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Befriending Anxiety

Befriending anxiety podcast episode. Women standing in stillness before a vast ocean.
Learning to befriend out anxiety. New podcast episode

 

Welcome to The Wholehearted Mom Podcast! It’s our launch season and I am so honoured to have you here. You’ll be glad you joined. 

In this episode we will cover:

  • 3 facts about anxiety
  • A mini anxiety 101 lesson
  • The importance of awareness
  • And 4 ways you can make peace with your anxiety 

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#inthistogether 

Sarah Reckman

Episode #9: Befriending Anxiety

I am Sarah Reckman. I am a certified life coach with a masters degree in social work and I have over 12 years of experience with a specialization in mental health. My knowledge and resources come from my experience and training, however my passion comes from my personal experiences. About 5.5 years ago I developed postpartum anxiety. 

I know what it’s like to experience panic and fear for no reason. I know what it’s like to feel terrified and shame because of my intrusive thoughts. I know what it’s like to feel trapped in your home because the world outside is just too scary. I know what it is like to be irritable, impatient, and distant from loved ones. I know what it’s like to be so exhausted from trying to always be stronger than I feel. 

I also know what it’s like to find healing. Now just to clarify, healing from a mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean it all goes away but it does mean that it doesn’t control you anymore. And it means that you have a healthy relationship with your anxiety so you can still experience a life of abundance and joy. 

I am so excited to share some resources and tools with you today so that you too can start healing your relationship with anxiety and worry.

3 FACTS ABOUT ANXIETY

  1. Anxiety is normal and plays an important role 
  2. Anxiety is connected to our stress response system (fight, flight, freeze) 
  3. You can have a healthy relationship with your anxiety

Anxiety 101

Anxiety is a natural, adaptive response we experience when we feel unsafe or threatened. Anxiety is our body’s reaction to perceived danger or important events. We perceive many kinds of “threats”; some can be specific and real (e.g., being followed down a dark alley). Some feel more vague, like a general sense that something “bad” will happen. 

We may also have an anxious response to a threat we are imagining in our heads, like picturing a loved one getting into an accident. (Anxiety Canada). Anxiety triggers our stress response system to alert us to danger and helps our body prepare to deal with it. We can experience anxiety in these areas:

In Our Bodies:

For example – increased heart rate, sore stomach, tight chest and throat, shallow breathing, loss of appetite, difficulty falling or staying asleep, etc.)

In our mind:

For example – racing thoughts about the future; imagining the worst-case scenario; ruminating; worrying and obsessing, etc.

In our actions or behaviours:

For example – avoiding certain situations, activities, places, or people; over-controlling; asking others for constant reassurance; checking things repeatedly; being extra careful and vigilant of danger, etc.

Anxiety is the body’s alarm system.  Anxiety causes the amygdala to be overactive causing an amygdala hijacks to occur. When the amygdala hijack goes off due to anxiety (or a perceived threat) we call this a false alarm – similar to when your smoke detector goes off because you burnt toast. 

Anxiety perceives a threat and makes our body think it is in danger when really we are just embarrassed, upset, frustrated, or sad. Anxiety is actually a good normal human emotion. Anxiety motivates us when we need to succeed, such as getting nervous for a test or presentation and it warns us when things don’t feel right. 

Anxiety may become a disorder when a person is preoccupied with fear and worry, and these symptoms interfere with daily functioning.

Awareness is the first step!

Awareness: state of being aware – knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists. Awareness is always the first step in working towards befriending our anxiety. We need to be able to observe and name the feelings and physical sensations as such. 

We need to be able to confidently say to ourselves this icky thing I am feeling right now is anxiety or these are anxious thoughts. Daniel Siegel has this cute phrase ‘name it to tame it’ in which he shares that part of the battle in taming our emotions is simply being able to name them – being aware of them. 

Action: take a moment to reflect on these two questions…. 

  • What does anxiety look like for you? 
  • I feel anxious when…. 

How do we make peace with our Anxiety

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Calming the Physical Reaction 
  3. Changing the Thought 
  4. A lifestyle of Positivity 

Mindfulness

“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you”. Self-care is also about having a special relationship with yourself – one that is life-giving and supportive. They say that mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experiences. Mindfulness gives us space to breathe.

Why be mindful? According to Aislinn Burke from the Centre for Change, Mindfulness practices can help us to increase our ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression.  It can also help us to focus our attention, as well as to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment.  As we become more present in our lives and in relation to others, it can help us to make better decisions, to manage our emotions and to be more fully engaged in life. (Aislinn Burke, Centre for Change) ​

Now I want you to take a moment and see if your holding any tension in your body… release your shoulders from your ears, unclench your jaw, and remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth. We tend to hold onto stress in physical ways. Relax. Take a deep breath!

