Denver counselor Gideon Killion shares some insights about the impact of anxiety.
We all have moments of anxiety in certain situations, whether it’s a performance review at work or waiting to hear the results of a medical test. But for some of us, it goes beyond that, with anxiety showing up much more often and in more ordinary situations. When it does, this kind of anxiety can have a real impact on your relationships and work (not to mention your ability to enjoy life). If this sounds like it might be you, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 18% of Americans over 18 have experienced the effects of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something that I have struggled with, so I know what it’s like. I’d to share with you some of the signs of anxiety to watch out for, as well as what you can do to get a handle on it.
Signs of anxiety to watch out for
Here are some of the most common signs that anxiety is interfering with your optimal functioning. One or two of these experiences could be due to other factors, but if you find that multiple items are relevant to you right now, anxiety could be the culprit.
Things to watch for at work:
- You have intrusive thoughts about your own shortcomings, in which any mistake becomes a catastrophe.
- You avoid normal interactions with people, such as by procrastinating on returning voicemails.
- You feel overwhelmed, “out of control,” or like you can’t cope with job expectations.
- You are extremely nervous about meetings, presentations, etc., to the point of having physical symptoms (such as nausea) or being unable to participate.
- You find yourself arriving late or leaving early in order to minimize the time spent at work.
Things to watch for in your close relationships:
- You feel annoyed by or suspicious of the other person with no particular trigger, or your reaction seems out of proportion to what the other person has done.
- You make excuses to be alone rather than with the other person (for example, saying that you don’t feel well or have to work late).
- You are rarely able to relax with your partner or have fun together.
- You are so focused on your own thoughts or worries that you feel emotionally disconnected from your partner.
- You have feelings of dread or pessimism about the relationship, even though it has previously felt stable and supportive.
If several of these descriptions apply to your experience in a relationship or at work, you may be seeing the side effects of anxiety.
Things that Don’t Help When You’re Anxious
It may be hard to know what to do when anxious feelings come up. These are a few of the most common — but also least effective— responses to anxiety.
Ignoring it: For many people, the natural tendency in trying to cope with anxious feelings is to minimize or deny the problem. You may find yourself hoping that anxiety symptoms will just go away on their own. What often happens, though, is that trying to ignore anxiety can make it worse—either more frequent or more intense.
Isolating: A common side effect of anxiety is self-consciousness. You may worry that you’re acting strangely around others (or that they will guess how anxious you’re feeling). Although trying to stay away from others provides a short-term solution to this problem, isolating yourself can make coping with anxiety more difficult in the long term.
Self-medicating: It’s tempting to use alcohol or drugs to take the edge off your anxiety symptoms, but they come with their own problems, like dependency. There are healthier ways to address the problem.
Handling anxiety on your own
If mild anxiety is having a negative effect on relationships or causing problems at work, you may be able to counter it simply by providing yourself with in-the-moment techniques to reduce anxiety right away. Here are a few things that can be immediately useful at times when you notice you are feeling anxious:
Count blue things. It sounds ridiculous, but this simple trick can be very effective in calming your nervous system. Look around the room and silently identify each thing you see that’s blue: “the spine of a blue book, a blue highlighter, two people wearing blue shirts.” This technique works because it tricks your brain into shifting gears and focusing on a cognitive task.
Listen to the ticking of a clock or analog watch. This has a soothing effect for most people because a clock ticks at about the same speed as your own normal resting heart rate. You don’t even need an actual clock or watch—a virtual one will do. Search for “ticking clock” on YouTube, or download an app like G Clock that replicates the sound of the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Engage in proprioceptive actions. Proprioception refers to your own physical sense of your body in relation to the things around it. Thus, any action that involves proprioceptive input can help to calm your nervous system. This can be as simple as chewing gum, or as complex as playing a ball game like basketball or football in which your body comes in contact with the ball. Other simple proprioceptive techniques include squeezing a stress ball, pushing your palms against a wall, or eating a crunchy food like pretzels.
Getting help with your anxiety
When your anxious feelings don’t respond to the simple techniques listed above, or if you feel so anxious most of the time that you’re having difficulty functioning in your normal work and home routines, it’s a good idea to get professional help. Anxiety can be treated through counseling as well as through medication, or both.
A medical doctor, like your primary care physician, or a psychiatrist, can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe medication. It can take a few tries to get the right medication and the right dose, and all medications can have side-effects, so it’s important to stay in contact with your doctor during this process.
Counseling is also an effective treatment for anxiety, for most people. Simply talking to a counselor on a regular basis can be helpful for some people, but the treatment can also include things like uncovering subconscious thoughts and feelings, challenging or defusing intrusive thoughts, or practicing mindfulness and relaxation skills. If you are wondering whether counseling might be able to help you with your anxiety, I would be honored to talk to you. Please contact me and we’ll set up a free, 30-minute consultation at one of my Denver counseling locations.
Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt offers reasons for America’s deep political divisions in this fascinating TED Talk.
