habits where anxiety runs rampant.

  2. Wait a second... I feel weird without anxiety. I don't like this!
    This is also funny, but not when you're going through it. This is another frequent conversation I have with clients. Once folks who start to feel what it's like not to experience anxiety in a heavy way, rather than feeling really good about it, they feel fearful and uncomfortable! One resistant thought is that, "without anxiety, I won't get anything done." (Not true, but that's a valid fear). The other resistant thought is that, "I know anxiety well and I don't know if I'm ready to part with it." Some of you may read this and think it's silly and crazy. 

  3. I'll jut do it when I feel like it and not everyday. It's not that big of a deal.
    Okay, I get it. What's the point of doing it everyday, right? I mean, c'mon, it's really not that big of a deal!

    I seriously understand the above sentiment. And when I hear it, I usually just let people go that route and then check in. Inevitably, the check in includes some sort of, "I should have kept practicing." It's okay, though. This is just one of the things that people go through. It's just hard to get the benefit of something when it doesn't get practiced consistently. That's really what this is about. It's not that we want you to force yourself every single day to practice especially if you don't really have time (which is rare, but happens). We just want it to be consistent enough that you actually feel the positive effects. We believe in you!

And that's all for today, folks! It's been a while since this has been updated, so our apologies for that. But here you are - the much anticipated (ha!) blog! Enjoy and email us with questions!