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Why Is My Mental Health Harder to Manage During Times of Anxiety?

From Kathryn Gates, LMFT

Gates Therapy

Our brains are organized by repeated patterns.

We learn, at a very early age, that the sun comes up in the morning, and at night, it is dark. Since this happens every single day, our brains know that it’s something we don’t have to wonder about, worry about or watch for. When things change, it’s only natural that our brains go “wait a minute — this isn’t what I’m used to!” and anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges can feel more intense. Structure reduces anxiety, so when there is less that we feel we can predict, anxiety (and other unwelcome mental reactions) are likely to flare up.

One way to help manage this is to give yourself certainty in uncertain times.

  • We may not know whether our routines will go back to what they were pre-pandemic.

By pre-planning our current daily routine, we have some certainty: knowing when we’ll wake up, what tasks we need to do right away to prepare for the day, and what activities are important to accomplish before lunchtime.

  • We may not know whether a loved one’s health will improve.

But, we can be certain that every afternoon, we take 10 minutes to refocus and do some deep belly breathing.

  • We may not know how we will manage money in the coming weeks. But, we can be certain that every night before bed, we’ll think about what we are grateful for, or send positive wishes to others who are struggling right now.

From Keisha Martinez, LPC-S

School-Based Counseling Program Manager at Integral Care

The most overwhelming aspect of anxiety is the constant racing thoughts that drive us to feel out of control. When our thoughts are racing a mile a minute it can be difficult to distinguish between what is real and what we’ve imagined. Too often our imagination wins and creates a false sense of the world around us.

Sometimes this experience can feel like a tornado is sweeping through you and you can’t do anything but get swept up in your thoughts and lose sight of reality. During these high anxiety times, it’s easy to forget coping skills, support systems and that you are NOT your thoughts.

The hardest thing to do in that moment is to separate your thoughts from your being. To remind ourselves we don’t have to allow our thoughts to rule us. To close our eyes, take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we can separate the real from the imagined. That we are capable of grounding and re-centering. That we’re strong enough to differentiate between thoughts and emotions. Sometimes it is as easy as breathing. Sometimes it takes self-talk to bring us back down.

When you find yourself swirling in the eye of the storm, try this:

  • Take a few minutes to pay attention to your breathing.
  • Close your eyes and slow your breathing by inhaling for 4 counts, exhaling for 4 counts. Focusing on your breath will allow you to separate from the thoughts.
  • Say aloud to yourself, “I am not my thoughts and my thoughts are not my being.”

From Simon Niblock, MA, LMFT

Therapy for Men

It’s a natural human instinct to favor certainty and to experience stress in confusing situations. We like feeling in control and crave consistency. Uncertainty often feels threatening because we don’t have confidence in the outcome due to a lack of information or conflicting information. This can be troubling.

It’s important to know that everyone reacts differently to situations. It’s normal to feel some anxiety and stress during a crisis. However, men who have a preexisting mental health issue are at greater risk during these times because they simply can’t tolerate any additional stress or uncertainty. Having frequent daily challenges or a big crisis can put them on overload. The result can be excessive worrying, imagining undesirable outcomes, and feeling overwhelmed. This quickly negatively impacts their mental health.

Uncertain situations, although undesirable, can be worked through. How we deal with uncertainty is largely based on our past experiences and our ability to trust. We can increase our tolerance for uncertainty by working with a trusted counselor so that when a crisis arrives, we have the tools in place to handle it well and with confidence.

For free 24/7 emotional support, call Integral Care at 512-472-4357.
Visit NAMI Central Texas to check out support groups for adults, family members, and more.