More Than You See 3.4 - You Are More Than Your Anxiety
6:56PM Nov 29, 2021
generalized anxiety disorder
Hello, everyone, thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the More Than You See podcast season three, hosted by me, actor, filmmaker mental health advocate Deborah Lee Smith. Every Monday, I come to you to share some resources, have a conversation, and generally just dive into all sorts of topics around mental health. I am not a licensed practitioner or therapist, but just a woman exploring my own mental health journey and sharing it with you, my listeners, my hope is that this podcast brings you some joy, some understanding and some tools so that you can build your own mental health toolbox.
Thank you, everyone so much for joining me for season three, episode four of the podcast. The next three episodes, we are going to be talking about anxiety. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons for that conversation. We have just ended Thanksgiving, and we are going into some more holidays. And I think that everyone is feeling a heightened sense of anxiety. But I also did get a very wonderful voicemail from one of our listeners, and she specifically requested that we discuss anxiety and I'm going to play this voicemail for us right now.
Hey,I was wondering if you could do a episode about anxiety. My name is Lisa. And I hope that will be an episode you can do. Because I have generalized anxiety disorder. So take care. I love the podcast so far. Thanks. Bye.
Thank you so much, Lisa, for sharing this part of your story with us for being so open and vulnerable about your own experience with anxiety. If you want to leave your own voicemail and request a specific topic, please know that you can go to anchor which is who hosts this podcast and the link is in the show notes. And there's a little link that says leave a voice message. And you can click on tha and it will come to my inbox the way that this one did from Lisa, and then I can address whatever you want me to address on a future episode.
And as I just mentioned, we are actually going to take anxiety and discuss it over the next three episodes because there's a lot of different types of anxiety. And I think that anxiety is one of those things that is sometimes a symptom of other mental health disorders, but it is also a specific mental health diagnosis within itself. And so I think that because of that, it's really important for us to really do a deep dive into anxiety.
And let's start with a very brief definition from the Oxford Dictionary about what anxiety actually is. According to the Oxford Dictionary, "anxiety refers to a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome". In psychology, though, there's a little bit more that it goes into because anxiety is used to describe any kind of nervous disorder that is marked by excessive unease and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks. And again, that is also from the Oxford dictionary. So both of those things just describe this idea that anxiety is this feeling of nervousness or unease about something that we cannot control.
Now let's talk a little bit about the history of anxiety and where this all comes from. Just like many different parts of mental health because of many different parts of psychology, we as people, in our human selves, developed anxiety for a very good reason, because of the fact that we used to be confronted with saber toothed tiger attacks, and our bodies would react to this sense of unease to this external force that was potentially harming us. Now, we are no longer thankfully under saber tooth tiger attacks. Well, unfortunately for the saber tooth tiger, but fortunate for us, but that anxiety is still there. And one of the reasons for that is, you know, I talked on a previous episode about how our brain just like remembers the wiring. And once you have a thought process, or once you have some kind of brain function that just repeats itself over and over for your lifetime for generations. It continues and therefore something like anxiety, even though we no longer are physically in danger from saber toothed tiger attacks, our brain sometimes reacts to external altercations. And of course I'm not talking about when you are in physical danger, that is a different conversation. This is this is when we have, you know, something that we are perceiving as danger, that may not actually be the case.
So for example, if you're in a cereal aisle, and there's way too many different types of cereal and you start to spiral about the different types of cereal, and you can't decide what you want to choose, that's something that can actually cause a high level of anxiety and can cause a panic attack or something like that. And of course, again, that isn't a saber toothed tiger, but it can, it can trick your brain into thinking that it's the exact same kind of reaction that you should have. And so I want to give some validity to that, like there's a reason that our brains react the way that they do. And there are some things that we can do in order to kind of retrain our brains.
But I want to start out by saying that there's a reason that we have such strong reactions to things. And if you do have panic attacks, if you do have social anxiety, or generalized anxiety, which is we're going to talk about all the different types right now, but if you do have huge reactions to something, there is a reason for that. And you're not alone.
Anxiety is a symptom of other different types of mental illness, but it is also a specific mental disorder, and it is the most common mental health disorder in the world. So let's just remember that right now, as we continue this conversation going forward. Now, there are a few different types of anxiety. And we're actually going to address each of these three main types over the next three episodes, because there's a lot to talk about for each three. And you know, I like to keep these short and sweet. And just leave you guys with a little bit of joy, a little bit of knowledge, and then allow you to continue on with your day.
