Anxiety feels so uncomfortable that you want to run away from yourself except you can’t. And the longer you focus on the anxious thoughts or sensations in your body, the more anxious you feel.
Because this revved-up, anxious feeling lies to you and tries to convince you that you are sick or going crazy. And when it succeeds at convincing you, then you start to worry about these feelings never going away and being a sign that you are weak and incapable.
None of this is true about you. Your anxiety doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you. Do you believe me? If not, it’s time to learn to trust yourself again and that starts with how you think about anxiety. So instead of spending more time on the lies that anxiety has been telling you about yourself, let’s focus on understanding, recognizing, and managing it.
First of all, we all experience anxiety sometimes. We have these cool brains that are constantly working and making predictions. Our brains use up a lot of energy, so to be more efficient the brain tries to take shortcuts by making predictions. But sometimes the predictions are wrong.
Many of these predictions are outside of our awareness unless we focus on our perceptions. So when you feel uncomfortable, you notice the way it feels in your body and mind, and then that’s all you can focus on. This is how anxiety works. Anxiety gets you to focus more on feeling anxious.
At the most basic level, anxiety is a perception that something is a threat to you. You may assume that you feel emotionally threatened by your own symptoms or socially threatened in a relationship. If there was a real threat, your revved-up nervous system would be useful in helping you get to safety or defend yourself. But with anxiety, you assume what you fear is real. It’s like being prepared for battle, but you don’t need to battle. Instead, you are left with a heightened nervous system that has nowhere to go.
Recognizing Anxiety Symptoms
When your nervous system is turned up but there is no danger, how does that feel in your mind and body? It is unique to each individual.
However, here are some examples of anxiety symptoms:
• Racing thoughts
• Worry or focus on “what if”
• Nausea or stomach flopping
• “Hear” your heart beating
• Shaking or trembling
• Trouble sleeping
• Muscle tension
• Panic or fear
Anxiety is such a common symptom that I don’t even like to call it a symptom or a condition because literally, everyone will experience a heightened nervous system when there isn’t a real danger. For some people, it helps to have a name for their sensations, while others are, left feeling more anxious about having anxiety. Whichever you are, recognizing the symptoms without dwelling on them is the first step to managing them.
Marci Payne, MA, LPC, a resident of Lee’s Summit, offers anxiety and relationship counseling at https://marcipayne.com. Schedule free 15-minute phone consult at 816-373-6761 ext 2.