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Exploring the Depths of Anxiety and Identity

Updated: May 4

Anxiety is a difficult emotion to grapple with, and often those who experience it struggle to differentiate it from their true self or remember a time when it wasn’t a driving and overwhelming force in their life. If you’re looking to gain a better understanding of anxiety and identity and your relationship with anxiety, read on.

1. What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the body's fear response when put in a situation we consider threatening or dangerous. It can be considered a normal response, allowing the body to react appropriately to the threat and protecting us from the oncoming danger. Anxiety is also responsible for the “butterflies in your tummy” feeling, or nausea you may experience before public speaking. Anxiety is what protects us in a life-or-death scenario and prepares our body to fight or run from whatever is causing the danger also referred to have “fight or flight”. When anxiety is experienced spontaneously, regularly or without any apparent threat to life it becomes a disorder and can greatly affect one’s quality of life.

2. Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are complex and can affect every individual differently, however, ultimately they will share one thing in common, fear. Although the symptoms can be varied there are some signs you can look out for:

  • Feeling a sense of fear and dread in unusual situations

  • Feeling exhausted or increased fatigue

  • Feelings of nausea, or food avoidance because of nausea

  • Fidgeting or anxiety ticks

  • Finding ways to get out of plans, avoid work or socialising

  • Sweating or having hot flushes

  • Frequent worry that interferes with daily life

  • Withdrawal from social life

  • Panic attacks or anxiety attacks

  • Recurring nightmares, flashbacks or numbing of past trauma

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms, try and track them, write them down and get a better idea of how often they are occurring and why. You may want to visit your doctor who can give you more information about anxiety disorders and the treatment process.

3. The Relationship Between You and Anxiety

For many of us, anxiety can be like a frenemy. We know it's there; we know its purpose and how it feels. It has the potential to blow up our day and influence the outcome of our decisions, and yet it becomes part of us. It connects to our thoughts and feelings and at times it dominates them. Our relationship with anxiety can be complex, hard to explain, and confusing. It can be a battle we fight every day, or it can be a silent oppressor.

Understanding our feelings and thoughts, as well as learning more about anxiety disorders and how they navigate can help us take steps towards better understanding our relationship with it and how to overcome it.

4. Differentiating Between Anxiety and You

Anxiety tends to be a progressive disorder and over time it worsens. One of the problems with this is that as years go by the lines between what are you and what is anxiety begin to blur. Anxiety disorder is chaos, you feel as though you are fighting every day to be able to complete the smallest task so trying to see the bigger picture in all that can seem like a feat you just won’t ever reach, but it is important to do.

If your anxiety is rooted in childhood, a lot of things you can’t do or don’t like to do could be due to anxiety rather than the fact you don’t like it; Let me explain.

After approx. After 15 years with anxiety disorder, I concluded that I couldn’t fly, I don’t like flying. As I began to recover, I spoke to people around me and asked them if I’d always hated flying and the answer was a unanimous no. When I was little, I loved it, calm as a cucumber. So something happened on that timeline that changed my thinking. My anxious thoughts became my dominant thoughts and overrode a fundamental belief, I like to fly.

Finding those root causes, and always seeking an understanding can make anxiety feel a lot smaller and more manageable.

It is something that affects you, but it isn’t who you are and remembering the smallest details can put that all into perspective. If you aren’t sure, ask family and friends, get the old photo albums out and piece together a big picture.

5. Practices for Differentiating

Being able to separate yourself from your anxiety is incredibly difficult and can take time, but it can be done.

Without sounding incredibly…” fluffy” it is about understanding who you are at the core.

1. Research your anxiety disorder, and understand how it works and how it affects you, this makes it easier to take a step back and acknowledge it separately from you.

2. Track. Keep a journal of your anxieties, where they are triggered, what your symptoms are and how often they are occurring. This will give you a physical resource to look back on, take out all the noise and chaos that can occur in a day and just let you see the patterns of behaviours and interactions that were triggering the anxiety.

3. Speak to people around you. It’s often said that the people around us know us better than we know ourselves and that’s probably true. In a single conversation with someone we will ramble through a story thinking nothing of it but they are picking up small details of information about us in that one story. We share memories with the people around us and they might remember something we have suppressed or forgotten over time.

Anxiety can be a difficult emotion to navigate, but understanding the true relationship between yourself and anxiety can be beneficial in separating the two and finding ways to manage and recover from your anxiety disorder. By taking the time to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety, as well as practising differentiating techniques, you can gain more insight into who you are and how to better manage your anxiety.

If you’re someone who is struggling with anxiety and have questions, reach out to a professional who can help guide you on your journey.

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