In this episode of What’s The Truth, I have Brittney Moses talking about overcoming anxiety. Anxiety and feeling anxious are very common. However, it is also manageable when we are rooted and grounded in Christ while understanding what is happening in our bodies at the same time. Learn practical ways to handle worry and feelings of angst in this episode.
BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPTION OF ANXIETY AND LEARNING TO OVERCOME IT
Root Causes of Anxiety
Why does somebody start to feel anxious at all? What is the root cause so we can understand this foundational piece?
I think I’ll just start off by saying severe anxiety is something that I really struggled with to the point that I did seek therapy for it and had to have treatment for it. This was when I was a newly single mom, basically homeless, trying to figure out where my life was going. My life was in a very ambiguous place where I fell out of control. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I lost dramatic amounts of weight, I was always on edge, I felt this constant feeling of dread as if it was only so long before something was gonna go wrong because so many things had gone wrong and wrong in my life.
So, I just want to start off by saying when it comes to anxiety, I have lived it. And it is the number one mental health condition in the world. So, it’s very common. But when it comes to the route of anxiety, I think I should definitely start off by saying that it is going to be different reasons and causes for every individual. This is why something like therapy, where you get a personalized assessment, someone who knows you who knows your history, who knows your backstory, is going to be extremely helpful.
So, we’ll just kind of be broad stroking here a bit as far as some common routes. It will be helpful to have that professional guidance to really get to what is specific to you. In my case, I just felt generally out of control, right? You may be feeling anxiety, because you’ve had very dramatic life changes, maybe unexpectedly. And so, there’s just kind of this fear of the unknown. And I think that is so reasonable. Especially when it comes to survival instinct, we want to feel secure, we want some sense of routine. We want some sense of knowing what’s going on with our surroundings. It’s what helps us feel safe, our brain, our body, our nervous system, it gives us that safety.
Cognitive Cycle for Anxiousness
Now, the first thing that I like to remind people of when it comes to anxiety, sometimes it is cognitive. Sometimes it is in our head, there are these cycles that we get into our head, and something in cognitive behavioral therapy, we talk about our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. So first, it’s kind of a cycle through those. First, you have the thought, something that triggers you to feel anxious. And now you’re feeling anxious, you’re feeling it in your body. And so now that’s reinforcing, “oh, my gosh, I’m anxious about the fact that I’m anxious,” right? That I’m having these feelings, then you interpret the feelings. And then that may lead us into behaviors – into acting in ways that create more anxiety, right? And then it goes back to the thoughts and the feelings and behavior.
So, it can kind of be this cycle, that we need to pause at some point and shift whether we shift the thoughts part like “I’m going to change my thoughts. I’m going to think of two other ways to see this situation.” Or maybe you shift the feelings part – your bodily part, whether it’s deep breathing, taking space, something that’s going to help put a break in that cycle. Or maybe you change your behaviors to do something that is going to be more relaxing, that’s going to reduce anxiety. Maybe it’s taking a shower or watching something that brings you relief or reading or reciting scripture.
So just keep in mind that tends to be the cycle, the thoughts, the feelings, and the behaviors.
Physical Effects of Feeling Anxious
Something that I never want to bypass is the very physical feeling of anxiety, right? Sometimes that comes upon us beyond our own will. You’re just feeling it and you feel like you can’t stop. And that is the activation of our nervous system, what we call fight or flight mode. So common symptoms of that are a racing heart, maybe sweaty hands, maybe it feels like your stomach is queasy. Your pupils dilate. Essentially your body is preparing to protect itself from danger or to flee because there is some sense that you are in harm. That could be physical harm. That could be something logical harm, emotional harm. Your body is designed to protect you.
But in the case of anxiety, sometimes they aren’t actually real, those things haven’t happened. There’s not actually something to fear, but we are interpreting it that way. And so therefore our body activates. And it’s something that takes place in the brain. There’s an American neuroscientist and researcher, his name is Joseph Ledoe. And he studied emotions in the brain. And he talked about something called amygdala hijacking, which is basically the amygdala, these almond-shaped structures in the center of your brain, are responsible for the fear response.
That’s what activates and then you have your frontal lobes, which is the part of your brain that is responsible for reasoning and decision making and planning, and sound judgment. But what takes place when we go into fight or flight mode, when we’re triggered, is that your brain literally sends signals to your amygdala, the fear center of the brain, quicker than it goes to the frontal lobes – the thinking and planning center.
So literally, your brain is hijacked by the fear response in your brain, which literally leads to our frontal lobes subsiding. I think we’ve experienced that, right? Where the fear or the anxiety takes over so much that we can’t really reason in our mind, or we’re feeling a little stuck, we can’t see our way out of it. It’s literally our brain being hijacked by the fear response. So, something that I always tell people, and I know we’re gonna get into the practical side later is to like, take the pause, like slow down before you react before you send that text or whatever you feel like you’re going to do out of fear or think out of fear, realize my brain is hijacked right now by fear – like physically hijacked.
