“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” Pema Chödrön
Anxiety is a natural and essential part of the human experience, and when kept within a healthy range, it can enhance our performance, sharpen our focus, and increase our ability to face challenges as we strive for personal growth. My primary goal when working with anxiety is to help you navigate and embrace a balanced life, in which anxiety is harnessed as a positive force, rather than an experience that is overwhelming or inhibiting.
When anxiety levels become too high or are enacted for a prolonged period of time, our nervous system becomes taxed, which can disrupt our mental state and physical well-being. Some of the signs of unmanaged anxiety are:
a constant sense of unease
difficulty with concentration and decision-making
How Does Anxiety Impact Your Life?
Anxiety impacts how we show up in the world, creating self-doubt, eroding our self-esteem, and limiting our ability to engage fully in activities we once enjoyed, and is also linked to higher levels of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), and other chronic health conditions.
The struggle to manage anxiety often leads to avoidance behaviors–avoiding anything that creates anxiety, such as conflict, social situations, difficult conversations, dating, or travel. While avoidance might offer temporary relief, it ultimately perpetuates the problem over the long term. It keeps you from engaging in meaningful opportunities and further exacerbates the anxiety, through a seemingly never-ending loop of avoidance. This is because a small reduction in anxious symptoms through the avoidance can create just enough relief that you are drawn to continue avoiding in the future. Before you know it, you can be caught in a “worry trap,” where your world gradually becomes smaller, making it essential to address anxiety in order to regain a sense of freedom and fulfillment.
How Can Therapy Help Me Manage My Anxiety?
While anxiety can become a habit in which we become stuck in our body’s danger response system, despite the lack of any true danger, it can also be unlearned and managed. How that is accomplished is tailored to your needs and strengths, but usually involves a combination of:
* Talk therapy
* ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy)
* CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) techniques
* Breathwork, grounding exercises, and mindfulness
The primary modality that I use to address anxiety is ACT, a hybrid of CBT concepts and mindfulness, which is an evidence-based therapeutic approach designed to help you develop psychological flexibility and create a rich and meaningful life. It is rooted in the belief that suffering arises from the struggle to control, or avoid, unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and sensations, and that true well-being is achieved by accepting these experiences while committing to actions aligned with your core values.
Core Principles of ACT Include:
Cultivating mindfulness: gaining the ability to observe your thoughts and feelings without becoming entangled in them, creating psychological distance and fostering a greater sense of self-awareness
Acceptance: acknowledging and making room for your thoughts and emotions, even when they are uncomfortable or distressing, rather than trying to eliminate or suppress these experiences
Clarifying values: gaining clarity about your values as a guide to making choices and taking actions that better align with what is most meaningful and important to you
Committing to action: taking practical steps toward living a life more aligned with your values
While I use ACT to address a wide range of therapeutic concerns, including depression, stress management, chronic pain, and relationship issues, I find it to be fundamental in working with anxiety. Anxiety can be unwound. It takes work to achieve, but with the right tools and a non-judgmental space to work through these experiences, you can begin to normalize anxiety and build the resilience to live life according to your values.