Last week RRC hosted two Anxiety Forums. For each event, we invited a prominent local Psychologist to speak about anxiety and then answer audience questions on the topic. The sessions were jammed full of thought provoking and useful information. Below are the 9 learnings that most resonated with me.
- Anxiety is adaptive. The physiological reactions related to the feeling of being anxious helped our ancestors survive. When threatened, increased heart rate, greater blood flow to large muscles, and sweating all helped early people escape danger and survive disasters.
- The best response to a panic attack is to “sit and breathe.” Often people feel like when they’re having a panic attack, they have to leave the situation they’re in (eg. classroom, bus), but leaving the situation is not necessary. Sit through it, breathe, and it will pass. In addition, picking something visual in your surrounding on which to focus can be helpful.
- Facing fears gradually AND regularly is best. Just as you wouldn’t pick up a huge, heavy weight on your first visit to the gym, you shouldn’t face your worst anxiety provoking situation all at once. Start gradually, by exposing yourself to a situation that challenges you in a manageable way. For example, if you have major anxiety around public speaking, you might start raising your hand in class every day until that action no longer feels unbearable. Then you’d move on to regularly practicing another activity that gets you a little closer to your end goal of public speaking. The keys are gradual AND regular. If this process isn’t working, chances are you’re either not doing it gradually enough or not often enough.
- Feelings are King. We tend to focus a lot on our feelings, because they’re very obvious to us. This can lead us to ignore the thoughts and behaviours that surround an anxiety provoking situation. Feelings, thoughts, physical reactions, and behaviours are all connected though, with each influencing and being influenced by the other. Starting to recognize the thoughts and behaviours that feed into anxiety can be a good beginning.
- Realistic thoughts are better than positive thoughts. Empty positive thoughts, such as, “everything will be okay,” are not grounded in strength, and therefore are not as helpful as realistic thoughts. “I’ll do well on this test if I give myself enough time to study and get a good sleep tonight,” is more likely to be a helpful thought, decreasing anxiety, since the thought is more realistic.
- Think through your anxious questions. If you keep saying to yourself, “what if I fail?, what if I fail?,” answer that question with what is likely to happen. Will you have to do better on the next test? Will you have to retake a course? Answer the ruminating question and then find ways to work toward success.
- Periods of reflection are important. Take time on a regular basis to reflect on how your mental health is doing. What’s important to you? What would you like to improve? What are some habits you’d like to work on? What are some things that are going well? Make realistic plans to reach your mental health goals.
- You will never have 100% control. As much as we’d like 100% control (so that we’d never have to feel anxious again), this is not going to happen. Instead, we have to grasp on to the little piece of control we do have and build on that.
- Sometimes we can manage on our own and sometimes we need help. Some of the strategies both Dr. Ediger and Dr. Abdulrehman discussed required being able to create plans, assess our thought patterns, come up with healthier thoughts, and try new ways of coping. Sometimes we can manage this process on our own. Sometimes a friend or family member can help us. Other times a professional like a counsellor or psychologist can be very helpful. If you’ve tried to make a change on your own and have faced road blocks, perhaps meeting with someone would help.
RRC students can set up a counselling appointment here.
RRC staff can set up a counselling appointment here. User ID: rrcefap Password: efap
Check out the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba for a lot of great information and resources.
These are 9 learnings from the Anxiety Forums that stood out to me. Are there any points you’d add?