So, I need to slow down, I need to take a deep breath, which actually activates the rest and digestive side of the nervous system, the part that helps us come back to a calm, and give yourself some time because right now our perspective is out of fear, which is more than likely not accurate to the situation. I hope I summarized that well when it comes to anxiety, there’s kind of all these inner workings and all these different reasons why we are activated by it. Essentially something triggers us that resembles something that could be harmful to us. And so, our body goes into this mode to protect us. So thank your body, it’s just trying to protect you, our body’s not our enemy. But we just need to kind of reason ourselves back.
Our Thoughts and How They Impact Our Feelings
I feel as though the root really comes down to the thought, right? Or that experience, because that’s where the trigger happens to trigger the chemical on a cellular level, to your emotion, to have your feeling to then to have your reaction. And I think a lot of that goes to fear which can cause that emotion of anxiousness. I’m sure you’ve heard of this, but I know somebody very close to me who gets anxious because he’s very future-focused. Have you ever heard of the two words like either “past focus” or “future focus” where it causes anxiousness? Can you talk maybe a little bit about those? And what do I mean by those?
The future is where you’re always kind of feel this dread of what could happen, or just feeling anxious about the future in general, or maybe things aren’t working out and where it could go. That’s kind of what I had when I had my anxiety. I was kind of a newly single mom, trying to figure out where I was going to live. I didn’t know what the future was going to look like, it was very ambiguous. And that created a lot of anxiety for me.
So, in that case, it’s so good to just take things one step at a time, one day at a time. And I always say like, that’s where faith kicks in. Like Psalms says that God has seen every single day of your life before a single day had passed. So God has already seen the future. He’s already seen all the chapters of your life, and He cares for you, and He loves you. And trust him with that future. That’s where we just have to surrender that. Then with the past, I think that is where the associations come in. You were mentioning how we just get triggered about things – maybe we’ve had things in our past, maybe we’ve had real traumas in our past. And so, the brain is an associative brain.
That is how it shapes your mental framework and your perspective or about reality is through your past experiences many times. And so your brain associates places, people’s smells, events, words, reactions with similar things that have happened to us in the past that maybe led to our harm, or were not good and the body wants to protect us against that; our mind wants to protect us against that. So when something similar comes up, even though it’s not the same situation, you’re still triggered because your brain is going, “oh no, we’ve been here in the past and this didn’t turn out good.”
We should feel this is something that we should be protective about and that makes us feel anxious. And that’s a totally normal response. But all in all, when it comes to the past, a lot of that is based on associations that do tend to follow us into our future that we just have to be aware of and work through maybe a little bit more, in some cases.
Awareness of Anxious Feelings in the Body
I love saying that our brains are like a Rolodex, where you have the memory and then you have the description, maybe like how it’s related to your future, your current, and then your brain and body pick out this card. It’s like, “Well, okay, we’re gonna associate with this today.” And then your body responds.
I would love for you to touch on how do we get to the awareness phase? I think most people can’t even get to the awareness phase to pause. At least that’s what I’m like – if we can just get to the awareness that something’s not right. How would you recommend just somebody to even get to that phase of pause, breathe – “Oh, something’s not right. I’m starting to feel a little off” kind of thing.
In my personal experience, it was me just learning to pay attention to the messages that my body was sending me. Like when I’m feeling that heart racing and sick to my stomach, which usually happens for me, or I’m not sleeping or what have you. It’s like clearly, my body is associating some triggers here and it’s activating. So for me personally, it’s the moment that I start feeling the quickening of my heart, and the upset stomach, and the racing thoughts. That’s really what happens. Those are racing thoughts that are spiraling. Then I go, “Okay, I need to pause.” That’s where I’ll stop. I’ll take some deep breaths. I will usually journal during that time, like journaling through what I’m feeling.
The great thing about physically journaling as well is that it makes you slow down, like as you’re writing out each word. And as we said, your brain is being hijacked by the fear response by this amygdala hijacking. So you’re giving yourself time for that fear response and all that adrenaline in that fight or flight mode, you’re giving it time to subside. So that those frontal lobes that reasoning and judgment center can kick back in. And so we can start processing things again. And that timing depends on how activated we are. Sometimes it can feel like a while to really come back down.
But at least give yourself that time before acting or assuming anything. So I was going to mention this in the practical steps, but I guess I can add this here. What helped me is to do something called the ABCs. And I think that’s super helpful. ABCs. So A is the activating event. So I will literally write down kind of a chart like what was the activating event? I had to think about the thing that triggered me? What were the behaviors that followed? What were the things that I did right after that? You know, or maybe what were the automatic thoughts that followed? And then C is consequences.
So, how do I want to now respond to this situation? Knowing this is kind of taking back control of what’s happening with yourself and the situation instead of letting it run you. I think self-control comes in from paying attention to your emotions, not bypassing them. Because when you bypass those things, then they’re ruling you. It’s leaning in and paying attention to what’s going on in your brain and body and saying, “Okay, I’m going to reframe and reclaim this situation.” I say to myself, “healthy Brittney is going to respond to this not old, Brittney.”
