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Coping with Anxiety Caused by Things You Can’t Control

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Coping with Anxiety Caused by Things You Can’t Control

Jul 31, 2019

Many things in the world can cause anxiety and often they're beyond your control. Yet, you shouldn't ignore or dismiss what you are feeling. Psychiatrist Maria Reyes tells us the three steps she recommends her patients use to manage anxiety the right way.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Coping with anxiety, we'll talk about that next on The Scope.

Announcer: Health information from expects, supported by research. From University of Utah Health, this is

Interviewer: You know there are a lot of things that can happen in this world that can cause fear and anxiety and most of the time they're not really under our control but what do you do about them? How do you cope with them? Maria Reyes is a psychiatrist with University of Utah Health Care and she's going to give us some tips right now on how to deal with anxiety-causing events in your life that you don't have control over.

Maria: To your point about anxiety, as a psychiatrist, and I think this about it, every emotion in general I think the first step in being an emotionally healthy person is acknowledging your feelings and not judging them. So feelings and thoughts are just those - feelings and thoughts - but the first thing you need to do is acknowledge those and put a name on them. Don't ignore them is the bottom line because they will ultimately come to fruition in ways that may not be so pleasant sooner or later.

Interviewer: So it's better to just face up with it and just go, "I'm feeling a little stressed or sad or whatever about this situation."

Maria: Absolutely.

Interviewer: And go, "Okay. I'm feeling it."

Maria: Right. That means you're alive, that means you're a human being.

Interviewer: That's a good thing.

Maria: Yeah. And join the club.

Interviewer: So acknowledging is kind of the first step. Within that what else would you want to do as part of acknowledging it?

Maria: I think what distinguishes humans from primates is the ability in general to articulate our thoughts and feelings and I feel that people that tend to talk about their feelings tend to be more emotionally healthy and so I would encourage people when they do experience anxiety to talk to someone you know and trust. It doesn't have to be myself or a health care professional necessarily, but just being with friends, family and just using them as a sounding board for kind of what you're thinking and feeling.

Interviewer: Find that person that listens to you or that you have a good rapport, some trust with I'd imagine.

Maria: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Would be a big part of that. So acknowledge it, experience that emotion, talk about it. That's kind of the big first step when you're faced with some source of anxiety. What would you do after that?

Maria: After that, I encourage people to step back from their problems. Now I want to make the distinction between stepping back and avoidance. I'm not encouraging avoidance. That actually makes anxiety worse in the long run. However, creating some healthy distance when you feel overwhelmed emotionally is a good thing and it can be helpful in the long run. By that I mean things like engaging in hobbies, exercise, sometimes disengaging from social media if that's something that is anxiety provoking.

Interviewer: Especially if it's a world event.

Maria: Exactly.

Interviewer: You keep diving into more news stories about it or go to social media or go to the comments section.

Maria: Exactly.

Interviewer: So it's healthy to get away from that.

Maria: Right, or going on a news social media cleanse of sorts or just kind of being cognizant of the time you spend in those realms. So part of stepping back, the outcome of that is hopefully just a reframing of the situation. So stepping back could kind of give you the emotional distance to kind of look at a problem from a different perspective, seeing that silver lining around the cloud.

Interviewer: That's a good thing to look for?

Maria: Yes.

Interviewer: It's a healthy thing to do.

Maria: Yes. Our ancestors had it right when they came up with that adage.

Interviewer: So try to find something in the situation that maybe makes it not seem quite so bad or what good could come out of this or . . .

Maria: Absolutely. So just finding what lessons are there to be learned or how could I have done things differently are good ways to think about problems.

Interviewer: So step back and then is there something else you could do to help maybe make it not seem so big and scary?

Maria: Absolutely. Again, I don't want us to get the message that I'm advocating for burying your head in the stand or avoiding your problems. Of course, the step after stepping back would be to re-approach the problem or the precipitator of that anxiety but hopefully now it would be with a clear head. Then the outcome of that, I would hope, is some sort of sense of control over a situation that you may have limited control in. However I think there's always some part of that problem that seems beyond your control that you have a little bit of control over and I encourage people to know the difference between what you can control and what you can't.

Interviewer: And try to find that little piece maybe that you can do to make yourself feel better about it all.

Maria: Exactly.

Interviewer: So how do you know when it's time for an in-person session with a professional?

Maria: I think anytime you have feelings and emotions that interfere with your ability to fulfill your role as a mother, a spouse, a friend or if it's interfering with your ability to work or go to school or function in general. Also I have to throw in there any time you feel that life is not worth living anymore, these should certainly prompt your attention to seeking immediate help.

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updated: July 31, 2019
originally published: November 10, 2016