Who Are You Anxiety?

By Kat Giles BSW, MSW, RSW  |  August 25th

If you have been reading our previous blog posts, you know that we are on a journey of asking who our emotions are. We are doing this to help us externalize and understand our emotions. When we examine our emotions, we can respond to them differently.

In this blog we are looking at anxiety. Who is anxiety?

In today’s world, we know the word anxiety very well. The term is used to express worry, nervousness, and/or panic.

I often hear people telling me in counselling sessions, “I am anxious.”  Saying “I am an emotion” is called internalizing.  The issue with internalizing emotions is that we can start to feel that the emotion defines us.  If I am something, it often is more difficult to change.

But what if we shifted the language to, “I am experiencing anxiety”.  For younger children, we can even say “Anxiety is attacking me!”  

When something is external, we have a better ability to examine it. In fact, when we look at anxiety, we notice that it is actually pretty helpful.

Anxiety is like an alarm system. It tells us that there is danger trying to intrude. You could visualize it like an alarm system in your house or a fire alarm at school.  Anxiety is an alarm system that is set to go off whenever your brain perceives a threat.

Our brains can perceive endless threats.  It might be a facial expression, a specific word, someone’s body language, someone yelling at you, the thought of going into a social setting... the list goes on.  Sometimes we use the word trigger to explain this idea of a constant threat.  

Whatever way your brain is triggered, once it experiences a threat, it flies into what we might call “Fight or Flight” orSurvival Mode”.  

In survival mode, our prefrontal cortex – the part of our brain responsible for thinking and problem solving - goes offline. At that moment, it is difficult to think clearly, or problem solve. This makes it extremely difficult to do anything but survive.

So what can we do when we are experiencing anxiety? When anxiety is taking over your brain, what can you do?

One strategy that we discuss a lot at Eagles Nest is The Three R’s: Recognize, Regulate, and Respond.

The first step is to recognize that anxiety is even present. Put language to your experience – externalize it. Verbalize it. Research shows that when we speak something out, that thing loses its power. Perhaps you might say, “Anxiety I see you, and I am not going to let you control this situation!”

The second step would be to regulate.  The purpose of regulating is to bring that thinking part of your brain back online. There are endless strategies for this, but I would encourage you to do something that you find calming. For me, this is breathing! I find a quiet space, listen to some instrumental music and focus on breathing.

Finally respond. We are not about to forget the issues that are occurring; rather, once we recognize the “threat” our anxiety is warning us about and have regulated ourselves to be able to have our brain back online, we can respond to the threat – or “threat” - that is around us.

We will refer to these three Rs as we continue this journey of understanding what our emotions are communicating to us. Join us in our next blog to read more!