Befriending your Anxiety

By Kristen C. Dew, LMFT, CST

How do I stop feeling anxious?

The key to managing anxiety is to understand that you can’t make it go away. You might have a few tips and tricks that help, but to really get control over anxiety you have to work at a few different angles.

  1. Somatic Coping Skills – learn some skills (like deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.) to manage when anxiety gets to be unhelpful and distressing
  2. Cognitive Coping Skills – the stuff you say to your brain (#1 and #2 are briefly described in my last post Your Anxiety Has Something Important to Say)
  3. Making friends with this part of you and embracing it

This third step is the focus of today’s post. It’s like building a house and having a strong foundation to build on. You can go ahead and just learn the coping skills, but your house might fall down (metaphorically, of course).

To make anxiety management really stick you need to *befriend* your anxiety. Think about how friendship works. When you make a new friend do you avoid talking to them, or tell them you hate being around them? Some of you might be saying yes (hardy har) but really you won’t have good friendships if that’s how you do it. Why do we treat ourselves this way? When we disown and push away parts of ourselves, we ignore the pain but we also ignore the good. You have to be kind and compassionate to all of you, not just the parts that other people approve of, the ones that are comfortable all the time, or the ones no one bullied you for.

So let’s take a look at your anxiety. Really, if you could see it outside of yourself, what would it look like? Can you imagine yourself walking up to it and introducing yourself? If the anxious part of you were across the room at a party could you go talk to it? Get to know it? Maybe even like it? Maybe even hit on it?? I know some of you socially anxious folks out there are sweating, and I feel that. Here’s an imaginary dialogue for both self-friendship (aka self-esteem) and anxiety management that is a GAME CHANGER.

A Conversation with Anxiety at the Party in Your Head:

  • *makes eye contact across the room, then walks over*
  • Hey anxiety, how are you?
  • I know, talking makes you nervous. That’s ok. What do you need? Sure I’ll give you some space. Oh and here’s a snack (FUN FACT: the magic of your imagination knows EXACTLY what your anxiety wants right now)
  • I see that look. Anxiety, today I just want to talk without being a judgmental @#%* I know I have been mean to you sometimes in the past. I’m sorry for that. I know I have been pushing you away and I want that to stop.
  • So, what do you do for work these days? You look our for any and all danger and think of what to do in an endless cycle until the danger passes? Damn that sounds tough.
  • What do you do for fun? Those to-do lists are really helpful, thanks for that.
  • Do you remember fall semester 2005 finals week? You kicked ass that year, we got a 3.9 GPA. Thanks again for that.
  • What’s on your mind today? Yeah I hear that, sounds pretty stressful. You’re really on top of all that stuff, wow.
  • How did you get this job? Oh right, that embarrassing moment from 4th grade. Yeah I totally understand why you react quickly to other people sometimes. That’s okay, I still love you.
  • I’d like to get to know the reason behind some other stuff you do too when you’re ready to share it with me.
  • Hey I keep forgetting to thank you for always remembering mom’s birthday and making sure I get her a gift.
  • You’ve been a really good friend, thanks for trying to keep me safe. There is a lot about you I like and appreciate.
  • Hey I have to get going. Can I get your number? I’d love to chat more with you and send you some funny memes.

Your anxiety is a part of you and it’s a great part of you once you get to know it. When you can listen to and talk to your anxiety with compassion, it lessens its response and you can have a more productive dialogue with it.

Photo by Josue Michel on Unsplash


Rebuilding Trust after Betrayal

by Kristen C. Dew, LMFT

Many relationships experience a breach of trust at one point or another. It’s not just affairs that cause a loss of trust, it can be any secret-keeping, gossip, hidden spending, or what one partner thinks is a white lie. We may believe in theory that one type of betrayal (like an affair) may be worse than another, but our reactions tell us that any type of betrayal can harm the relationship and our sense of safety in all of our relationships. Our triggers are often reminders of past hurts or confirmations of our fears.

In my work with helping individuals and relationships rebuild trust after hurts, these themes always emerge:

  1. Expect that this will take time and hard work. Recovering from betrayal is a difficult process and requires lots of work. Time helps! In the case of affairs, it typically takes 18 months from the time the affair is discovered to start really feeling better.
  2. Begin healing as soon as you can. Lashing out or being defensive is normal, but largely unhelpful in moving forward. All people involved should begin taking steps to repair the relationship.
  3. Take a step back and decide how you want to show up in your relationships- including this one. Most people I talk to do not enjoy being angry and resentful. If you take time every day to nurture your relationship, seeking reassurance, and seeing the positive then you are well on your way to recovery. Choose to let go of negative feelings and anything that holds you back from happiness. A great relationship can prevail. It is possible and highly rewarding!
  4. Take responsibility for your contribution to the betrayal. Although there is sometimes a “victim” in the case of betrayal, there are often dynamics of the relationship that contribute to betrayal existing. For example, are you difficult to talk to? Have you flown off the handle when someone was honest with you and you didn’t want to hear it? Have you been neglectful in your relationship? Betrayal is never “okay” but it helps to make sense of how it was allowed to happen. 
  5. Own your emotions and feel them. You can feel anger, jealousy, blindsided, embarrassed, and grief. It will feel like a rollercoaster sometimes. Here are some ways to deal with feelings when they come up:
    • Know your triggers. Some will be internal (your own thoughts, worries, and feelings) and some will be external (places, conversations, situations, sights, smells, sounds, etc.) Remind yourself that the trigger is just that- a trigger. It is not the actual situation happening again.
    • Try to minimize triggers to the best of your ability. For example, driving a different way home, communicating and asking the person you are feeling betrayed with to share who they are texting with, or take a break from social media. Also know that you can’t control all of your surroundings.
    • Try reading this template to yourself for validating your feelings: “I am feeling anger, I feel it in my chest and stomach (or wherever you are feeling it in your body), it is ok for me to feel this way.”
    • Use deep breathing
    • Take 30 seconds as you breathe in say the word “let” and as you breathe out say the word “go”
    • Use visualization to imagine the situation going differently
    • Progressive muscle relaxation
    • Write it down- instead of lashing out, write when you are angry. When you are feeling calm, decide if it’s worth sharing or not.
    • My favorite coping skill for betrayal- depersonalize. You will be okay regardless of how this relationship works out or doesn’t. It doesn’t mean anything about you as a person or your worthiness for good things.
  6. Don’t do this alone. Seek supportive support (reading books or blogs, support groups, therapists). Sometimes friends and family members mean well, but they can influence how you feel about the relationship and make it more complicated to heal. Use your judgement and check in with how you feel to decide who is a true support to you. 

You may not be able to prevent feeling betrayed, but you can decide how to respond to it. Seeing your response as a bigger picture for how you want to respond to events in your life can help you to deal with the feelings that will inevitably come up, and choosing where to focus your energy can help you regain a sense of control.





Deepak Chopra’s Advice

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash