And how to start to tame it.
If working in medicine has taught me anything, it’s that anxiety is so incredibly common. I sometimes feel like half my day is spent helping people to work through it.
Now I want to clarify something before we go on. Anxiety exists on a spectrum, from your run-of-the-mill, everyday worries to full-blown clinical anxiety, which can be quite severe and disabling.
Typically, a clinical diagnosis is considered when the anxiety is bad enough to interfere with a person’s daily functioning. If you’re concerned your level of anxiety may be affecting you in this way, please consult your health care provider directly.
With that disclaimer out of the way, please note that from here forward when I refer to anxiety I’m talking primarily about the non-clinical end of the spectrum. The type of anxiety we ALL experience to varying degrees.
Let me begin with a personal example. My husband and I recently traded in our truck for a new one, and this brought up some major anxiety for me. In fact, anytime we make a big purchase I really struggle with money-related anxiety. I don’t like spending it. I’m a saver by nature, so it’s hard for me.
To be clear, both of us have good jobs and make good money. I’m in no way trying to minimize the very real financial struggles which are legitimately cause for stress and anxiety for some. Quite the opposite.
The fact that we DO have good incomes is actually very important to my point. I’m so incredibly lucky to not have to worry about money. Not really. And yet I still do. No matter how much I try to stamp it out, my thoughts still go there. “That’s too much”, “We need to save more”, etc.
What this aptly demonstrates is that anxiety is mainly created by our thoughts, not our circumstances.
It’s our thoughts, the stories we tell ourselves, the possibilities we concoct in our minds, that lead us to feel anxious.
The best explanation I’ve ever heard around this concept comes from The Life Coach School Podcast, hosted by Brooke Castillo. In the coaching world she has coined something called “The Model“. Essentially it goes like this:
Our circumstances create our thoughts.
Our thoughts create our feelings.
Our feelings create our actions (or inactions).
And our actions create our results.
In this model, we do not have control over our circumstances. These are the purely neutral facts of life. (Using my example, the truck costs X amount of dollars at the end of the day.)
What we DO have control over is our thoughts. This is made evident by the fact that two people can have very different thoughts based on the exact same set of circumstances.
One might choose to think, “I know we can afford it in theory, but what if we need that money for something else unexpected? Maybe we should opt for something less expensive.” Another might think, “I’m so grateful that we can afford to invest in a safe, reliable vehicle for our family”.
Same exact circumstances. But very different thoughts. One leads to feelings of anxiety, the other abundance and gratitude.
With this in mind, it stands to reason that the first step in learning to conquer our anxiety is examining our thought patterns. What are we thinking that is leading us to feel anxious? And what more positive or empowering thoughts could we choose to create a different feeling?
The same basic tenet is used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), the gold-standard counseling approach for treating clinical anxiety. Both come down to working on our mindset in a very purposeful way, with the aim of changing our perspective.
It’s simple, but not necessarily easy. And it takes practice.
It may seem silly but actually writing it down, whether in the form of a thought diary or just free-form journaling, can be really helpful. Mostly because it forces you to really slow down and reflect. You may be surprised at some of the thoughts that come up that you didn’t even realize you were having!
I encourage you to try it out.
What are your most common sources of anxiety? What thought(s) are you having that are driving that anxiety? And what thought(s) could you choose instead to maybe help you feel a little better?
Hopefully some of you find this a helpful addition to your toolbox for dealing with stress and anxiety!
Until next time,