March 1, 2024

The Anxiety Solution: Root Causes, Symptoms, and Therapist-Approved Coping Strategies

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Do you ever feel like no matter how much you achieve, it’s never enough? Do you tend to set unrealistic expectations for yourself, only to be overcome with anxiety when you fall short?

As a young and ambitious individual juggling a career, social life, dating, and everything else in the fast-paced world of New York City, it’s no surprise that anxiety has become a familiar companion. The problem isn’t your drive to succeed. The problem is what happens when anxiety takes hold of your thoughts, convincing you that nothing you do is good enough – or worse, that you’re not good enough.

I’ve witnessed these struggles firsthand among the countless clients I’ve helped, and I’ve also been there myself. I intimately understand the pressure you feel, the constant striving for more, and the anxiety that comes along with it all. You’re not alone in this struggle.

I aim to support you on your mental health and wellness journey, even if I don’t become your therapist. In this post, we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of anxiety, as well as my favorite science-backed strategies that you can implement right away to banish your anxiety and make way for your unapologetically confident self!

Understanding Anxiety: It’s Not Just You

Anxiety is a natural response to the overwhelming pressures and expectations we face in our fast-paced, social media-driven world. It’s a widespread experience that doesn’t make you weak or less capable. Anxiety reflects your state of mind, not who you are or what you can do.

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So, what is anxiety, exactly? I like to define anxiety as the collision of three factors: uncertainty, worry, and doubt. When the outcome of a situation is unknown, and you’re worried about what might (or could) happen, and you’re feeling self-doubt, then you’re bound to experience anxiety.

Let’s look at a fairly common scenario. Say you went on a first date last night and had a great time, but it’s been twenty-four hours, and your date hasn’t texted you. The situation is uncertain because you don’t know when (or if) you’ll get that text. You thought the date went swimmingly, but now you’re worried. What if your date thought otherwise? As worry takes hold, self-doubt creeps in, and suddenly, the only thing you feel sure about is impending rejection. Last night, you were brimming with confidence, but today, you’re consumed by anxiety.

What Are the Common Symptoms of Anxiety?

Anxiety can manifest in various ways, affecting your thoughts, emotions, and physical well-being. Let’s look at the common ways that anxiety can affect you:

  • Physical symptoms: Rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, muscle tension, headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, and appetite changes.
  • Cognitive symptoms: Constantly worrying, catastrophizing (assuming the worst-case scenario), difficulty concentrating, or questions of doubt that lead you to second-guess your judgment. Also thoughts of uncertainty about how others perceive you, and rumination (obsessively thinking about the same thing repeatedly).
  • Emotional symptoms: Feelings of fear, dread, restlessness, irritability, and a sense of being overwhelmed or out of control.

Anxiety can have a powerful impact on the essential aspects of your life:

  • Work: Anxiety can lead to decreased productivity, difficulty making decisions, and strained relationships with coworkers. For example, you might spend hours perfecting a report or presentation due to a fear of criticism, leading to increased stress and missed deadlines.
  • Relationships: Anxiety can cause you to avoid social situations, be overly dependent on others, or constantly seek reassurance. This might look like canceling social plans due to a fear of judgment. Or, repeatedly asking your partner if they still love you because your anxiety causes ongoing doubt.
  • Self-esteem: Anxiety can cause you to doubt your abilities and feel like you’re not good enough. You might compare yourself unfavorably to others on social media, believing everyone else has their life together while you struggle. In time, this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.

When Does Anxiety Become a Problem?

When you’re facing a challenging or stressful situation, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious. In fact, temporary anxiety when you’re under pressure or feeling threatened can even be beneficial: it can help you stay motivated and organized and keep you on alert to help avoid risky or unsafe situations.

