30. How Do I Manage My Anxiety? With Kelsey Darragh

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There’s no way to have gotten through the last few years without some anxiety. But comedian and mental health advocate Kelsey Darragh has been experiencing anxiety-induced panic attacks for as long as she can remember. In the years since, she’s tried it all – therapy, medication, treating the physical symptoms caused by her anxiety – she shares her hard-won knowledge of what works to help her manage her anxiety, panic disorder, and depression. This episode is about slowing down, being realistic about what you can and can’t control, and how to create routines for yourself that bring a sense of calm and independence to your life.

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Claire, Kelsey Darragh

Claire  00:09

Hi, I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. Welcome to NEW DAY. I’m curious, what’s your anxiety level these days? I would say mine is low to medium at the moment. But I’ve been struggling with anxiety for over two decades. It first showed up in my life around the time my mother died when I was a teenager. And it kind of never left. Panic attacks, phobias, catastrophic thinking. hypochondria, obsessive worry, it was not fun. These days, I’m in a good place with it. Although I’ve learned so much about anxiety that I generally know how to work with it and keep it at a low level. But anxiety can be crippling. And I know that more people than ever are struggling with it these days. Even before the pandemic, we were at an all-time high, and now even more of us are experiencing it. The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable. There are so many techniques to use that can help you get into a calmer space. And today’s episode is packed with information about how to work with anxiety. My guest is comedian, writer, filmmaker and mental health advocate Kelsey Darragh. Kelsey is the author of Don’t fucking panic, a workbook that helps folks manage debilitating anxiety disorders, panic attacks and depression. You might also know her from BuzzFeed, Tik Tok, and YouTube. So with all that, you know, you’re in for a really fun conversation that will also be super helpful. I want to say though, that I know that for some of us, even just talking about anxiety can make us well anxious. But I promise that you’re going to come away from today’s conversation with a whole new take on how to manage it, not to mention some really awesome tips and tools.

Claire  01:55

Hi, Kelsey, nice to meet you. Thanks so much for coming on new day. I start every episode by asking my guests. How are you doing? But how are you really doing?

Kelsey Darragh  02:07

I love that. Let’s see. Let me get heart centered, then check in, doing my somatic scanning, feeling a little pressure in my right shoulder. But other than that, my mood is great.

Claire  02:22

Awesome. I have to preface this whole interview by letting you know that I live up in Northern California and it’s apparently mating season for the wild turkeys and there’s like a really big one in the yard and you hear a gobble here and there.

Kelsey Darragh  02:36

That is hilarious.

Claire  02:38

He’s a big guy. Yeah. And he seems serious.

Kelsey Darragh  02:41

I was gonna say, well, first of all, do you say curse words on this podcast?

Claire  02:45

Yeah, go for it. Okay,

Kelsey Darragh  02:47

What’s it like to watch a turkey, fuck.

Claire  02:49

I have not yet been privy to that. But I will update you when I get a glimpse of that one.

Kelsey Darragh  02:55

Yeah, I’d really like some feedback. I’m very curious.

Claire  03:00

So today, we’re gonna talk about anxiety, which is something I’d love to talk about. And I think a lot of people really appreciate hearing about and seems like you’ve got a lot of really great insights and thoughts and you know, your own slew of anxiety. So I had my first panic attack when I was 18. My mom had just died. And, you know, I had never been an anxious person before I’d ever gone through any kind of panic attack and you know, ended up in an ER, thinking I was dying pretty early on after she was gone. And, you know, back then this was I’m dating myself now. I’m almost 44. So this was like 25 years ago. And back then the people in the ER, were just like, oh, you’re a teenager, you’re probably doing drugs. I wasn’t. They ran all these tests. They said, you know, you probably just have heart palpitations. And they sent me on my way, they never asked me if anything was going on in my life. You know, I was a new college student. My mom had just died. Of course, I was anxious, but they never presented that idea to me. So for years after that, I lived with crippling anxiety, but just thought there was something extra wrong with me. And it took me a while to put the pieces together. What was the start of your anxiety?

