ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — This is the fourth and final part of a month-long series called “Anxiety 101.” As part of “Mental Health Awareness Month,” WFXR sports anchor and reporter David DeGuzman is sharing his experience with anxiety and what he’s learned along the way.
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing anxiety and personal experiences this month. But speaking with a professional who can help guide an individual through those tough times can make a world of a difference. To finish out our “Anxiety 101” series, I sat down with Monica Alexander from Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare in Roanoke.
While I highly suggest to watch or listen to the full half-hour conversation we had about anxiety, here are three takeaways from our discussion.
Everyone has anxiety. Here’s when to seek help.
Anxiety is part of the human condition. It’s actually meant to save your life by activating the fight-or-flight response in your body when it’s threatened.
But according to Alexander, there’s a tell-tale sign of when anxiety has become an issue and it’s time to seek professional help.
“When they have this physical experience like sweating, heart racing, upset stomach. When they start having trouble sleeping. When they start having a really hard time concentrating,” Alexander said. “And with frequency and intensity, we’re starting to see it more and more over time and it’s not attributed to something that’s clear.”
Basically, if anxiety is affecting your day-to-day life and there’s no clean cut reason as to why is a good time to acknowledge there’s an issue.
Set some boundaries when working with a therapist
It’s understandable to have a certain level of fear when it comes to therapy. You’re basically telling a stranger your life story.
But it’s important to remember that a therapist is designed to help the patient (that’s you). So they’re only going to work with whatever information you’re willing to give them. Alexander gives great advice on setting boundaries with a mental health professional.
“What do you want to talk about? It’s okay to say what you want to talk about,” Alexander said. “It’s also okay to say what you’re not ready to talk about.”
She says therapists are flexible and just want to hear your story. More importantly, they want their patients to be comfortable in order to get better.
“Remind yourself, what am I doing here? What am I trying to accomplish in this session right now?” Alexander said. “It helps you stay objective.”
Managing anxiety is doable.
Even if therapy isn’t a tool you’re interested in using to combat anxiety, there are plenty of other options and actions that can help.
“If anyone is hearing this, please know that it is so doable,” Alexander stressed. “I think the first step is recognizing your vocabulary.”
She says we tend to group things together when it comes to anxiety.
“Everything is just anxious. It’s all anxiety,” Alexander said. “Sometimes the vocabulary of anxiety is very scary and daunting. So changing your vocabulary and being very specific. Sometimes it’s not anxiety like we think.”
I find this to be true in my own life. It’s easy to think that everything is making you anxious but if you start to dig deeper, you start to find the triggers easier.
“Sometimes it’s just ‘I’m just nervous’ or ‘I feel uncomfortable,'” said Alexander. “Changing your vocabulary to be as specific as possible can help you problem solve effectively this perceived threat that you’re feeling.”
Changing your vocabulary also helps you rewrite the story that you are telling yourself. It’s easy to say your anxious. It’s harder to admit that you’re actually just nervous or scared. And it’s even harder to say why. But the sooner you can dig deeper and be specific as to why you’re anxious, the easier it is to deal with those tough moments.
“You can manage the anxiety with the words you are choosing to use,” said Alexander.
As we bring this series to a close, the biggest takeaway is that anxiety is manageable and it doesn’t have to run your life. When I first confronted this mental health issue, it seemed daunting. I was overwhelmed and the physical sensations I felt that went along with anxiety made it feel impossible to overcome.
But as soon as I acknowledged the problem and sought help, I started feeling just a little bit better every day. That became the goal — to just feel a little bit better.
Not every day felt like a win and I certainly still feel a level of anxiety today. But I look back at where I was a year ago and it’s a pretty amazing what a difference a year makes.
If you’re dealing with anxiety, I hope you feel less alone and less scared to seek help. And if you know someone who is struggling, I hope you can be a source of support. And as we close the month of May, let’s do what we can to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental health.