“Carly, help! I was doing really well with my anxiety and it felt like it was almost gone. But for the last few days, it feels like my anxiety is back again! I’m freaking out because I don’t want it to!”
As an MD Psychotherapist and Women’s Mental Health Expert, I hear this phrase (or something like it) in my visits with patients often. In this post (and this podcast episode), I’m going to answer the question:
“Help! My anxiety is back! What do I do?”
It feels SO good to feel good.
It feels amazing when we feel mentally healthy.
If you have been working diligently on improving your self-care, doing your thought work and making healthy changes, it can feel so incredible to see those efforts pay off.
Your mood is brighter, your anxiety is lessened. Life feels amazing.
Unfortunately, those good seasons don’t always last forever.
More often than not, anxiety symptoms come back after time.
This is due to the fact that anxious tendencies and thought patterns are habitual and our brain is very conditioned to rely upon them.
But then life happens.
I have seen this process repeat many times with women in my care.
When they first see me, I offer them some strategies. We might talk about thought management or medications. We may begin a new supplement or make adjustments to their routine.
And they start to feel better.
They have a blissful period of improvement. The world seems brighter.
The weight is lifted off of their shoulders and life seems easier. It’s amazing!
However, then life happens and they begin to sense that pesky anxiety is coming back again.
Meditation is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. If you want to release all that control and perfectionism out of your mind, I invite you to download my 10-Minute Meditation for Releasing Perfectionism. It is a free audio meditation, and you can listen to it whenever, wherever, and however you like. Download it here!
Help! My Anxiety is Back! What do I do?
Anxiety is all consuming when it is raging.
So many of us are so desperate for it to just go away completely that when we feel better for a time, we convince ourselves it’s gone for good.
And wouldn’t that be nice?
When it starts to come back, it is natural to feel panicked and afraid. It can be terrifying to consider going back to that place in your mind when you feel so out of control and scattered.
We become anxious about being anxious…again.
When this happens, we go into “control mode.”
We start to intentionally trying to prevent our brains from thinking anxious thoughts. Sometimes we try to “not think anxious things.” We do all sorts of counter-productive things like avoidance and buffering.
We might even try to make ourselves busier to avoid feeling anxious. Anyone else?
Now instead of only our anxiety coming back… we have anxiety on top of the anxiety. We have more anxiety about having anxiety!
It’s a vicious cycle.
One I see far too often and it’s high time I shared with you how to stop doing this.
Sorry To Break It To You: Anxiety is a Life-Long Condition
In my upcoming book You Are Not Your Anxiety: How to Stop Being an Anxious People-Pleasing Mess, I share a variety of different ways to view your anxiety and its role in your life. Viewing things from different perspectives is very helpful
Your anxiety is never going to fully go away.
Sorry, not sorry.
Anxiety is not something that comes at one point in your life and then goes away forever.
Your anxiety (your evolutionary fight-or-flight response) is hardwired into your brain. It sits in the earliest, most primitive part of your brain and is literally designed to keep you alive.
Because of this, it’s always going to be there.
In fact, we could go so far as to say: we need it.
As your main “threat detection system,” your anxiety is going to increase and decrease in response to changes in your life.
But it is the degree to which it impacts us that we can change.
It is how we react to our anxiety and what we do to manage it that matters most.
Step 1: Check Yourself
The first step we need to take when we detect our anxiety is “coming back” is to pause and evaluate our own response and reaction to its return.
We need to be intentional and aware of our emotional reaction to our anxiety coming back.
If we freak out about it and panic…If we try to intentionally avoid or control it…It will only make our anxiety worse.
Fear of your anxiety coming back, will only give you anxiety about having anxiety (not good, hehe.)
Our anxiety never goes away.
Instead, what it does is ebb and flow, peak and pass, go up and down in response to triggers in our lives, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem.
When it starts to increase, as it naturally will, many women fear the worst and they instantly react with avoidance and resistance. Unfortunately this just feeds the anxiety.
Jung said, “what we resist persists” and this serves true in this situation also. The more you resist your anxiety, the more persistent it will become.
Instead of resisting our anxiety returning, we need to realize that this is expected and our anxiety is trying to tell us something.
Step 2: Look for Triggers
So here are three of the most common triggers that cause increased anxiety:
1. Consider if there is anything new in your life that could contribute to your anxiety increasing, or coming soon.
- Sometimes it’s obvious, like going back to work after maternity leave or stress in your relationship. Sometimes, the trigger is not obvious and you need to dig deeper and look for smaller, seemingly insignificant things (or they seem insignificant to you.)
- Often there are changes in your life that you don’t feel are stressful, but your anxiety has other plans. Is there something new happening soon?
2. If you can’t find anything “new,” consider whether there is something “old” that might be resurfacing or that hasn’t been totally processed and healed.
- This can be an old trauma, an old habit you’re ignoring or a relationship that you know you need better boundaries in. If there’s something you have been avoiding “fixing” or addressing, it might be time to do it.
3. Sometimes you have let caring for yourself slip, or you’re neglecting your self-care.
- Very often women stop taking care of themselves when they start feeling well or life gets busy. Your anxiety will remind you when you’re not taking good care of yourself (hint: that is it’s job!)
- I know that if I go even one week without running, my anxiety reminds me of how important that habit is for my mental health.
- (P.S. If you struggle to stay consistent in taking care of yourself, you should check out The Eunoia Collective. The Collective is a monthly mental health membership program for women that is a revolution in how we take care of ourselves. Learn more here.)
I recommend taking a few moments to review what’s happening in your life when your anxiety starts returning.
It is usually there for a reason, and if you can mindfully listen in and examine your life, you might realize it’s trying to help you.
Step 3: Adjust Your Mindset
Instead of resisting your anxiety and being terrified of it coming up, I want you to remember how far you’ve come.
You’ll realize that the anxiety was more severe than this and that you survived.
If you take a moment and reflect on what you did to get out of the low places before, or how far you’ve come with awareness in your mind about anxious thoughts. You will see that you’ve come so far.
In fact, you how have more skills, more resources and more awareness than you did before.
If you were able to tackle your anxiety before, you are even more skilled this time then you were before.
See this as an opportunity to grow, to learn more and be even more capable this time.
You need to bring out your strategies again and reapply them, you need to come from a perspective of empowerment rather than fear.
Remind yourself that you’ve handled this before and you will handle it again.
It is so critically important to check your own mindset: if you resist your anxiety and fear it coming back, it will only compound your anxiety and make you feel more out of control.
We need to move towards acceptance of what’s happening, and almost welcome our anxiety with open arms.
I’ve often told my patients that when their anxiety starts returning, to say: “I see you anxiety, I welcome you and I’ve got this.”
If each time you have anxiety spike you fall back into your victim mindset of feeling like it’s going to take over your life, it will cause you to panic and it will take back over your life.
You have to step outside of the emotional vortex and really realize that you have skills to handle this.
So the next time you find yourself being anxious about being anxious, remember this episode.
Turn it back on and listen to it a few more times if need be, because you are super strong and if you’re doing the work to manage your anxiety, you will learn it’s lifelong.
The work never stops and you only get stronger. You’ve got this!
What To Do When Your Anxiety Comes Back
THIS EPISODE DIGS INTO:
- Why anxiety never goes away.
- The most common reaction to an increase in anxiety, that causes more anxiety.
- What do to when your anxiety comes back.
- What to look for prior to considering increasing your anxiety medications.
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