Kelsey Darragh  04:15

Huh? Thank you for sharing that with me. I’ve got a similar story to you. So I always had told this tale of my beginning of anxiety. A lot of people know me from the content I made at BuzzFeed when I worked there for five years and there was some videos I made where I talked about my first panic attack was when I was 17 years old and I was on an airplane and I almost landed, I had never like landed a plane before but I was like, this is a new experience for me. And that in my mind was what I thought was the beginning of many ER visits of something’s wrong with my heart. Something’s wrong with me. I just I don’t know how to explain it but something’s doesn’t feel right. And when I started to write the book, I had to go back and interview my friends and family to say, like, where did this actually really begin? And it turned out that I had started experiencing panic attacks way earlier than I had remembered. As a toddler, I was diagnosed with asthma, and I probably got it, you know, my neural pathways conflicted with what was asthma and panic attack. And, you know, my mom would tell me stories about when I was little, I’d come home from a soccer game, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and they thought it was my asthma. And they gave me my medicine it wasn’t that, they take me to the Children’s Hospital, they did all these tests. And as soon as they said, We’re gonna give her some baby valium, because she needs to, like calm down. So we can run these tests, I would fall asleep and everything was fine. And, you know, you’d think at that point, they would have said, hey, this girl, this little child has anxiety, you should probably take her to like a child psychology. No, they also sent me on my way back. They didn’t give my parents any resources, we kind of just went, well, that was weird, and went on with the rest of my life. And so until I had the verbiage and the vocabulary to describe what was happening to me, wasn’t till I was about 17 years old.

Claire  06:18

And at that point, was there someone who pointed out that it was anxiety?

Kelsey Darragh  06:23

Yeah, it was after I smoked weed for the first time.

Claire  06:29

Anyone a panic attack?

Kelsey Darragh  06:30

Exactly. And my friend’s aunt whose house where were smoking at you know, she was the cool house to be at because she was raised by her aunt, not her mom. And her aunt was like you’re having a panic attack. And I was like, yeah, whatever that is. Sounds right. Definitely panicking, but like, there’s gotta be something structurally wrong with me. And she’s like, no, this is a, you know, bio psychosocial experience. And I didn’t care or know what that meant at the time. But my first therapist slash psychologist was the first one to really say, the word anxiety disorder. And again, that was like, around 17, after the airplane, you know, at that time, I just wouldn’t stop complaining enough to be like, I need to see someone about something. And we’re on medication for the first time. Yeah.

Claire  07:19

I am just fascinated by anxiety. So in my journey, I ended up you know, putting the pieces together when I was in grad school and college kind of studying psychology and reading about trauma and PTSD. And I was like, wait, and by that point, my father had died as well. So I had two dead parents, I was in my 20s. And I was finally like, wait, maybe I’m anxious because my parents died. I mean, nobody had pointed this out. And I find this connection together. But one of the things that I think is so interesting about anxiety is how physical it is, you know, we really have these very real physical symptoms that most people will think that there’s something actually wrong with them. What has been your experience of that? You know, do you still get those symptoms? You know, don’t tell me all about it.

Kelsey Darragh  08:03

Well, I have an entire chapter in my book talking about how I couldn’t stop and excuse my French, but I feel like at this point, you kind of get the vibe of what kind of person I am. I couldn’t stop shitting my pants at exactly 7:25 every single morning at school, in high school, and I was so mortified. I ran across campus to go to the bathroom by the theater that no one would go to in the morning, I would start bringing extra underwear with me, I was mortified and finally told my dad and he took me to see like a gastro whatever that doctors called. And they told me I had IBS. So when I was a teenager, I was literally sticking things out my butt to try and solve what was wrong with my tummy. And it wasn’t until I became an adult, that my first psychiatrist and psychologist said, your IBS is completely related to your anxiety. We’re not even sure it’s really IBS. That is surely a symptom. But there is a root cause to this that we can solve and make your IBS better. And I went, what. The first time I really heard about the mind body connection, you know, I had, wow, I felt so betrayed by my brain. You know, how could you be doing this with you know, when my panic attacks would happen? I would have very severe depersonalization and derealization where either I looked down at my hands and I’d be like, I know these are my hands but they don’t feel like my hands were very out of body. Or I fell in I always called it like The Truman Show effect where I didn’t feel like my world and my surroundings were real and those to me were always the scariest parts about panic disorder, you know, the racing heart and the shitting your pants and vomiting and sweating like that was all stuff that I was like, I know what that is. That’s sweating and physical. This other trauma defense signal my brain was doing, which I didn’t know at the time was a form of protection, you know, my brain trying to protect me, I did not understand. And I thought I was going crazy, you know, my biggest fear was that I would get stuck this way. And I would have to live in this. You know, I always my biggest fear was always that I was going to completely lose my mind one day and end up in a mental hospital and spend the rest of my life there and no one that loved me or cared about me whatever calm and helped and saved me and it is an intrusive thought.

Claire  10:31

Yeah, it’s terrifying. I’ve had those panic attacks, too. It’s been a long time since I’ve had those. But it’s absolutely terrifying. You know, and I’ve worked with a lot of people who felt that as well. So what did your journey look like on starting to, you know, get a grip on the anxiety.

Kelsey Darragh  10:47

It’s been a long one. For sure. I, you know, I will say today is the best and most honest and free I’ve ever felt with myself. And you know, it started later than I wish it had with my sort of healing and management journey. I definitely always say it’s not like a cure, you’re not trying to get rid of these things. Like you need anxiety to be able to, like run from an attacker or like, be angry at something. But management was really a long journey for me. So it definitely started with, I think, like the early 90s, late 90s, the aughts, where all we knew was a psychiatrist, you put a medication over it, and you go to therapy, and you don’t tell anyone about anything. And then I really started to use what I was going through in the work I was creating. And you know, the more people I would talk to, because I kept it inside for so long. I was so relieved when I finally started talking about it publicly.

Claire  11:54

What was the response you got when you started talking about it publicly?

Kelsey Darragh  11:58

The first time I ever made a video really talking about it was when I was at BuzzFeed, and it was mental health month, and I had made a video called my pill journey talking about all the different medications I had been on. And it was like a stop motion piece where I use the actual pills to make pictures and tell a story. And I thought, Well, I’m not my face isn’t in it. So I’m safe. But of course the internet found out right away. And like the top comment was like, oh my god, I can’t believe Kelsey has been going through this or dealing with this. And soon enough, I became like the poster child for mental health. And my first fear was, oh my god, is this going to be the only thing that ever comes up when you Google me? Like what if I’m trying to get a job or like, you know, date.

Claire  12:42

You’re having some anxiety about this.

Kelsey Darragh  12:44

And it was so quickly put to rest by the over whelming support and feedback, like desperation, it was like a club that was created out of so much suffering and really letting it out and connecting with other people was a part of that healing. And so I just started to make more and more content about it and videos about it. And, you know, that was really therapeutic. And I always said it was like kind of a, it was a selfish thing. Like it felt good to get it out. And being able to separate myself from people commenting, or maybe even people reaching out that were in desperate need, and I wasn’t mentally able to be there for them. And I definitely learned a lot about boundaries and owning it and knowing that it’s,  can’t help but not talk like I can’t help it, I have to talk about it, so much a part of my life. And I want everyone to know all the things I’ve learned to manage. And so, you know, now I’m 31 and I have an amazing routine. And really no, you know, I got sober from alcohol two and a half years ago, and that was a frickin game changer with my panic attacks like major. And that’s not to say I’m perfect, and I never struggle. And you know, even recently, I tried to go off my medications to try micro dosing for chronic pain. And that was like, it put me right back 10 years ago where I was like, I can’t believe after all this time and I’m literally a mental health advocate. I wrote a book about this. How could I be going through this again, my agoraphobia popped out again. I wasn’t leaving my house. I mean, this was December of last year that this happened. And so I’m now, I’m back on my medications and I’m in a much better place. But even that little experience reminded me that you know, this is a process and it healing is not linear and things will ebb and flow and you got to take it day by day.

Claire  14:54

Definitely. Yeah, I think that’s one of the things I like to tell people too. Is that the good goal isn’t to get rid of the anxiety, you’re never going to get rid of the anxiety but learning how to manage it, learning how to flow with it, learning how to, you know, overcome it when it’s happening and learning how to, you know, take care of yourself in a way that doesn’t produce as much anxiety as well. But you said a couple of other interesting things. Just thinking about all the people that came out of the woodwork after your videos. I’m always amazed at how well we can conceal anxiety, like we, you can be really close friends with someone or coworkers and never know that they’re an anxious person. And I think that that’s a kind of fascinating attribute of anxiety is that we can kind of keep it under wraps. What’s your experience with that?

Kelsey Darragh  15:39

Yeah, no one knew how bad it got ever. And I was so embarrassed to ever say, like, hey, I play, I mask as this like successful like boss, energy, like feminists, like I’m so strong person online that I myself was lying about how bad and hard and scary and dark it got. And, you know, I ended up starting a Slack room at BuzzFeed called Safe Space. And it was like, so many people who joined all my coworkers, bosses, managers, I was like, we’re all in here. And it was just a club to say, hey, if someone needs to go for a walk in the middle of the day, or like, if you need a resource, or just someone to talk to, like, come here, and it really was the first time that I saw how many people were affected and living with this and like, came up and said something either privately or publicly about it.

Claire  17:07

Yes, for me, a turning point in working on my own anxiety was really kind of a lot of meditation and learning how to look at my thoughts back away from them, step away from them not follow certain thoughts down rabbit holes. But when I think about the way that technology affects our lives, you know, we wake up in the morning, and we’re looking at our phone before we’re out of bed. You know, we’re not even having our own thoughts yet. Like, my mind isn’t even like online yet with coffee. I am having thoughts because I’m reacting to all this stuff that streaming through my phone, you know, what someone ate for dinner last night and what the president did, and you know, like, and all of that can cause so much anxiety. So before we even get out of bed, you know, it’s all gotten away from us.

Kelsey Darragh  17:52

Yeah, you know, I come from a very privileged position in that I don’t have children. I don’t have crippling you know, debt. I don’t have college loans to pay off, I get to make my own schedule, because I am a creator. Like I’m saying this from a position of white sis privilege. But it is so important to be selfish in your healing journey. And something you said was like nail on the head with to figure out and learn how to unlearn takes a lot of time and energy and practice. And if you have kids screaming, and your partner’s nagging you and you have bills to pay, and like, when do you ever get a second to just say, why do I think this negative thought and what’s behind that, like a working mom might be like, fuck off, I do not. Like, are you, I don’t even have time to think for myself, let alone dive deeper into my trauma and to that I’m like, then it won’t get better, you know, then it won’t unless you make a self a self-selfish but self-less choice to say, I have to carve out this whatever it is 20 minutes in the morning, five minutes in the morning to journal and get my thoughts out on paper or see a therapist or just talk to someone because it has to start somewhere and like a face mask and a bubble bath isn’t going to do it like the work of undoing years of rapid cycling thoughts or anxious thinking or intrusive thoughts or rumination is going to take time. And so I love and I always say this. It’s a contradictory phrase but routine gave me so much independence and freedom. If I know in the morning that I’m going to look at my phone to stop my alarm but I’m not gonna I’m not gonna get on Instagram or Wordle yet I’m not gonna, I might get on there even though I’ve already got text messages coming in of my friends send meet their Wordle scores. I’m like, God, I can’t wait to beat them. But I know that I need to go downstairs and make my matcha latte coffee like you said, I need to go outside, I need to write in my daily stoic journal, I need to take a somatic look at myself, like what’s hurting? Where do I feel things, I have to do yoga or whatever, practice meditation breath work. And then I can step into my day, and I made a drastic change over the pandemic, to bump my Calendly and my scheduling up to 10am. Because even though I get up at seven, yeah, I need three hours to put my life together and I still look like this, you know? But it took way longer than I wish it would have to figure out that that’s what I needed to and maybe it’s for you, it’s nighttime, or maybe it’s, you know, an hour or even five minutes. But you have to make a change, if you want to change.

Claire  21:00

Yeah, yeah, I agree. And I really appreciate you, you know, pointing out the like, the privilege of it, because it does take that time and that work. And we can all get up and do those things and have that space. You know, I’ve got three kids and are super busy work life and too many pets and things. But I did put in that time, I’ve really put in that time. And that work, I learned a lot of those tools and coping mechanisms and like I know the right things that I have to do. And so even on the days when I don’t have the time to really sit and do that kind of daily practice, if I feel the anxiety creeping in, or if I anticipate that there’s going to be a day or an event that’s going to cause me anxiety, I can preempt it, you know, I have all these tools and I and I wouldn’t have them if I hadn’t really taken the time that I did at one point in my life to work on that stuff. But that’s the thing that I also think is really cool about anxiety is that for as debilitating as it can be and truly debilitating for people, you can also really work on it like there are things you can do to really change it and to overcome it largely. And I find that very exciting, because I think that there are some mental health issues that are much harder. And anxiety is when you can actually really work on and make changes pretty quickly. You know, in some ways?

Kelsey Darragh  22:20

There’s like stuff out there for us y’all, like stuff that works. So I’m a living proof to say you don’t have to be like this. You don’t have to suffer. Yeah, as deeply as I think we let ourselves to the point of debilitation of life.