So this week, we are going to talk about generalized anxiety disorder, which is also known as GAD. And this is where a person feels anxiety on most days. Oftentimes, it is characterized according to the Mayo Clinic that if you are experiencing anxiety, several times a day for a period of three to four months or more, then that is something where you are clinically able to be diagnosed as a someone with GAD: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But of course, I am not a licensed practitioner, please go see your doctor. Have them refer you to a psychiatrist who can do a quiz and help you determine whether or not this is actually something that you are suffering from and something that you can work through. Because again, your mental health is the same as your physical health. It is something that should be treated and looked at in a holistic way. But it's important to start that with a doctor who can actually put a name and put some some definition and some gravitas to whatever you're going through.
The second type of anxiety is social anxiety. And this is what we're going to talk about next week. And this is when a person has an intense fear of being criticized or embarrassed in everyday situations. And this could be whether you're in large social situations or whether or not you're very small, like you're just again, in a grocery store. This is often misrepresented as someone with agoraphobia having social anxiety. And I want to say that those two things are different because specific phobias, like agoraphobia, are a whole different type of anxiety. So agoraphobia actually isn't that you are afraid of going outside, it's that you are afraid of being unhelpful in social situations, and therefore you do not want to go outside. So it is actually kind of one step back from the fear of, you know, being out in public. So again, just to quickly review, we've got generalized anxiety disorder, which we're going to talk about this week, we've got social anxiety, which we're going to talk about next week. And then in two weeks, we're going to talk about specific phobias. And again, that's about someone who has a specific fear or feels fearful about something very specific - a particular object or a situation, and therefore they avoid it. And that can therefore negatively impact their lives.
Really quickly, I want to take a step back from that. And say that even though there are, you know, these three different types of anxiety, there's often these root causes that are the umbrella over all of those different types of anxiety. And those root causes are often related back to the different types of things that impact our mental health in general that I've talked about in previous episodes, like: your social situations, your environment, both your physical environment and your social environment, your spirituality, your connection to a larger community, your brain chemistry or you know what goes on with your hormones, all those kinds of things. And then your physiology, which is you know who you are based on your past DNA.
Again those root causes are very, very important when looking at anxiety because of course, you could be very anxious about a specific thing, because you have inherited that anxiety from a previous family member or from a parent or something like that. I mean, we've talked about generational trauma on this podcast before, and this is definitely something that shows up when it comes to anxiety where you could have someone in your previous generation who has had a negative reaction to something and it is therefore then reinforced and come up for you as well. So I think that it's so important to, to remember that who you surround yourself with what you surround yourself with, what you were putting in your body, how your brain chemistry is reacting to things, you know, all of those sorts of things, so strongly affect your anxiety. And that is why anxiety is, you know, the number one both symptom as well as mental illness in the world.
Now, because we are talking about generalized anxiety in this episode, I think that it's important to start by saying that there are some daily things that you can do in order to help with that generalized anxiety. And I am, you know, pretty sure that anyone who is listening to this, you've probably experienced this before. And you probably know that when you do these tiny little things, they do positively impact your mental health in so many ways.
Number one, setting boundaries with people that cause you anxiety or situations that cause you anxiety, I think that it's so important to have self awareness about who and what is causing you to feel anxious. And sometimes again, it could be something like going to the grocery store. Now that is something that you might need to dive into deeper with a therapist or really do some deep diving as to why that situation is causing you anxiety. But more often it is something like this person makes me anxious, this situation makes me anxious, this place makes me anxious. And so it's so important to be able to have some kind of mood tracker where you write down, you know, this person this thing ecetera is making me anxious, and therefore maybe I need to separate myself from from them.
I'm going to share something personal here. I know that whenever I'm in a relationship that is winding down, or I'm having difficulties in a relationship, and this could be both romantic relationship or a friendship, I do start to write down how that person makes me feel when we have a conversation. And it's like: Does that hurt when I leave that conversation? Do I feel anxious when I see that person? Did they make me feel good? Or do they make me feel stressed? And I think that so often we don't pay attention to how important our guttural reaction to people, places, things are. Again, let's go back to those saber toothed tigers. Like our bodies have a large sense of self awareness that we often ignore and put a damper on. And so it's so important to go, oh, this person, place or thing is not making me feel good. Or this person, place or thing IS making me feel good. So bring some more of that goodness into your life and potentially put some boundaries up against those people, places, or things that are causing you anxiety, even if it's a family member. Whatever the situation is, there may need to be some boundaries that will therefore positively impact your mental health in the future.
Of course, there's other things that you can do meditation, journaling - going back to you know, writing down how those people, places, or things are making you feel - box breathing. Box breathing is something that is often taught to people who are having panic attacks. And the philosophy behind this is that it allows your brain to kind of switch out of this fight or flight mode and just focus on something very specific. And box breathing is all about breathing in for a consistent count of breaths. So like for example, breathing in for four counts, holding your breath for four counts, breathing out for four counts, and then holding your breath again for four counts. And it depends on your you know, lung capacity and who you are and all those things, but the idea is that you create a box in your brain, in your mind, and that allows your, your entire autonomic nervous system to to temper itself and kind of come back to neutral.
Very similarly, when someone is having a panic attack, something that you can do is to look around the room and note to yourself three things that you see, three things that you hear, three things that you smell, and three things that you can touch. And again, by just like activating the other senses, it allows your brain to kind of switch its attention from being really freaked out and really anxious to other things that are going on in the situation. And that definitely helps your brain go from that fight or flight into a less anxious frame of mind.
So those are just a few tiny things that you can do in order to allow that anxiety to not dominate the situation when something is happening. Of course, I am specifically talking about generalized anxiety, we are going to talk about social anxiety and specific phobias and in our next two episodes, and I will have some more tips and suggestions about how to deal with those anxieties. But again, it is so important when you are dealing with generalized anxiety to look at those root causes. Look at those people, those situations, your current life situation, whatever it is, that is potentially causing that anxiety, address those root causes. See if there's some way that you can, you know, build some boundaries or figure out a more productive way to interact with those people or those situations etc...have some kind of meditation practice and breathing practice, something that will cause your fight or flight system in your brain to come back to neutral and realize that you are not under attack that you are, you know, safe in this space. And again, I'm not talking about if you are actually in physical danger, I'm talking about when your brain switches into thinking that you are in peril even if you potentially are not. And, again, journaling is so so helpful.
Of course, there's other things that you can do. And this relates to all anxiety, such as you know, limit your caffeine, make sure you're going for walks, make sure you're drinking enough water, make sure that you're eating healthy foods, like all of those things that just relate to our mental health, of course, impact us. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, when it comes to those root causes, I strongly recommend that you go back to Season One of the podcast, where in episodes eight, nine, ten, and eleven I talk about brain chemistry, our physiology, also our childhood and how it affects our mental health, our spirituality and our environment. And in those episodes, I really go you know, dive deeper into those root causes and how and why they affect our mental health and our anxiety in such a huge way.
Okay, finally, I want to leave you with a little bit of homework assignment today. This is something that was recommended to me by a friend, he was recommended by a therapist, too, when you are having anxiety about a specific situation and starting to spiral about a specific situation... For example, you're thinking about a whether or not you're going to get a specific job or whether or not you're going to, you know, reach your goals in some specific way, or whether or not you're going to have children, like anything that is a big that is weighing on you in a huge way. His therapist recommended that at a specific time, every day, he would sit down and write for five minutes, all of his fears, as related to that specific fear, whatever he's spiraling about, whatever you are spiraling about, you sit down and you think for five minutes, and you write down, excuse me, write down for five minutes, all of your different fears that you have related to that larger overarching fear. And then throughout the day, if those fears pop into your head and are causing you anxiety so that you aren't able to continue on with your day, you kind of just gently remind yourself that right now is not the time to go into those fears. Those fears are something that you are going to address tomorrow morning at 8am.
So this idea is that every morning, choose a time every morning, at 8am I'm going to write down all of my fears around this idea: What if I never have children? And if I start to spiral about it later on in the day, I go, nope. Deborah, we're not going to talk about that right now. We are going to address those things tomorrow morning instead. And you know, he was talking about how transformative it was for him and I am genuinely so excited to dive into this for me, because I think that sometimes we do really allow our brains to kind of control our lives.
And of course, our brain is so important, and of course it is running our lives in so many ways. But it is also so important to remember that our thoughts are not facts. Whatever we are spiraling about, those are not things that are factual. We don't know what's going to happen in the future, and spiraling, you know, losing hope, not feeling empowered in some way, those things are not going to serve us and they are just going to lead us further down a rabbit hole. And so it's so important to kind of take a step back and go, I'm not going to address that right now. I'm going to write my fears down, and then I'm going to continue on with my day and know, again, that my thoughts are not facts.
Starting this week, I'm going to end our episodes in a new way. I'm going to read a quote that relates to the previous episode. And today I want to share this quote that "you should not believe the things that you tell yourself when you are sad and alone".
Please remember that you and everyone around you is more than you see. Thank you so much for listening. I look forward to talking about social anxiety with you. Please be kind to yourself, and I will see you next week.