But the scales can tip. Anxiety becomes problematic when it shows up in your everyday life, and you can’t find a way to dial it down. Suppose you’re experiencing anxiety to the extent that it’s causing you distress or interfering with your relationships or responsibilities. In that case, it may be worthwhile to pause and slow down. Give yourself time to think about what type of support you need right now to best navigate through and overcome your anxious symptoms.

What Are the Common Causes of Anxiety?

Anxiety can be triggered by ordinary situations, such as:

  • Work-related stress: Deadlines, presentations, or interpersonal conflicts.
  • Relationship issues: Arguments or emotional conflicts with a partner, family, or friends.
  • Financial concerns: Struggling to make ends meet or worrying about unexpected expenses.
  • Health problems: Dealing with a chronic illness or worrying about potential health issues.
  • Social situation: Meeting new people, public speaking, or attending large gatherings.

These situations can cause anxiety for anyone, but if you have a more persistent struggle with anxiety, then it may be due to underlying psychological factors. Anxiety disorders can develop from a combination of brain chemistry imbalances, genetic predisposition, and life experiences, such as:

  • Trauma: Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events can lead to ongoing anxiety. Your mind may continue to perceive danger even when the threat has passed, leading to hypervigilance, anxiety symptoms, and difficulty trusting others.
  • Learned behavior: Growing up with anxious family members can inadvertently teach you to respond to situations with the same anxious mindset. If, for example, your parents consistently modeled anxious behavior or overprotected you from healthy challenges, you might have learned that it’s safer not to try or that it’s wiser to avoid the source of anxiety than to confront it.
  • Personality traits: Perfectionism, low self-esteem, and a need for control can contribute to anxiety. If you’re a perfectionist, you might set unrealistic standards for yourself and become anxious when you fall short. Low self-esteem can make you doubt your ability to cope with challenges, and a need for control can lead to anxiety when you’re faced with uncertainty or unpredictability.

Perception is Everything

Anxiety can significantly affect your thinking and distort your perception of reality. When you’re overcome with fear, your mind will tend to fixate on negative possibilities, making it impossible to see situations objectively. This can lead to a cycle of worry and self-doubt, further fueling your anxiety. When you’re anxious, you could:

  • Overestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes. You might believe the worst-case scenario is the most likely one, even if evidence suggests otherwise. For example, if you’re preparing for a presentation, you might be convinced that you’ll stumble over your words or be criticized despite having practiced and received positive feedback.
  • Underestimate your ability to cope with challenges. Anxiety can make you doubt your resilience and problem-solving skills. You might believe you won’t be able to handle a difficult situation, even though you’ve successfully navigated similar challenges.
  • Focus on worst-case scenarios while ignoring more realistic possibilities. Anxiety can cause you to fixate on catastrophic outcomes, neglecting to consider more probable scenarios. For instance, when waiting for medical test results, you might ruminate over the possibility of a life-threatening illness, discounting the much higher likelihood of a treatable condition or a clean bill of health.
  • Interpret ambiguous situations as threatening. when you’re anxious, you might perceive neutral situations as dangerous. For example, if your boss asks to meet with you without specifying the reason, you might assume you’re about to be fired. When in reality, they may want to talk about a new project or offer praise for your work.

These altered perceptions can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. By expecting the worst, you may unintentionally behave in ways that contribute to negative outcomes and reinforce your anxious beliefs. If you’re convinced that you’ll be rejected at a social event, you might avoid interacting with others. Overall making it harder to form connections and confirm your fear of rejection.

When working with anxious clients, I spend a lot of time focusing on the way that anxiety influences their thoughts because otherwise, their anxious thoughts will continue to hold all the power.

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Effective Strategies for Coping with Anxiety

At last, the good stuff! While anxiety can feel overwhelming, there are several research-supported skills that you can use to manage it effectively. I’m excited to share some coping strategies that have been most helpful to the countless clients I’ve helped throughout the years. I’ve divided them into two sections below because each set offers a different objective: one to help reduce your vulnerability to symptoms of anxiety and one to help you tackle them head-on. Let’s dive in!