Claire  22:35

I agree. What are your like, top five things that you think are most helpful with anxiety? You’ve mentioned, like somatic feeling you? You’ve mentioned, like meditation, journal writing, what are the things that you feel are the like, really good five core things.

Kelsey Darragh  22:51

Man, only five?

Claire  22:53

I know, there’s a ton, like, I feel like there are some core ones.

Kelsey Darragh  22:57

Yeah, big time, I would say like, having a couples therapist, where my partner and I started at, like, we’ve been together four years. And we were completely different people when we met than who we are now. And we never really fell into ruts of like, unhealthiness because we were always in a good safe couples environment, a couples therapy environment. And people think like, oh, couples therapy is only for people who are divorcing and it’s like, no, do you only go to get your car fixed when it’s broken down? Like no, you gotta get your oil change. You gotta get gas, you got to wash it, you know? So I see couples therapy as that being like, I learned so much there about communicating with another individual that I automatically had to learn about myself. Like, why do I snap? Why do I lead by emotion? I immediately go to an emotional place when I’m faced with anxiety or you know, something with my partner. So that’s like my number one.

Claire  24:02

That’s a surprising answer. I wasn’t expecting couples therapy, but that’s awesome, you’re really right.

Kelsey Darragh  24:07

Thank you. I also was surprised by myself when I said that, but it was like the first thing that popped into my mind. But the second thing I would suggest is and this was a hard one for me is I had to go towards the fear. So like when panic disorder happens like the panic attack will come up and I would be like, oh my God, not again. Holy shit, like I gotta get out of this I need to fix it, I need to solve it, I need to stop it. And what I realized was, I need to go into the fear and say, okay, what is happening and why and learning the science and the biology behind why a brain does what it does and like literally get to know about like, neural pathway patterns and neuroplasticity and like getting into the psychology of it really helped me go oh, I can literally explain now why my heart starts to race because I feel like I’m not able to breathe. So I’m over breathing, which is actually making my heart rate go faster. Instead of slowing down my breath, which is hard to do when you feel like you’re choking, you’re not like, let me breathe less. So, going into the physical science and psychology of what I felt was, you know, knowledge is power is what it felt like.

Claire  25:25

I had a therapist explain it to me when he said, think about it like when you’re in a car that’s getting out on an icy road, you’re supposed to turn into it to get control over it, right? And I loved that, because it makes a lot of sense with anxiety, I think it comes up or we feel that panic attack coming and we slam the door on it, rather than leaning into it and inquiring about it, getting to know it, you know, and that is how we kind of get our hands around it.

Kelsey Darragh  25:50

Yeah, you have to make it a friend and hug it and realize like, oh, this is a part of me that’s hurting. And I need to treat it with as much love and energy that I would like, wounded puppy is kind of I was thinking about it.

Claire  26:05

Yeah, that’s awesome. What else?

Kelsey Darragh  26:07

So I love yoga, which if you would have told me three years ago, but I would love yoga, I would have smacked you in the face and called you a liar. Because I hated with my entire being doing yoga. I was forced to do it in college through like theater classes, we had to like, learn Alexander technique, and I hated it. I thought was so boring. I was agitated the whole time frustrated, and I realized, well, yeah, it’s because I don’t know how to sit with myself. I don’t know how to sit with my feelings. I felt like I was wasting time I could literally be doing anything else. I could learn my lines, I could answer emails, like, why am I doing this? And it took me a lot of years to say, Okay, I have to sit with this and do my scanning and my somatic tracking to recognize what the mind body connection is, and where are my emotions feeding into pain, and where’s my pain feeding into my emotions. And the most beautiful way I found that is with doing 20 minutes of free classes on YouTube of daily yoga, it doesn’t have to be an expensive sport. I do it in my backyard. I don’t go to a gym or classes. But the natural breath work that also comes with yoga is just such a centering, solid thing. And now when I don’t do it, I feel cranky. And often, you know, I’ll do it in an airport. I’ll do it in a hotel. I’ll do it anywhere, you know?

Claire  27:39

Yoga was one of the big things for me too. And I kind of like it was like a last-ditch effort. Like, what can I try? Because nothing worked and I hated it too with a passion. And I hated like the idea of yoga culture, too. I was like, oh, please. But it was the same thing. I was really afraid to be in my body. You know, I had been so afraid to just be in my body to be present to breathe, you know, just be here. And once I was able to start pushing through that, and it took a lot of crying to like crying on the mat just weeping because I was in my body. It really helped as well.

Kelsey Darragh  28:18

And for that, like brings such another great tool is like to have a safe space to cry. And for me, that is therapy. That is talk therapy, you know, I need someone to listen to what I’m thinking because I’m thinking all the time. And I need to be able to have a safe, contained space with a relationship that feels helpful and challenging at times, but helpful to get all of that out. And so, you know, sometimes I’m going through a great period of my life, and I’m like, Oh, I only need this once a month. And sometimes I’m like, I’m coming twice a week and clear out your schedule. But that’s again, that’s that maintenance about, you know, tweaking it to where your schedule and finances allow.

Claire  29:29

We have some really good listener questions that I’d love to get your take on. So Liz from Boston says, sometimes I feel like I’m addicted to anxiety. I’m miserable when I’m in a panic, but I can’t pull myself out of the cycle that creates anxiety in the first place. It’s like I can’t stop doing things the hard way. I’ll avoid a task because it makes me anxious, but then I’m even more anxious because it’s looming over me. How do I stop setting myself up for this?

Kelsey Darragh  29:56

Girl if it ain’t me, I had that exact same feeling in my 20s was like, is this just where I’m comfortable? Is this where I thrive? Like, does my anxiety push me to be more successful and more of a perfectionist and like, it became a like hidden superpower where I was like, I don’t want to tell anyone that this is like my fuel. But like, I was worried that I would never get better because I became addicted to it that it was like my entire identity. But what helped me was being able to separate myself from it and say, that’s a space that I feel comfortable in, and how can I seek discomfort. So if it’s letting a stack of papers sit on my desk, like forcing that confrontation with myself to say, like, this makes me really uncomfortable, but I’m going to let that be there until Saturday, and then I’ll get to it. And then I’ll clear this thing out and like, make these little challenges for myself are like, I really want to leave right now. And I don’t know if it’s because I really want to go home or is it my social anxiety. And it’s like, okay, I challenge myself one more drink non-alcoholic now, of course, and try and introduce yourself to one more person or even just stay in there like just  don’t flight from the situation. So I started putting myself in uncomfortable situations, that of course, then started to reveal themselves to be not as scary as I had thought they were going to be if I left that safe, anxious space, which is such an oxymoron.

Claire  31:29

Yeah, no, that’s great advice. I think sometimes, too, I see people kind of addicted to worry. And this feeling, and I’ve gone through it myself to this feeling that if you stop worrying, then something really bad is gonna happen. It’s like if we’re worrying about it, then we have some kind of control over it or like we’re trying to get ahead of something. And the feeling of not worrying can feel scary, right? And so I’ve had to do some work around just not worrying about things, you know?

Kelsey Darragh  31:59

That’s really beautiful.

Claire  32:00

Em, from Washington says, best tips, advice and practices when having an anxiety spiral. What strategies do you recommend to stop, intercept, and redirect a spiral from taking over?

Kelsey Darragh  32:11

Okay, mine’s a little extreme. No joke, dead ass, jumped into cold water or take a cold shower, like I know exactly what it is where you think I need to get this all out right now because it’s all bubbling up. And it’s like you’re doing the reverse. You’re like giving gas to the car and you’re like helping it drive, you need to stop. That is it parasympathetic nervous system from and you need to hit your vagus nerve with something new that will redirect and distract. And sometimes distraction is helpful, you know. So my thing is jump in a cold shower, and you’re gonna hate it at first. So keep it on warm and then like, slowly move the lever to cold and then it won’t be as bad or just like a go for a ball to the walls and like go all the way to cold. But if you don’t have the patience, or if sitting there and writing out your thought, and then going what’s the reverse of that and then writing that and going now I’m going to embody that doesn’t seem practical, because the first time someone told me to do that was like fuck off. I’m not going to say or write out my thoughts and try to physically find the opposite. I started jumping into cold bodies of water.

Claire  33:20

Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I think changing up your environment. If you’re inside go outside, you know, like just doing things. Even eating something will like distract your whole system from what you’re doing. I like to also I’ll call like, one of my best friends or my husband and tell them all of my like this irrational chain of thoughts I’m having and the minute I’m saying it out loud to somebody and saying, it helps me to step away from it.

Kelsey Darragh  33:44

And go like, I am doing that thing. Like I do..

Claire  33:48

Sentences halfway out of my mouth, and I’m already like, oh.

Kelsey Darragh  33:51

yeah, it’s a lot of like, oh, this is a good one. What if or yeah, what if then what? So if you’re always saying what if? What if? What if? Then go to then what start to add that to the end of your sentence? Then what? What are you going to do? What if I have a panic attack? If I go to this party, then you’ll leave? What if I have a panic attack this or go to this party? Then order a pizza, call an Uber and like have a night at like start adding then what and that might again, make you feel like a little more agency over the worry.

Claire  34:20

Yeah, I think that’s really important advice. And that’s that idea of kind of leaning into it and getting to know it too. Right. Like leaning into the fear. I’ve made myself do that to like, you know, a pain in my side. I’m like, oh my god, I have cancer and I’m gonna die. And then I’m like, well, you know, what happens if I get cancer? I might not die actually. Like I could get cancer and be okay, you know? But we often like hit that that fear thought and then that’s it. We don’t go any further and we just ruminate on that. So yeah, that’s really good to point out. All right, Kate from Oakland says I’ve never thought of myself as someone with anxiety issues, being a parent in this pandemic, navigating work life kids in concert Didn’t childcare being a wife, it is so stressful. I feel like I’m constantly on high alert and cannot manage things that would normally not bother me caused me anxiety. I tried to find time for self-care and have a very supportive partner. But it doesn’t feel like enough to make a difference in this constant state of stress. How do I get out of this funk? When it also seems like we are living with this pandemic for the foreseeable near future? How do I manage my daily stresses and not take on the overwhelming sadness in the news? Would love some advice or perhaps just to hear that I’m not the only one feeling this.

Kelsey Darragh  35:32

I mean, I feel like you should start because you are a mom in the pandemic.

Claire  35:38

Yeah, absolutely. But I think one of the things that I’m noticing here, I mean, we are all living in this insanely stressful time. And I think one of the things that I keep pointing out is that it’s really difficult to live in uncertainty. I think pre pandemic, it’s not like anything was certain. But we were in this illusion that it was we thought we knew what life was about and how it was gonna go. And that got pulled out from underneath us. And for a couple of years now, we’ve been sitting in this constant space of like, not knowing what’s going to happen next month, you know, next week, or if the kids are going to be coming home from school again, or whatnot. And a lot of it’s getting comfortable being uncomfortable, getting comfortable being uncertain, you know, so I think that that is a is a piece there that’s really helpful to work on. I love mindfulness for that, doing some mindfulness meditations getting really present. I think when we’re in that uncertain space, and we’re anxious, we’re thinking a lot about the future. And like all these what ifs, and we’re thinking a lot about the past and things that were could have been, instead of just being right here, right now, you know, we’re in all these thoughts that aren’t real. So bringing your awareness to here. But one of the last things that I would love to ask you to talk on here that you mentioned earlier, when we were speaking is, it sounds almost like Kate maybe has gotten herself into that anxious cycle, where you really your thoughts start to go there all the time. And there are things you can do once you’ve gotten yourself into that anxiety plays. Sometimes we get stuck in that pattern, and there are things we can do to pull ourselves out of it.

Kelsey Darragh  37:12

Yeah, absolutely. What I’m what I’m hearing from that, too, is what stuck with me is she feels like her body is stuck in this high frequency, if you will, and you’re probably correct. You start to develop pathways of, you know, the way I like to think of it is like there’s a snowblower in your mind and a guy’s like going over the same path every time you’re like, Well, what about the pandemic? When is it ever going to end? What about my kids like, he’s just going over this same path over and over again, and like, there’s not even snow, snow over here. And he’s just like going over gravel and I like gravel shooting all over the place, and your body probably is going to start reacting more sensitively to things right, like a lot of people with anxiety, high debilitating anxiety, become highly sensitive to noises, sounds, smells, you know, when my partner and I first started dating it, God forbid, he jumped out from behind the corner and said, boo, I would collapse to the ground and start crying. And he was like, Oh, shit, I was not prepared for this. And I was like, why is my body reacting that way, but it’s a safety mechanism where your brain has gone, there’s trouble and fear and I need to protect you. So your heart rates probably risen, your senses are more aware of things going on. And so I think a lot of like body work to would be great like a massage perhaps with some healer who knows maybe about Reiki or even like a Thai massage like that visual beat you up and really like getting in your body or like I love a good float tank moment or, you know chirotheraphy or a sauna or day at the spa, something to get you into your body and remember what it feels like to get everything down a couple of frequency, down a couple notches.

