ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — This is the third 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. Join him for a special LIVE discussion about mental health on Mondays at 11 a.m. eastern on WFXR’s Facebook page throughout the month of May.

If you’ve joined me from the beginning of this series, you probably have a better idea of what anxiety is and have some tools in your arsenal to deal with some of the physical symptoms. Last week, we discussed some short-term solutions like breathing techniques and meditation.

In this post, we’re going to deep dive into some of the long-term ways to get to the underlying root of anxiety. As always, it’s worth reminding that I’m not a doctor nor am I a mental health professional. These are based on my own personal experiences in hopes that you’ll find a way to relate to them or can apply some of my story to your own journey.

Finding a therapist

I’ve never been opposed to therapy. I know some are hesitant to even pursue therapy because they’re worried it might mean that something is “wrong” with them. First off, there’s no shame in going to therapy. It means you’re taking steps to better your mental health.

For me, there was always a financial barrier to therapy. If money isn’t an issue for you, apps like TalkSpace and Better Help are great since they offer therapy virtually right through your phone. So you don’t have to go to a person’s office. But therapists aren’t cheap and a session can run around a hundred dollars. That adds up over time. But after some digging, I actually found that some therapists are actually covered by insurance. I was lucky enough to find one through the Sanvello app, which I mentioned in my post last week. Sanvello offers therapy virtually and turns out my insurance covered most of the cost. Out of pocket, I only had to pay $10 a session.

But I found that there was only one therapist licensed in the state of Virginia. And this one therapist just happened to have availability at the end of the month. If you haven’t noticed, there are A LOT of people dealing with anxiety and struggling so finding a therapist can be hard. Even when I look on the Sanvello app now, there’s still only one therapist licensed in the state of Virginia and he has no openings available in the next month.

And again, I consider myself lucky that I was able to connect with a therapist on the first try. It can be hard to find the right therapist for you that can cater to your needs and can talk about your concerns. In many ways, it’s like dating and it’s not uncommon to have to “shop around” to find someone who is easy to connect with.

Doing the work

So once you’ve found a therapist that’s easy to talk to, time to do the work. Did you think that all you’d be doing is talking?

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Talking is great and there is a degree of relief when you’re able to get a lot of stuff off your mind and speak it into existence. But turns out there’s an effort on your part too. Trust me, it’s worth it.

A therapist is there to make observations and help you look at things in a different way. One of the best pieces of advice that I got in therapy early on was to think of your mind like a nice big living room. You’re stuck seeing this room in a certain way. But all you have to do is get up and go to another corner of the room. Suddenly, you view this same room differently. In a way, that’s what therapy is, getting a new perspective on things.

I’ve done two series of therapy with two different professionals. Each series lasted about 10 sessions, occurring once every two weeks. The first time around, I was able to gain tools and look at my day-to-day anxiety differently. I learned about thinking patterns and thought traps that I would get caught in. For example, turns out I’m a big catastrophic thinker. I always have the “worst-case scenario” planned and I overthink constantly. Working with a therapist, I learned how to turn off those negative thoughts and instead do a “positive reframe” on them.

After this first go-around with therapy, the professional suggested I do one more round to do a deeper dive into what was the underlying cause of a lot of my anxiety. Turns out, there are several causes. Not to go too deep, but for years, I thought of myself as not worthy enough or not deserving enough. Of course, it wasn’t something that I would say out loud or put on a t-shirt but it was illustrated in some of the habits that I had over time. Doing what I was told at work with little pushback or not asking for a raise when I probably deserved one. Constantly apologizing for things, even when it wasn’t my fault.

It’s hard to pinpoint where those tendencies come from. Admittedly, talking about our feelings wasn’t something my family and I did when I was growing up. And maybe growing up in an immigrant family played a role too. I’m not speaking for all Asian immigrants obviously, but there was a bit of a “keep your head down and do the work” mentality. I didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself. I just wanted to blend in.

That’s just a taste of some of the conversations that I ended up having in therapy. It’s different for everyone but I found therapy to be a great way to learn some of my anxiety triggers and figure out ways to think differently. But it was a lot of work. In many ways, dealing with anxiety means rewiring a lot of your brain.

The role of medication

I’ve been on medication for anxiety for almost three years now. I can say that it’s helped me a lot in my day-to-day struggles with anxiety but I know that’s not true for everyone. And luckily for me, there are few, if any, side effects to what I’m taking.

The moments when I was most anxious, I stopped and asked myself if I missed a dose of my meds. It’s a bit scary to be reliant on medication sometimes but for me, it’s another tool that I have in dealing with the physical symptoms of anxiety. And it’s part of my routine now. In a way, having to take medication kind of grounds me.

But I do hope that it’s not something that I have to do for the rest of my life. I’d like to think that someday, I’ll be in a better place mentally where I can start to ween myself off the medication.

My best advice is to talk to your doctor. A conversation is the best way to figure out if medication is right for you and your lifestyle. I think if it helps, then why not.

Talking about these types of issues surrounding mental health is just the start and it’s a good first step. We need to destigmatize these types of conversations and remove the shame that’s often associated with them. I hope my story helps in that process.

Next week, we’ll wrap the series up. I’ll talk about journaling as well as some lessons learned from actual mental health professionals. Until then, take care!