Recognizing the sounds, feelings, and behaviors when anxiety takes over
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We all get anxious. For some of us, it feels like a natural nervousness—think first day of school jitters. For others, it feels overwhelming and might be associated with diagnosable anxiety. Anxiety can be genetic and/or due to a significant increase in external pressures and unrealistic expectations. If we have both, it can be especially tough to navigate.

Anxiety is rooted in fear. This can be fear of rejection, death, disappointment, failure, abandonment, change, not being good enough…the list goes on. This fear can cause distorted thoughts, which take over and lead to undesired feelings and behaviors. While anxiety can take on many forms and can be incredibly complex, there are several commonalities that run throughout. Here are a few of the basics.

Anxiety sounds like (thoughts):

  • circular
  • irrational
  • catastrophizing
  • intrusive

Circular thoughts come one after the other. Think lots of commas between thoughts. They never end, like a merry-go-round or a hamster wheel that we can’t get off. Irrational thoughts can be tricky; even though we know they are irrational, they feel very true. Catastrophizing thoughts go immediately to worst case scenario. (i.e. our child has a fever, and we automatically think they are certain to die.) Thoughts from anxiety can also be intrusive and convince us to do something we would otherwise know is not in our best interest. When an adult or child has these thoughts, we can imagine how their anxiety might make them feel.

Anxiety feels like:

  • scary
  • powerless
  • overwhelming
  • frantic

Without acknowledging and validating these feelings, we can miss the mark, making our anxiety spiral deeper into the abyss of fear. Moreover, we begin to look externally for validation, as well as unhealthy ways of coping.

Anxiety looks like (behaviors):

  • withdrawn
  • dysregulation
  • anger
  • perfectionism

Once we can identify and acknowledge that our anxiety has taken over our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we can begin to accept that while our anxiety feels terrifying, it is trying to protect us. Thanking our anxiety for its attempt to keep us from pain and then shifting the driver to our true, authentic self can get us back on the road we want to be on. We can do this by asking the following questions:

  • What do I know to be true (about myself, the situation, etc.)?
  • What is happening right now?
  • What do I need?
  • Who is driving (my fear or my authentic self)?

The answers to these questions pull us out of the throes of our anxiety and place us back in the present where we can hear rational thoughts, feel calm and grounded, and implement coping skills for our greater good and wellbeing. When this happens, we empower our internal locus of control, feel confident in our ability take control over our anxiety, and trust that we can effectively drive when our authentic self is at the wheel despite our genetics, pressures, and unrealistic expectations.


MOLLIE GEE is a licensed clinical mental health counselor, mother of two, and owner of The Nest Counseling. Follow her on Instagram @thechubbydebutante.