Practical Ways to Walk Out Worry and Feelings of Angst
So, let’s go ahead and get into some of those practical things. I think that awareness is going to be your first step of just saying you do have a spirit of self-control; this isn’t something that has to run your life. This is something that you can put into submission with the Word of God. I don’t want to normalize anxiety, but I feel like it’s common. Because when we normalize it, we don’t challenge it. What can we do about it? I think sometimes if I started to believe that this is just the way it’s supposed to go, then we read scripture, and then we start to feel shame for how He says to not have an anxious mind; to not worry. And so how do I then go on? I’m not supposed to feel. But I do feel, so how do I bring those together?
I love what you’re saying about scripture, because I think on the flip side God says, “do not fear” so many times throughout the Old Testament that I think that he’s aware that we as humans get anxious. And he says it so many times, I think to reinforce us like, “Hey, do not fear, I am here I am with you. And I’m guiding your path. Cast all your anxieties on me.” God is constantly reaffirming us throughout Scripture, actually, because he’s aware that this is what we struggle with within the human experience.
But when it comes to practical things, as I said, it’s important to get an assessment. You want to know exactly what you’re dealing with and what the route is to target. Because sometimes anxiety, it is a biological symptom. It could be in the brain, or for example, having an eye having a hyperactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism. T
hat is where your thyroid is over metabolizing and it’s creating symptoms of anxiety. There might need medication to help get that into balance. So sometimes it is very physiological. It’s not everybody, but you want to speak to someone who can help assess for these things and rule out things that maybe there might be just a fix for that or a manager for that that you’re just not aware of.
One other thing to take into consideration is nutrition. Having too much sugar in your diet, having caffeine in your diet – these are stimulants.
Also fitness and exercise. Now I’m talking more like holistic stuff, right? The great thing about exercise, especially when I was in the midst of my anxiety, I was actually running a lot. When you’re running, when you’re getting your adrenaline up and your heart pumping, you’re actually feeling similar symptoms of anxiety and you’re learning how to push through those physical feelings and separate yourself from those physical feelings and say, “okay, even though I have these feelings, it doesn’t mean I’m necessarily in danger or I’m necessarily in trouble or I necessarily have to catastrophize just because I’m having these physical feelings.”
When you are exercising you’re also feeling the same physical feelings, but it’s like in a different reframe like this is my body preparing. This is my body amping up and all the endorphins. So exercising, I think is a great way to also help with kind of symptom management. Another one – journaling. As you said, journaling through those thoughts is huge. Also re-grounding yourself in Scripture. Even if you can have affirmations of Scripture by your bedside or on your bathroom mirror – something that you can just rehearse to yourself to get your mindset in the right place to be in a more grounded place.
Meditation. I like the Abide app. It has Christian and biblical meditations to set your mind on that is phenomenal. And for me, when I have anxiety at night, I actually like to listen to a reading of the Psalms. It’s very grounding. For me, I turn on the Bible app, I turn on the audio, and I just kind of fall asleep to listening to the reading of the Psalms. Something like listening to Scripture readings, reminding yourself of who God is in the big scheme of things.
Because anxiety leads us to focus on ourselves and on the small things, and Scripture and worship, music, all of that help us step back into the bigger picture of who God is and who He is in our lives. And we just need that reminder, in that shift in our spirits. So yeah, scripture, worship, reaching out to your safe people praying together. I always talk about mental health as a toolbox and we have all these different tools that we use, and they’re all useful and gifted to us by God to be able to use for healing and health. So use all of them.
Surrender Your Thoughts
I just love this conversation and I know it’s gonna just encourage so many women, but what do you want to leave them with? Is there any nugget?
Anxiety is not a sign that you are failing morally or personally or you’re lacking faith as a Christian or you’re sinning. It’s very common. However, there are ways to get unstuck, to manage, or see your way through. And so I just wanted to give hope, because life can look and feel very different. Just continue every day to surrender those worries to God taking it one step at a time. A lot of times when we’re overwhelmed, we’re magnified. We’re looking at everything from the bigger picture, when really when you’re overwhelmed.
This is the time to start looking smaller picture. This is actually the time to focus on smaller steps. We were talking about all these different holistic ways to address it – as you do one thing, it alleviates you to focus on another area. Maybe the eating and then maybe that alleviates you to focus on maybe the exercise part which alleviates you to focus on maybe the therapy part. So I just encourage you to start somewhere. Learn a little bit more about anxiety education. I think helps reduce a lot of shame. It’s a normal response to a fear reaction to a trigger. It is your body, it is not just you. So I just want to give that encouragement – you’re not alone.
Other episodes you would enjoy: 7 Ways To Take Care Of Your Emotional Health and How Repressed Emotions Impact Our Physical Health with Kari Coody