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Why Won’t My Anxiety Go Away?

This is a question that almost everyone with anxiety has asked. First of all, we all will experience some anxiety in our lives – a little bit is totally normal and okay. However, for some people, that anxious feeling grows and grows until it can feel uncontrollable and overwhelming. 

In short, anxiety will not simply go away forever, but we can learn to manage it so it does not take over!

Anxiety is built into us as an alert system. Many years ago, anxiety was important because it let us know when a serious threat (like a sabertooth tiger!) was coming our way. Nowadays, those types of environmental threats are less common, but anxiety still gets triggered when something is not okay for us. Even when we are not actually under attack or threat, our mind can sometimes convince this alert system that we are. That’s when those sweaty palms, stomachache, and all-over tension starts to kick in. 

Think of anxiety like a switch that is left turned on. We actually need the switch because it does still help us survive – like when we step into the street and see a car coming towards us – this anxiety switch is what makes us move out of the way before we even have time to think about or process what’s happening. The problem comes if we are leaving that switch on at all times. There are tons of reasons why your personal anxiety switch continues to be left on, starting with genetics, environment, lack of coping strategies, unresolved trauma, and more. 

So how do you manage it?

For starters, we want to track the anxiety. Notice when you experience it the most, get curious about the anxiety, learn more about this alert system, and what might it be telling or not telling you. The more we understand how anxiety works in our bodies, the less scary it becomes. 

We also want to develop some healthy coping strategies and techniques to calm that anxiety when it does get triggered. These strategies might look different for everyone, so you need to try different things to figure out what works best for you.

That’s where therapy comes in.

A therapist can help you learn more about anxiety to really understand what it is and what is really going on in your body. Your therapist will also teach you different coping tools and help you develop a personalized anxiety toolkit so that when that anxiety does start to kick in, it’s much less overwhelming than before. 

Here are some strategies that have worked best for clients when they are starting out on their anxiety management journey:

  1. Remind yourself that you are safe. Place your feet on the ground, or grab something stable to ground yourself. Doing this signals to your brain that there is no real threat. 
  2. 4-4-6 breathing. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and out for 6. We breathe out longer to activate our parasympathetic nervous system which is the calming nervous system (it helps turn off that anxiety switch). For more breathing exercises, check out Anxiety Canada
  3. Place your hands under cold water if available. This shocks your nervous system, and again, helps ground your mind and body back into the present moment. 
  4. Movement. Think of anxiety as energy that needs to be dispelled. Try going for a walk, run, doing a plank, or maybe doing a couple of push-ups. Several studies indicate that engaging in a single session of exercise can provide relief from anxiety when it occurs.
  5. Talking about it. In order to manage anxiety long-term, research shows that even after just a handful of therapy sessions, people experience less anxiety in their lives. Therapy is not only about talking, but also about understanding your experience with anxiety, getting to the root cause, and developing a personalized treatment plan to manage it.

 

Remember, you are not your anxiety, it is simply a human experience that does not need to become your identity.

Picture of Mackenzie Stanke
Mackenzie Stanke

Mackenzie works with clients with anxiety, depression, and self-esteem issues using CBT and Person Centered methods to create a safe space for her clients to express themselves and heal. In her free time she can be found shopping for new home decor, cooking and going on long walks with her partner and her dog Lexi.

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Searchlight Counselling provides in-person and virtual therapy for individuals and couples in Burnaby, Vancouver, and across British Columbia. Specializing in BIPOC & 2SLGBTQIA+.