Physical Reaction

“When your stress response is triggered (fight, flight, freeze) we start to experience physical reactions or symptoms such as shallow breathing, tense muscles, sweating, racing thoughts etc. Each of these reactions plays an important role for survival if there is a bear in the woods, however if our stress response system is triggered due to anxiety and stress, we don’t need these physical reactions to function in the same way. Therefore, we need to trick our body into thinking it’s calm in order for it to actually begin to feel calm and safe again. We do this by calming down the physical reaction we are experiencing. 

I invite you to reflect on how anxiety shows up for you in the body… now depending on which physical reaction you experience you want to chose a coping strategy that helps target that symptom. For example: if your physical reaction is shallow breathing than you need to practice deep breathing and if your reaction is sweating, you need to splash your face with cold water.  

My favourtie strategies are deep breathing, grounding, and muscle relaxation.

Change The Thought

Thought – Feeling – Behaviour – Body Connection

In CBT we believe that our thoughts are largely responsible for our emotions. An event on its own doesn’t cause an emotion – it’s our interpretation of that even that does. And unfortunately, our thoughts aren’t always the most accurate. Although our thoughts are very real to us, they aren’t always true or fact. However, the neat thing is that we can learn to control our emotions and behaviours by learning how to interpret situations in different ways. 

“We can’t change our anxious thoughts by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”

Mindset is Everything - how do we manage anxiety and worry through our thoughts

Our thoughts hold a lot of power and are very strongly tied to the emotions we feel. The problem is that sometimes our thoughts aren’t always accurate or true and then we feel emotions that result in negative behaviours. Don’t get me wrong your thoughts are very real and so are your feelings but it doesn’t always mean it’s true or fact. 

Let me give you an example – I text my husband asking how he is doing. He doesn’t text me back all day. I start to think… “What’s his problem?” “Is he mad at me?” “Does he even care about me if he hasn’t thought about me all day?” “Is he texting other people?” These thoughts lead me to feel anger, frustration, and emotional distance from my husband. When he comes home from work I am now in a bad mood and snap on him for something small. 

All of these thoughts and feelings were very real to me, however none of them were true. In fact, what I didn’t know was that there was a major crisis at work and he was called into mandatory meetings and didn’t even get lunch or a chance to check his phone.

Take Action: Have a conversation with your anxiety

There are so many strategies I could teach you on how to challenge and reframe our faulty (or anxious) thinking, however for the purpose of today I am going to teach you how to have a healthy conversation with your anxiety. Yes, that’s right I want you to actually talk to your anxiety and even journal if that’s your thing. 

So next time you are filled with anxiety and worry, I encourage you to take a few minutes to have a conversation with it and write down both sides of the discussion ( I know this sounds weird but trust me this stuff works!)

Here are some questions I want you to ask it….

  • What do you think that will get us?
  • How do you think we’ll feel after we do that or don’t do that?
  • What will the consequences in the outer world be? 
  • What will the consequences be in my inner world? Will I feel good about myself? Will I feel guilty, proud, ashamed?

Here are some statements for talking back confidently:

  • I know that at first that may seem fine but ultimately it will make me feel worse because…
  • I am not willing to do that. 
  • Instead I am willing to… 
  • Thank you anxiety for trying to keep my safe the best way you know how but I can take it from here…

Amy Saltzman (author) shares that the process of communicating with our feelings often brings clarity, and ease.

Once we identify our anxious thought, & communicate with it, we need to reframe it. 

How can I change this statement to be more accurate/true/positive?

Example: Anxious thought – my husband doesn’t care about me and my day.

Reframe: I know my husband loves me. He must be busy at work today.

  • Your turn… (choose a negative thought you have had recently or often and reframe it to be more accurate/positive )

Positivity

When we fill our mind with positive thoughts, it begins to scan the world for the positive instead of the negative – it begins to see the good in experiences instead of fear them. One of the best ways to fill our mind with positivity is through affirmations, positive self-talk, and gratitudes. I encourage you to write out 3 examples for each, that speak to you.

I have some examples to share with you that resonate with me…

Positive Self-Talk Examples

I can do this.

This feeling won’t last forever.

I am not alone!

I know my husband loves me.

Affirmations for Anxiety

I am stronger than I feel.

I can take things one step at a time.

God is in control and he loves me. 

I choose faith over fear. 

Anxiety does not define me!

Affirmations for Covid Anxiety

I focus on what I can control instead of what I can’t.

I take necessary precautions and then release the need to worry.

I truly hope that you found this information helpful and have some strategies that you can start implementing into your daily life right now! 

I want to leave you with a blessing. May you find ways to challenge your thinking and encourage yourself through positive self-talk, may you appreciate the purpose and protection your body offers through your fight, flight, & freeze response, may you find ways to experience calm in the midst of the storm, and above all, may you find ways to cast your burdens on our Creator- trusting that God loves you and has a plan for you.

Mentioned in this Episode: