The impact of anxiety – What is this like for you? Are you aware of when and how anxiety shows up in your life? How it slides into the driving seat in charge of your choices and actions? Do you know when it all started?

Many people have talked to me about the increase in anxiety after experiencing a serious health issue. A health issue tends to shatter our perception that we are totally in control – we realise we don’t have as much control as we thought. That and the resulting impact of not knowing what to do in this new place of not being well nor how long we will have to dwell there, anxiety can happen. In many cases, anxiety may have also predated the health issue but wasn’t as noticeable before the health issue’s onset.

The picture shows two people in a car. The license plate says 'self-care'. The woman in the passenger seat is saying, 'But I want to exercise and look after myself.' The person who is driving, which is anxiety, is saying, 'No you can't! You must do what I want! Now let me drive!' This picture demonstrates the impact of anxiety when it is in the driving seat of a part of your life. The anxiety can take over and drive your actions.

I was reminded of the impact of anxiety the other week

Most mornings I do my exercise and physiotherapy first. That way it gets done. But I noticed myself thinking in a loop-like fashion, ‘I have so much to do! I don’t have time to exercise! I need to get to work!’ It was a very familiar feeling.

Anxiety and its impact has been a part of my life but became much more noticeable after having Transverse Myelitis 10+ years ago. The kind of anxiety I am talking about here is the anxiety that is in the driving seat in some areas of your life but not in every aspect of your life. It’s not pleasant and it can be frustrating.

But it’s also not severely debilitating, it’s not a clinical diagnosis of anxiety nor does it cause you to disassociate or lose yourself. If the anxiety you feel does cause you to do that, then please obtain the support of a person who is qualified to work with that such as a clinical or counselling psychologist or psychotherapist.

The anxiety I was feeling is the kind that slides into the driving seat in some parts of my life particularly when I want to do something for myself. The impact of anxiety is that my self-care plummets.

My plants are like a barometer. I usually am taking care of them well when I am caring for myself well. What’s your barometer for knowing when you are caring for yourself well or not? #wellness #selfcare Click To Tweet

So this is what I did when I noticed my loop-like thinking. I took apart my approach and share it with you here to help you manage the impact of anxiety.

What the impact of anxiety is like

Back to that morning. I was sitting there just about to start my workout and the thoughts were going around and around in my head about not having enough time to work out and wanting to get to work at my computer.

A very busy period is starting for me where I will have two big projects happening and other smaller ones going on in the background. Four of them will be happening at the same time. (Trust me, this wasn’t planned.) This will last through mid-June, quiet down for a week, and then things will get busy again through mid-July.

The next thing I noticed was giving myself the suggestion to start work, I could do my exercise and physiotherapy in the early afternoon as a break.

I realised that I would probably end up not working out if I did that. Because that is what has often happened in the past.

Then I made myself do what I have my clients do.

I made myself notice what the anxiety was like

I sat still and just felt what the impact of the anxiety was like in my body. I felt the sensations in my body. From the waist up I was shaking a bit. I noticed I turned my head around to the right looking behind me. As if I was looking out for someone. I felt a little scared.

I was curious about me wanting to turn to the right and look behind me so I did that again. I noticed I still felt scared. And kind of young. Suddenly a childhood memory came up of my father telling me to get to work.

My internal response to this all was, ‘I must get the work done. I don’t want to get in trouble.’

Rocket science doesn’t need to tell me when and where my anxiety started. And it’s interesting how it is still present to some degree 40 years on and how it can drive my actions if I let it.

A picture of a woman considering the impact of anxiety in her life. She is remembering back to 40 years ago when she was a child. Her father is being very stern with her telling her to do her chores. She is looking up at him and thinking, 'I'm scared. I had better work.' In the present day, the woman is having a light bulb moment and is thinking, 'Hmm. That was then. This is now. I don't have to work all the time!' This demonstrates how our early experiences can influence our actions in the present. They can be the source of our anxieties. But you can lessen the impact of anxiety in your life today.

What I learned about the impact of anxiety on me

Two things were going on for me. The first trigger was the busy period and wondering how I would fit everything in. The next trigger was the loop-like thinking.

In this context I felt the anxiety as an internal shaking in me. (How you experience anxiety may be different.)

It was the movement of turning to look over my right shoulder and noticing I felt scared and young which really struck me. That and the childhood memory of my father telling me to get to work. He was an authoritarian father. He had a rota of chores for us to do and kept us busy doing them. As a young child, he more often barked commands and demands than words of warmth and gentleness. (He was dealing with his own anxiety but that is a story for another day. But interesting to note how anxiety can be passed on in families.)

This historical context turned out to be important

I’ll explain more about that in a bit.

My response to ‘get the work done’ felt familiar. It’s a common response when I feel I have a lot going on, conflicting demands and desires, and not a lot of time to do everything I want to do. I may want to workout and do other things to look after myself and my wellness but historically work would win out. That would calm the anxiety.

That nearly happened the other morning. Anxiety was sliding into the driving seat pushing me to work rather than self-care. Notice the black and white choice I was giving myself: work or self-care. I wasn’t allowing myself to have both or another option. That can happen when we feel stress due to anxiety, we give ourselves either-or choices.

The picture shows two boxes one with the word either in it and the other box with the word or in it. This demonstrates that when we feel stressed and experiencing the impact of anxiety, we often give ourselves an either-or choice. What is recommended is to take a step back and give yourself more than two choices. This is demonstrated in the rest of the pic which shows either in one box, or in another box and a second or in another box.

I told myself I would be fine, work will be there and it was ok to do my exercise and physiotherapy first. Which I proceeded to do.

What was the purpose of my anxiety?

What purpose does any #anxiety you feel serve? #seriousillness #mentalhealth #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek Click To Tweet

I went over this in a coaching session and learned that the purpose of the anxiety wasn’t necessarily all bad. It enabled me to have inner motivation to work and get a job done and strong focus on the task at hand.

However, the focus is so strong it means I get absorbed in the task or project and hours can go by without me drinking water, eating, going to the loo or taking a break. Self-care slides right off the agenda.

But I also said to my coach the anxiety no longer has a purpose. The context has changed. My father is no longer with us. My mother lives in the USA. I have no parents telling me what to do. I am my own parent now. I don’t have any parents to please. I only have to please myself. The historical context is no longer relevant. But I had been responding as if it was.

Much of the stress we experience can be due to blindly following outdated strategies. My strategy of ‘getting the work done’ had a purpose at one stage of my life, it served its role. But now it’s time to update the strategy. Here is how to do that when anxiety is trying to be in the driving seat of parts of your life.

How to manage the impact of anxiety

If the anxiety feels scary for you to deal with, please only do this with someone you trust, preferably a trained professional.

As you do this exercise, hold on to something that reminds you of the here and now. This helps to keep you anchored in the present.

Dealing with low-level anxiety that gets in the driving seat of parts of your life? Want to learn how to manage it better? Click here to learn how #anxiety #seriousillness #chronicillness Click To Tweet

1. Learn your trigger(s).

There may be more than one. They may follow each other in a sequence or not. You will need to slow yourself down to do this. Sit for a time and take yourself step-by-step through what happened when you last noticed your anxiety. If you can do this as the anxiety appears, that’s a good time to do it too.

2. Really notice how anxiety affects you physically.

How does anxiety appear in your body? Spend time with it. And as you spend time feeling the sensations, gently remind yourself you do not have to unpack and live in the anxiety. You’re just visiting with it for a short while. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes if this helps you.

3. Notice what thoughts you have.

Write them down even. Doing that helps you keep one step removed from them so you don’t unpack and live in them.

4. Notice if you feel a compulsion to move.

And notice what that movement is like. Are you wanting to move away from something, reach or move towards something, turn and look for someone? It could be anything. Repeat the movement if it helps you to get a sense of what that movement is about.

5. Notice any feelings associated with the movement.

Are you feeling surprised, scared, numb, excited, young, weaker, something else?

Observing #anxiety to understand its different components – the triggers, feelings, thoughts, any historical memories that come up, its purpose – can help to understand its role in your life and whether that role is still relevant… Click To Tweet

6. Notice if any historical memories come up for you.

Make sure you are holding on to your here-and-now item. Remind yourself you are in the present.

The historical memories I am referring to here are often not pleasant but they do not cause you to disassociate from yourself or to lose yourself in them. As you think of these memories, you realise you are still in the present and you can move on from thinking about them to focusing on something else.

But if you have a sense that something big is going to come up for you, that the historical memory was very traumatic for you and you do not feel ready to look at it yet, that’s ok. Stop and don’t continue with this exercise.

When it comes to dealing with anxiety due to very traumatic episodes in your life, I highly recommend you work with a psychotherapist or psychologist who is experienced in working with such traumas.

The historical memories can be from any period in your life. If other people are involved, notice what they are saying and doing if anything. And what you are saying and doing in return. Also notice how you are feeling about it all. This is about noticing the historical context of what may have kick started the anxiety.

7. Evaluate what is different about your current life as compared to your history.

How is your life currently different from the historical context? Who is no longer present in your life? Or they may be present but you don’t see them as often. What have you learned about yourself in the intervening years that contradicts whatever it was you thought about yourself in that historical context? What are your skills and strengths? Who else is in your life now who supports you to make the choices you want to be making?

This is key. Knowing the differences between your life then and now allows you to explain and reassure yourself that doing something different will turn out ok. This can help to quiet the anxiety a bit so you can get on with making different choices.

8. Develop a way to reassure yourself to calm the anxiety

Now that you know what is so different about your present life as compared to your history, develop a way to reassure yourself in those moments when anxiety wants to take over.

For me I have a conversation with myself. That morning I explained to myself that my father was no longer here to bark orders at me and it was more than ok to do things differently. I might not get as much work done but that wasn’t the point. The world was not going to end and my self-care is super important.  I proceeded to do my exercise and physiotherapy. I still felt some anxiety but it eventually went away.

How you reassure yourself is unique to you. You may wish to journal your thoughts, draw, do another activity, whatever.

9. Keep practicing

You have to keep practicing making the choices you want for yourself rather than let anxiety dictate them for you. Don’t worry about perfection. Good enough is fine. You will respond as per the old strategy at times. That happens. It still happens with me from time to time. I even still feel the anxiety a little when I make the choices I want for myself. But the impact of anxiety does lessen.

10. Shower yourself in self-compassion

The reason you go back to old ways and still feel some of the anxiety when you make different choices is because you’re changing something that has probably been around for a few decades. So be gentle with yourself. Shower yourself in self-compassion.

This picture shows the 10 things you can do to manage the impact of anxiety in your life. It requires you to slow down and really notice. 1) Learn your triggers. 2) Notice how anxiety affects you physically. 3) Notice what thoughts you have. 4) Notice if you feel a compulsion to move. 5) Notice any feelings associated with the movement. 6) Do any historical memories come up for you? 7) Evaluate how your present life is different from your history. 8) Develop a way to reassure yourself to calm the anxiety when it appears. 9) Keep practicing reassuring yourself and making new choices. 10) Shower yourself in self-compassion.

What’s the impact of anxiety like for you?

When and how do you experience anxiety? And what has helped you to manage it? Share your thoughts or questions in the comments below or alternatively email them to me (contact form in sidebar).  

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to manage an even transform the impact of anxiety, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2019

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