Best Health - - WELLNESS NEWS - ELIZ­A­BETH WIENER AND LISA BROOKMAN Eliz­a­beth Wiener is an ed­u­ca­tor who lives with de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety. Lisa Brookman is a clin­i­cal psy­chother­a­pist based in Mon­treal. To­gether, they form @wisewomencanada

Anx­i­ety symp­toms (ac­cel­er­ated heart rate, short­ness of breath, sweat­ing) are part of the fight or flight re­sponse that’s trig­gered when we sense dan­ger. It’s a bi­o­log­i­cal re­ac­tion that’s deeply en­coded in our DNA, stem­ming from an­cient days spent avoid­ing preda­tors. Al­though we face far fewer phys­i­cal threats to­day, anx­i­ety still serves the same self-preser­va­tion pur­pose. That means that, yes, some­times this re­sponse can be trig­gered by ev­ery­day sit­u­a­tions, like over­stim­u­la­tion and sen­sory over­load. Know­ing what trig­gers an anx­ious re­sponse and what to do can be in­te­gral for man­ag­ing anx­i­ety.


A few weeks ago, I boarded a plane back from New York City. I was im­me­di­ately struck by the heat in the cabin, but as­sured my­self the air would be turned on shortly. A half hour later, we still hadn’t taken off, the air con­di­tion­ing was bro­ken, it was un­bear­ably hot, and I was in full-blown panic mode. I started to hy­per­ven­ti­late and cry, con­vinced I was trapped and would die on that plane. Luck­ily, my hus­band was there and he helped me to fo­cus on slow­ing down my breath­ing and re­al­iz­ing it was ex­tremely un­likely that my fears would come true. Within a few min­utes, my flight in­stinct had dis­si­pated and I was able to man­age un­til the air sit­u­a­tion was re­solved.

An­tic­i­pat­ing some of my anx­i­ety trig­gers (like heat) can be help­ful, but it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble to avoid them. What I learned from my air­plane sit­u­a­tion was that keep­ing a “tool box” equipped with cop­ing mech­a­nisms is al­ways a good idea. The next time I en­counter a fight or flight-in­duc­ing sit­u­a­tion, I’ll prac­tice my breath­ing ex­er­cises, use a mind­ful­ness app on my phone, and prac­tice some cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy strate­gies which help re­frame over­whelm­ing neg­a­tive thoughts (I am trapped on this plane) into pos­i­tive ones (if the air can’t be fixed, we will be able to dis­em­bark).


Anx­i­ety is one of the lead­ing pre­sent­ing men­tal health con­di­tions in my psy­chother­apy prac­tice, af­fect­ing teens, women and men with equal mea­sure. Of­ten, the trig­gers my clients ex­pe­ri­ence are fairly typ­i­cal, such as work stress, re­la­tion­ship strug­gles or liv­ing with an ill­ness. But anx­i­ety isn’t one size fits all, and trig­gers can vary widely. For ex­am­ple, I have sev­eral clients for whom crowded spa­ces, bright lights or even mul­ti­task­ing can in­duce a fight or flight re­sponse. Of course, avoid­ing th­ese trig­gers can pre­vent the anx­i­ety, but that’s not al­ways prac­ti­cal. So if, for ex­am­ple, a client wants to see a favourite band in con­cert but is con­cerned about the crowds, I would en­cour­age her to have a plan in place which might in­volve choos­ing an aisle seat, be­ing aware of ex­its and find­ing a rel­a­tively quiet place where she can es­cape should she be­gin to feel over­whelmed.

Be hon­est with your­self, ac­knowl­edge your trig­gers and keep a record of them. Work with a ther­a­pist to help un­cover the un­der­ly­ing causes and learn cop­ing tech­niques, such as cog­ni­tive be­havioural ther­apy, mind­ful­ness and breath­ing ex­er­cises that will help you in anx­i­etypro­vok­ing sit­u­a­tions. Know your bound­aries, en­force them and don’t beat your­self up if you be­gin to feel over­whelmed. The key is to be pre­pared and proac­tive.

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