Video
Treatment

Anxiety: Taking Action by Building Awareness

By Alex Harrison, LCSW

Transcript

Alex Harrison:
This is the second in a three part series focused on anxiety and the goal here is to help you better understand the experience of anxiety so that you can begin to relate to it differently and ultimately navigate it more effectively. As we move forward keep in mind that a healthy relationship with anxiety keeps our perspective broad so that we can see our options. Unchecked anxiety keeps us from recognizing both perspective and potential. So maybe you're noticing that anxiety shows up in a way that leads you to see fewer options in front of you in a way that's leading you to say no to an increasing number of things in your day to day life, and you're considering making some changes. Well, making meaningful change starts with building emotional awareness, and that is going to be the focus of this video.

So there's some basics to internalize when it comes to building emotional awareness. First know that emotions are automatic responses to internal and external events. We cannot pick and choose to have the emotions that we have, they simply are. Secondly, emotions are neither good nor bad. It's our culture that often dictates the goodness and worthiness of our emotions, our community culture, and our family culture. Consider your own family of origin, your family probably had rules spoken or unspoken about the feelings that were the most acceptable and those best kept to yourself. Maybe you grew up in a home where you could openly share when you were feeling frustrated or hurt, or maybe your family culture taught you that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. It's not the emotion that's problematic. It's how we respond to our emotions that can be the problem. Bottling them up or telling ourselves that our feelings are wrong or bad can actually increase our anxiety and distress. It's learning to accept and make room for our emotions that helps us navigate them more effectively.

Third, emotions give us information because they are often connected to what matters to us. When I'm doing something that matters to me, I often feel satisfied, energetic, happy, and sometimes anxious or even vulnerable. Often when we feel Ang angry or hurt it's because we feel that our values, what matters to us have been threatened invalidated or stepped on in some way. Guilt can be an informative emotion because it helps us identify when we've acted outside of our values, emotions can help us identify what's important and identify what we need. Emotions can also be complex. Our modern human brains are evolved to feel nuanced, complex emotions. I might be working with a client who tells me that they're angry, but as we explore that feeling in context, they might identify that underneath that anger lie feelings of resentment, feeling disrespected or even exposed.

Lastly, it's so important to recognize that emotions come and go. Like the weather, our feelings change from day to day, moment to moment and the way we feel about even the same situation can change over time. In this process of building emotional awareness around anxiety, it's important to learn to take your emotional temperature. We often experience what we call an emotional shift. That moment when we suddenly feel on high alert or more distressed or just uncomfortable. And in that moment, we can check in with ourselves, consider the context, name the situation, the who, the where, and how you're feeling. Maybe I just had an argument with my partner right before we were going to have a night out together and we're in the car and my partner is silent. What am I feeling? Maybe anxious or worried are the first words that come to mind and that's natural, but I'm willing to dig a little deeper in order to better understand my experience.And to do that it's helpful to expand your emotional vocabulary.

Here's a common list of difficult emotions. If I take stock of my experience sitting in silence in the car, and we've just been in conflict, I might be feeling anxious. But under that anxiety, I might also be feeling insecure, lonely, defensive, uncertain, or scared. And if I check in with my body, I might be feeling nauseous or a lump in my throat, tightness in my chest. And you know what? It makes sense that I'm feeling these things. Maybe it's because it's been forever since we had a night away from the kids and I really wanted to be close to my partner. And now we've had this argument and I don't know where we stand, or if we can repair things and still make it a good night. See what I did there? I took stock of my emotions and connected them to what matters to me, the desire for connection. And feeling anxious because I don't want to feel disconnected from my partner is a totally normal experience.

Exploring a list like this, to see what fits for you in a tough situation can be an excellent tool because identifying our feelings helps us gain insight into what we really and truly need. Moreover, tracking your mood either by using a specific tool like a mood log, or just tracking your mood on a notes app on your phone can help you cultivate awareness. Notice the ebb and the flow and intensity of distress and gain insight into situations that prompt anxiety and mood shifts. So now that you're learning skills for building awareness around anxiety, the next step is to identify what you need and practice skills for coping. In the final part of this series, you'll learn how to do just that.