Reducing Your Vulnerability to Anxiety

The lifestyle you live can either increase or decrease your susceptibility to symptoms of anxiety. I’m referring to your daily habits and how you care for yourself. If you can integrate regular self-care behaviors that promote health and wellness, you’ll set yourself up for the greatest chances of success in reducing anxiety. Here are some of my favorite anxiety-minimizing practices:

  • Exercise Regularly. Physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood boosters, which can help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Exercise also reduces stress hormones like cortisol and provides a healthy distraction from anxious thoughts. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Do what you love, whether taking long walks, spin classes, strength training, pilates, or yoga, and aim for at least four weekly workouts.
  • Sleep on It. Prioritizing your sleep is crucial for reducing vulnerability to anxiety, stress, depression, and so much more. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night by establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring your bedroom is quiet and comfortable. Aim to avoid stimulating activities, like screen time, right before bed and limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, as all three disrupt sleep patterns. By optimizing your sleep habits, you’ll be better prepared to manage stress and anxiety.
  • Reconsider that Glass of Wine. While drinking in moderation is perfectly normal, alcohol can exacerbate anxiety symptoms in the long run by disrupting neurotransmitter balance, interfering with sleep quality, and leading to negative mood changes the following day. Even moderate alcohol consumption can contribute to feelings of unease and worsen anxiety symptoms. If you choose to drink socially, be mindful of any impact that it has on your mood and anxiety.
  • Check Your Social Media Habits. Social media can provide connection and inspiration, but it can also draw you into unfair comparisons. Once that happens, you not only yearn for what you don’t have, but you start to look unfavorably at your own set of circumstances. This sort of set-up is bound to leave you sitting with distress and anxiety. Use social media to support your well-being. Be intentional about the accounts you follow, curating a feed that uplifts and inspires you rather than leaving you with feelings of inadequacy. If you use platforms like TikTok, with less control over the feed, honestly assess its impact on your mood. I encourage you to set boundaries around your social media use as a show of self-love!
  • Get Familiar with Deep Breathing: Slow, deep breaths can help calm your body’s physiological response to anxiety. When you’re anxious, your breathing can become rapid and shallow, contributing to feelings of tension and panic. You can activate your body’s natural relaxation response by consciously slowing down your breathing. Try inhaling slowly for a count of four and exhaling for five, repeating this as often as you’d like.
  • Seek Support. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist about your anxiety can offer you empathy, encouragement, and guidance. Support from others can also help you feel less alone, more equipped to face challenges and open you to new perspectives. Finally, I encourage you to stay closely connected to your support system, even when you’re not anxious. Feeling connected and nurturing connections will enhance and support your well-being.
  • Practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. This allows anxious thoughts to appear and pass without getting sidetracked by them. By cultivating mindfulness, you can train your mind to observe anxious thoughts without being overwhelmed. Regular mindfulness practice can help you develop a greater sense of calm and perspective, making it easier to manage anxiety when it arises. Finally, mindfulness is essential as a precursor to challenging your anxious thoughts. Mindfully observing your thinking creates separation between your anxious self and your authentic, strong self.

Coping with Anxiety In The Moment

When you’re feeling anxious, your thoughts will reflect it. If you listen to your anxious thoughts and follow their lead, you’ll reinforce them. This allows you to become stuck in a harrowing cycle. Not only is it essential to know how to best care for yourself in general, but it’s also important to know what to do when you’re caught in a moment of anxiety. Let’s look at some strategies that can best help you:

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  • Expect Anxiety. This skill starts with you identifying the situations, people, and places that trigger your anxiety so you enter into such scenarios with a sense of preparedness. If you know ahead of time when your anxiety will appear, then you can proactively plan ahead of time so that your anxiety doesn’t take charge. This is also a great exercise in cultivating self-awareness.
  • Name Your Anxiety. When you notice anxious symptoms, call them just that. Say to yourself, “This is my anxiety talking,” or “this tightness in my chest is anxiety.” Naming or labeling your anxiety symptoms allows you to take a step back and respond more objectively. It gives you the power to access your authentic voice, not the voice that shows up when you’re anxious. If you take the thought, “My date tonight isn’t going to like me,” at face value, your anxiety will snowball. But if you can step back and say, “This is just my anxiety talking here,” you’ll be better equipped to ground yourself and entertain a more realistic perspective that lowers your anxiety and restores good feelings.
  • Do The Opposite of What Your Anxiety Advises. Your anxious thoughts might tell you to avoid certain situations that would otherwise…make you anxious. Pay close attention to what your anxiety tells you to do. It might not be readily apparent, so this is where mindful observance of your thoughts can help. Listen for your anxiety’s instructions, then do the opposite. If, for example, your anxiety tells you to cancel social plans, do the opposite and keep them. If your anxiety tells you to edit a work document after you’ve already carefully done so, do the opposite. Close your laptop! Your anxious thoughts will always assume the worst-case scenario and instruct you to act accordingly. This keeps you stuck in a cycle of self-doubt, forever questioning your judgment or the safety of certain situations. This skill might be the most challenging, but if you can act opposite to your worried thoughts, you’ll build resilience, confidence, and genuine trust in yourself.
  • Directly Challenge Your Anxious Thoughts. Now that you know how to name your anxiety and recognize anxious thoughts when they appear, it’s time to strip them of their power with an assertive challenge. If you know, for instance, that you tend to catastrophize when anxious, you can challenge those thoughts by countering them with your own authentic voice of reason. For example, you can challenge the idea, “No one I meet at the party tonight is going to like me, and it’s going to be miserable” with, “That’s my anxiety talking. I can’t know what anyone will think of me. But, I know I’m warm, friendly, and funny, and there’s no rational basis for thinking others won’t see that.” This sort of cognitive reframing can help you break the cycle of anxiety and regain control and confidence. Remember, you are so much stronger than your anxious thoughts!

Managing anxiety is a process, and it can take time to find the strategies that work best for you. Be patient with yourself, and don’t forget to celebrate your progress!

Find the Right Support for You: Anxiety Therapists in NYC

If you decide to seek therapy for anxiety in New York City, then I applaud you for taking the courageous step to help yourself. I recommend looking for an anxiety therapist who fully collaborates with you, facilitates thought-provoking conversations, and challenges you appropriately with care and compassion. The most thoughtful therapists will want to get to know you before jump-starting a treatment plan that may or may not fit your specific needs and preferences. Finally, your therapist is someone who should appreciate you as a whole person beyond your anxiety. You deserve support from a therapist who keeps a steady focus on your strengths and strives to empower you.

Get to the Core of Your Anxiety with Therapy for Anxiety in NYC

At Gold Therapy NYC, our approach to helping you manage your anxiety is both collaborative and deeply engaging. Transitioning away from traditional methods that may not have helped you in the past, our therapists aim to create an environment where you feel heard, validated, and actively involved in your healing process. We believe in the power of productive conversations guided by reflection, insightful feedback, and practical guidance. At Gold Therapy NYC, we invest in helping you discover your power so you can thrive. To get started:

  1. Book a Free Consultation.
  2. Learn more about us and our services.
  3. Understand Yourself and Your Anxiety!

Other Therapy Services Offered at Gold Therapy

At Gold Therapy NYC, our skilled NYC therapists are ready to support you with various therapy services to fit your unique needs. With us, you’re not seen as someone who needs fixing but as an individual deserving of holistic healing from the inside out. We offer various therapy services to meet your specific needs and support your feeling more empowered and confident—our additional therapy services for Depression, Life Transitions, Communication & Boundaries, and more. You want to feel better, and at Gold Therapy, we’re here to help you do just that. So why wait? Let’s start the healing process together.