This past election — which feels like it’s still going on — seems different to me than others I remember. I’ve found it harder than usual to understand how the other side could see things so differently. I don’t think I’m alone. Most of the people I’ve talked to, regardless of their political leanings, seem to be struggling with this same question.
I really like this TED Talk. Jonathan Haidt uses ideas from the field of moral psychology to try to explain why and how the US is so divided, and how we recover from this. He touches on a wide range of themes that I’m personally curious about like tribalism, globalism, authoritarianism, empathy, and cognitive bias.
You may or may not be comfortable with all of his conclusions, but it should be fascinating none the less.
Let me know what you think in the comments.
Counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas for getting out there and meeting people.
Making friends and building community can seem daunting when you don’t know where to start. There’s a lot of abstract advice out there about expanding your social circle, but sometimes it’s easier to work from a list of concrete actions.
With that in mind, here are some specific ideas for ways to make new friends in Denver.
1. Find a Church (or Something) That’s Right for You
Regardless of your religious or spiritual persuasion, the Denver area almost certainly has a gathering to suit your needs. I thought of including some links, but there are just too many and I don’t want to favor any one in particular. Start by plugging keywords into Google to find your options. If you’re not sure which religion might be the right fit for you, you can take BeliefNet’s Belief-O-Matic quiz.
What if you don’t consider yourself religious or spiritual? You might want to investigate First Universalist Church of Denver, which honors all paths including atheism and operates from a set of guiding principles rather than a religious creed. Or you could check out Denver Sunday Assembly, a gathering for freethinkers and atheists that describes itself as “a place to go to listen to great music, learn from intelligent speakers (like TED talks), and meet other people in your community.”
2. Get Involved in Politics or a Worthy Cause
A great way to meet like-minded people is to donate your time to a worthy organization, whether that means getting involved in local politics or supporting a cause whose mission you value. If you’re interested in politics, a good starting point would be the Democratic Party of Denver or the Denver GOP.
Looking for a meaningful way to volunteer? Maybe you’d like to help veterans transition back to civilian life through the Helping Veterans program, or lend a hand at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. Or you could join Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, which offers opportunities for taking part in outdoor stewardship projects—everything from trail maintenance to fire and flood restoration. If none of those options sound right, try looking for other types of volunteer opportunities in Denver by searching the Volunteer Match database.
3. Join a Sports League
If you enjoying tossing a ball around, you may find that a sports league is the ideal way to connect with others. Denver offers a ton of options, including bowling, pool, softball, and volleyball. In the warmer months, you can play volleyball at Wash Park (here’s a map). There are leagues and pick-up games happening most weekends when the weather is nice. There’s also a meet-up group called Sports Monster that organizes volleyball leagues, outings, and open court events.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something more low-key, how about kickball? The Denver Kickball Club organizes league play, pick-up games and day-long tournaments throughout the city.
4. Become a Regular
Here’s another way to make friends: be a regular at a bar frequented by the kind of people you want to meet. (It doesn’t have to be near where you live.) Naturally, there are plenty of bar options in Denver, so you can narrow it down by type. Soccer fan? Try the Three Lions. Want to hang out with a cool eclectic group of regulars? Check out the Thin Man Tavern.
5. Connect through Meet-Ups
No matter what activity you enjoy the most, you’re guaranteed to find a Meetup.com group in the Denver metro area for people who are into the same thing. Here are a few random examples:
- The Fun Young Adults meet-up group arranges game nights, dancing, and other activities for people in their 20s and 30s.
- The Colorado Relaxed Philosophy and Movie Club gets together for a movie and discussion. Their next get-together is on March 4.
- Denver Medieval Combat Sports is for people who enjoy foam weapon combat (yes, hitting other people with fake swords) and other LARP-related activities.
- Like video games? So does the Denver Gamers Association.
- There’s even a group about Dads, babies, and beer.
6. Take Part in a Support Group
If you struggle with any particular issue and want to meet others with similar challenges, you can join a support group. For example, here’s a list of Denver area AA meetings. Also, the Psychology Today website has a searchable database of Denver support groups on a range of topics.
7. Sign Up for a Class
A great way to meet people is to start taking group classes in something you’ve always wanted to try. How about…
- Mastering small talk? “Master the Fine Art of Small Talk” at Colorado Free University
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, or MMA? Kompound Training Center
- Rock guitar? School of Rock (Denver) Adult Program
8. Start Your Own Group or Cause
Of course, if you don’t find exactly the kind of group you’re looking for, you can always start your own group, cause, meet-up, etc. Who knows? Maybe there are others out there looking for the same thing.
Just remember …
Regardless of which social avenue you decide to pursue, you’ll find greater success in making lasting friends if you keep two principles in mind. First, be persistent and consistent—keep showing up and be a visible part of the group. Second, practice good relational skills, like listening more than talking and making space for conversations to happen. (For a refresher, see my previous blog post on How to Make Friends and Amp Up Your Social Life.)
And last of all, don’t feel bad if getting out there and meeting people seems a little intimidating. I would be willing to bet that most people feel the same. But if you feel so intimidated that it actually stops you, I can help. Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to talk it over with you.