Ask Anna: Your Questions About Anxiety, Answered by a Therapist
Shine's advisor and psychologist Anna Rowley, Ph.D., dropped some major words of wisdom in our first-ever community series and virtual event, all focused on navigating anxiety.
Here: She answers some of the questions we didn't get to in the live event and recaps some of the tactics she shared.
How do you manage anxiety when you live with other people who also get anxious?
Emotions are like a virus. We can catch the feelings of others. Psychologists call this "emotional contagion."
There are a few ways to protect yourself from the anxiety of others:
See their anxiety as a form of communication.
If you ask yourself, “what are they trying to tell me," you put some distance between their feelings and you.
There will be occasions after spending time with people who are anxious or on edge where you notice you're feeling anxious. One important question to ask is, “Who does this feeling belong to?” Asking this question will enable you to "give back the feeling to the person or people it belongs to."
After spending time around people who are anxious have a "happy place" you can go to that boosts your mood.
This might be a bedroom or some other part of your apartment or house where you feel grounded. Play music or engage in an activity that helps you regain your composure.
Drop an anchor.
This technique of getting grounded in the present is particularly useful if you are experiencing strong emotion and it threatens to overwhelm you.
For example, you may decide not to have that conversation, go out and see friends when you hear a certain person might be coming, or ask for what you feel you deserve.
In other words, dropping an anchor is really helpful when an emotional storm threatens to sink you.
The technique is really very simple. Remembering to do it is often the problem. To drop an anchor you need to:
●︎ Sit or stand and make sure you press your feet into the floor. It’s really important your feet are "anchored" on the floor.
●︎ Look around for other "anchors" you can use. For example, you could focus on your breathing, listen to a certain sound you can hear, or rest your gaze on an object or shape. These "anchors" will help you stay present and grounded until the "weather" has passed.
Practice letting the feelings of anxiety "pass through you."
R.A.I.N. is a meditation you can use in the moment. It’s super powerful. The four stages represent:
●︎ R = Recognize your thoughts and feelings.
●︎ A = Allow the experience of anxiety to just be there.
●︎ I = Investigate with loving kindness
●︎ N = Non-identification. Don’t become how you feel.
What is the relationship between ruminating on a past event and anxiety? Are those connected or are those two different mental health struggles?
Rumination is usually associated with low mood or depression rather than anxiety. You mention overthinking past items—these ruminations can cause feelings of sadness, pessimism, or frustration. Worry about future events, on the other hand, is more likely to cause feelings of anxiety.
What happens whether you ruminate or worry is that you are either projecting yourself into the future or traveling back to your past: You’re not spending much time in the present moment.
There are different ways to become more present: Practice mindful meditations (like "Breathe Stress Away" in the Shine app); Exercise or walking; Monitor your self talk.
Everyone talks to themselves, however for some people the voice in their head can cause feelings of depression or low mood. For example, a friend laughs at something you said that wasn’t meant to be funny.
Ruminating on this past event the voice in your head may be saying, “What’s wrong with me! No one else has this problem," or “everyone thinks I’m a joke”. This self talk is a real beat down. You can stop it in several ways. Give it a name; capture the thought and let it go—leaves on a stream.
I’ve always been a troubled sleeper but last month, I didn’t get more than a few hours each week. I’d love some more suggestions on what’s helped others let go of all the guilt, shame, and anxiety that comes when I’m alone.
Evenings can be very hard when we feel alone with our thoughts. Sometimes our minds run free and we ruminate on the past and feel anxious about our future.
Having a routine before bed is really positive. You can add a couple of things to it. Meditation can help—like the "Sleep Visualization" meditation in the Shine app.
Another strategy is to use your values. You can use this quiz here to help identify yours. Print them off and look at them before you got to bed. If you feel comfortable read them out loud. I am (name of value) and breathe slowly as you do the exercise.
I’ve just lost a loved one to COVID-19. What are some tools to manage my anxiety during this unprecedented time?
This is really hard, and I'm so sorry for your loss.
It's natural to feel some anxiety after losing a loved one. In fact, people often feel a range of emotions. Sadness, guilt, as well as anxiety.
Some important things you can do: Talk to friends. Try and share your feelings with the people close to you. Meditation is a positive choice to manage feelings of anxiety. It's also important to recognize that anxiety is a part of grieving and notice when it arrives, observe it, and let it go. I'd also recommend seeing a grief counselor if the anxiety becomes debilitating.
I worry that my anxiety is sabotaging my relationship. What can I do in the moment to give my partner credit and show love when I feel myself spinning from something small they did or said?
There are a number of ways to help in this situation. One is to say “Elle, you're feeling … “. This is a way of putting some distance between you and your feelings of anxiety.
Another strategy is to give the feeling a name. For example, when you feel you are spinning because of something your partner said think about who that voice belongs to and give it a name. My critical voice is called Nattering Nettie. She pops up in certain situations and says some hurtful things. By giving her a name she has less power over how I feel.
Another strategy is to see the anxiety as a shape. Is it small, or jagged. Does it move?
A further thing you can do when you start to feel anxious is to visualize a huge red sign with LOVE on it. When you see it take a deep breathe and think about how you feel about your partner.
One final thing you can do is practice self-compassion. Having compassion for yourself is an antidote to feeling anxious. "Show Yourself Compassion" is a meditation in the Shine app that can help you get started.
I think the tips from the Shine for Anxiety series are AMAZING! My question is how do we train ourselves or is it practice that helps us utilize them? I find anxiety comes in so quick & gets a grip.
There are a few things you can do to train yourself. The first is just what you mentioned: practice, practice, practice.
A second way is to learn how your body talks to you. Anxiety can be sneaky. It feels like it just hits like a wave but often your body will be signaling feelings of anxiety before you notice them.
How does your body feel when you are anxious? Perhaps you fidget or get a tight neck or shoulders? Try and identify how your body speaks to you and you will be able to take control much earlier. You can also utilize the bodies natural relaxation method—breathing.
Underlying all of these methods is what acceptance and commitment therapists call committed action. This means you make an intention out of practice.
Anna, do you have any resources to share for those of us who think we might have empathic tendencies?
Empathy is defined as feeling with others and Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen describes people with extremely high empathy as Level 6 Empathizers.
These super-empathizers are almost constantly focused on other peoples' feelings and are driven by wanting to help. Level 6 empathizers have a finely tuned radar designed to pick up how people feel.
A possible downside of being an extreme empathizer is taking on the feelings of others. This process is called "empathetic reactivity." A way to protect yourself from becoming how others feel is to:
Be aware of your boundary. Make sure you have a clear understanding of where you stop and someone else "begins."
Practice non-identification. Non-Identification means not becoming how you feel. One of the hardest things we face is to acknowledge a feeling and not identify or become how we feel.
One way to practice is to try the "Holding, Having, and Buying a Thought" exercise. Imagine you are in a store full of your thoughts and feelings. They are all beautifully displayed (having a thought or feeling). You can pick them up and look at them (holding a thought or feeling). But you don't make the decision to put them in your basket, buy them, and take them home with you.
*Please note: Shine does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have physical health questions, please consult a healthcare professional directly. And if you’re in a mental health crisis, text 741741 to talk with a crisis counselor at Crisis Text Line.
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