Claire  39:08

Yeah. But also like learning how to step away from some of those anxious thoughts. Because again, just like with the snowblower, we’re creating these neural pathways where we just automatically go into these places over and over and over wake up every day, anxious about the pandemic, you know, here are a couple of news right into that space. And so learning how to recognize when you’re stepping into that space and pivot, you know, have a go to thought that you that you change to are you just recognizing that you’re doing that and, you know, replacing the thought with something else. I think some of that work can really help too, because it we really can get stuck in those places. unless we do something about it. It’s not going to kind of undo itself. Is the problem.

Kelsey Darragh  39:48

Like a moment of gratitude, like even if it’s just Oh no, the pandemic we’re living another day like oh my god, these palm trees outside of my window are so gorgeous and like sunny and like my disco ball is shining and like Yeah, replace it with a moment of gratitude.

Claire  40:02

Yeah. I also like to throw in some self-compassion, you know, just like, be nice to yourself. You know, it’s like, it’s okay that you’re having an anxious moment. We just went through a pandemic or still are whatever. It’s okay that that’s not easy. You know?

Kelsey Darragh  40:17

It’s okay not to be okay. Whatever that song is. I don’t know.

Claire  40:23

Oh, my God, this is such an awesome conversation. I feel like we could just go for hours. I’m so glad you’re doing this work. I’m so glad you’re putting this out there. So many people need this. And I’m just so grateful to you.

Claire  40:35

Thank you so much, Kelsey.

Kelsey Darragh  40:37

Thanks, Claire.

Claire  40:38

I am so grateful for the work that Kelsey is doing to help people better understand anxiety. I can’t even tell you how much I wish I’d had this kind of information when I first started going through it myself. Talking to her made me realize how important it is for all of us to be more open about our struggles. So this week’s practice is about learning how to better understand your anxiety, and also about how to separate yourself from what’s making you anxious. Worry and overwhelm are inevitable responses to life. But when it gets away from you and starts to affect your daily functioning and relationships, then it’s time to do some work. But trust me when I tell you that even just a little bit of work in this realm will really get you into a better place. The best way to get started is by getting to know your anxiety. This week, start to notice your anxious thoughts, I like to jot them down. Try to notice if you tend to focus on specific worries and thoughts, and also try to notice if these thoughts occur at specific times or in specific environments. Try to pause the next time you find yourself in an anxious moment. Instead of running from it. Sit with it for a minute. Think of it like a blinking yellow light at an intersection. Slow down, look around. Pay attention to what’s going on that’s causing you anxiety. Notice where you feel anxiety in your body. Ask yourself what you can control. decide upon one small step you can take right now to make yourself feel better. Like the next time you find yourself in an anxious moment, find ways to shift the moment. Jump in a cold shower, eat something, go outside switch rooms, do some bodywork. Try massages and float tanks and saunas to remember what it feels like to have a calmer frequency. Have a go to thought or mantra to help pivot from the anxious thoughts. Over time, this is how you will gain control over what’s making you anxious. For even more great tools. Check out Kelsey’s workbook don’t fucking panic the shit they don’t tell you in therapy about anxiety disorder, panic attacks and depression. For tips, tricks and stories about Kelsey being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, panic and major depressive disorder. You can also check out my book anxiety the missing stage of grief, which explores the connection between grief and anxiety. Overall, remember, anxiety is something you can overcome and find ways to manage, learning how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learning how to sit and uncertainty will be something that will see you through so much of life’s hard stuff. Lastly, don’t forget to be kind to yourself as you do this work. Anxiety is no fun, and there’s nothing wrong with you. So many of us struggle with this. And it doesn’t have to be that way. As always, thanks for listening. And if you get a chance, send me a question through my new online forum at bit.ly/nowadays, it’s totally anonymous. You can literally ask me anything and you can find the link in the show notes. Or if you just want to tell me about one of your weekly practices, call and leave me a voicemail at 8334-LEMONADA, that’s 833-453-6662, or email me at newday@lemonadamedia.com

Claire  43:55

NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show is produced by Jackie Danziger, Liliana Maria Percy Ruiz and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, Lily Cornell Silver and Claire Bidwell Smith. NEW DAY is produced in partnership with the Well Being Trust, The Jed Foundation and Education Development Center. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me at clairebidwellsmith.com. Join our Facebook group to connect with me and fellow NEW DAY listeners at facebook.com/groups/newdaypod. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium. You can subscribe right now on the Apple podcast app by clicking on our podcast logo and then the subscribe button. Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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