Hi Everyone, and welcome to episode #1 of the Anxious Pineapple, a show dedicated to getting curious about our good friend, anxiety. My name is Kayla Chorley, your host and anxious therapist.
A friendly reminder that this podcast is in no way a substitute for therapy, and does not constitute therapeutic advice. This is simply for informational purposes only. I encourage you to follow up with your own therapist or medical doctor for professional support and advice.
Hey friends, welcome to the very first episode of the anxious pineapple – I am beyond excited to be here with all of you. It feels surreal to say that this is my podcast. I have always wanted to make one. I have heard so many people say, “Kayla, you know, wait until you’re at point a, b, c in your career or wait until you achieve x, y, z before you create one”; but you know what? As much as I appreciate their support and advice, I’m doing it. I feel like I have so much I want to share about my experience about anxiety and I want to make mental health accessible and I am hoping I can do both of those things through this podcast. My main goal is always to encourage you to be curious about anxiety. We’ve kind of given anxiety this bad rap over time and we’ve said it’s a bad thing, but you know what? Anxiety is actually there to protect us, so I wonder what would happen if we shifted our mindset from seeing anxiety as an enemy to seeing it as something that’s a protector and perhaps an opportunity to rebuild that relationship with anxiety and maybe even befriend it.
Now, I can tell you, with all certainty that anxiety is here with me as I record this podcast. The amount of times I have re-recorded this I am pretty sure is in the thousands at this point, and that honestly might be an understatement; but, despite anxiety being here with me, we’re still moving forward and I’m excited about this.
Today I really want us to dive into the heart of anxiety – what is anxiety, how does it show up in our lives, and what actually happens inside your body when you are anxious. Alright, let’s do this!
Before we get started with the meat and potatoes of the podcast, I want to share a bit about my own experience with anxiety. When I was younger, I had zero idea that I was anxious. I knew that I hated being apart from my parents, I would cry when routines or plans changed (I hated uncertainty) and perfectionism was the name of the game. In the 1990s and early 2000s mental health was starting to be talked about, but mostly with negative connotations, as in “people are crazy.” So, I don’t know about you, but the amount of exposure I got to mental health support and literacy was limited, if not non-existent. So, university rolls around and my anxiety is through. The. Roof. Perfectionism has taken over – I have a rigid study schedule, I shut out friends and family (and when I do spend time with them I am not present because I am so fixated on what I need to get done next) and my focus is solely on achievement. Exam time was riddled with crying and repeatedly saying “I can’t do this”, completely making my brain go offline. Yet, somehow I managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA and impress everyone around me, while deeply struggling inside. I had no tools, I did not know how to navigate this part of me; and I wish I would have been able to hear somebody normalize this experience, to tell me there is nothing wrong with me, and that all humans deal with anxiety in some form or another. If this resonates with you, then this podcast is for you.
Fast forward to the present – do I still deal with anxiety? Absolutely! That part of me has not disappeared and that’s okay. My focus now is understanding the anxious part of me and what its trying to accomplish. I have now also dedicated my career to mental health and I own a private practice called Pineapple Therapy, where my main focus is working with clients who are dealing with anxiety. I want people to have tools, and to get curious about anxiety. To question whether anxiety has to be an enemy or if it’s possible to befriend it. This is work I continue to do with myself, and encourage my clients to do in session, and I hope that this podcast will inspire you to do that work too.
So, let’s get started with the reason we are all here: anxiety. What is it really?
At its simplest form, anxiety can be thought of as future-based worry; essentially, we are anticipating some sort of threat and in response we are preparing our body to take care of it. In this sense anxiety is a protector – it’s job is to analyze things so that we can avoid harm and stay alive.
Now for some of us, anxiety has gotten so good at its job it has started to overanalyze things, and perceive non-threats as danger. When this happens we might overestimate a perceived threat and underestimate our ability to handle it.
Anxiety is a bit of a triple threat (pun intended) in that it impacts our physical, cognitive, and emotional components. We will explore each of these parts in depth over the course of this podcast.
Let’s break down what happens in the body when anxiety is activated. Say we have encountered a potential threat (Maybe your friend invited you to a party, where you might only know a handful of people). Our brain kicks in, and starts drumming up some worried thoughts like, “what if you don’t know anyone?” “What if you have nothing to talk about?” “What if they judge what you say?”
When we are triggered by something we interpret as a threat, a tiny part of our brain called the amygdala is activated. It sounds an alarm indicating that we are under attack and need to prepare to either fight, flight, or freeze. You might also hear the term “fawn” – I’m not going to talk about this response in this episode, but we will touch on it in future episodes.
So the amygdala has picked up on our worry, and it has sounded the alarm, initiating the autonomic nervous system.
Our adrenaline then begins to kick in and we start to experience physical symptoms. Although not an exhaustive list, this might include things like nausea, a tight chest, difficulty breathing or hyperventilating, redness, shaking, sweating, a fast heart beat etc. Now remember, the goal of this system is to prepare you to either fight flight or freeze, so the physical systems as experience are inline with this goal: We are moving our energy resources towards our muscles, slowing down things like digestion (hence why you might feel sick), increasing blood flow to the muscles (often why we appear red), and tapping into our adrenaline (causing us to sometimes shake).
Now, If you’re like me, even listening to that list might invoke some anxiety for you. And if that’s the case, give yourself some space by taking some deep breaths.
Often when we experience physical symptoms we start to have more worried thoughts.. essentially, anxiety about our anxiety.. like “oh man, people are going to notice I’m red and shaky” and the cycle continues, as our body, and specifically the amygdala and autonomic nervous system, attempt to take care of the initial threat.
So, why can’t I just rationalize anxiety in the heat of the moment? When the amygdala is activated, it steals energy from other parts of our brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for problem solving. It essentially makes our brain go “offline” and enter a state of hyper-focus, not allowing our brains to do any real thinking beyond taking care of the threat.
Listen, I get it. Living Out this cycle sucks. It’s not fun, it’s exhausting, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; however, there are two really important things to remember: 1) it is possible to break a cycle by doing something differently; and 2) anxiety is a protector – it’s on your side, even if it feels like it’s not sometimes.
Now here’s the thing about our brains. They are totally old school and cannot tell the difference between an actual threat (like an axe murder) or something we perceive to be a threat, like an exam, or speaking in public, or engaging in a social setting. Our brains will respond in the exact. Same. Way.
Don’t believe me? As the wonderful and sassy Lynn Lyons would say: Ask yourself the following: what would I do if a grizzly bear magically appeared in front of me right now? Go ahead and imagine it… I’ll wait.
Now here’s how you might respond to that question:
- You might attempt to run away. If this is your first instinct, you might commonly avoid things/tasks that make you anxious.
- You might play dead in hopes the bear by-passes you. If this resonates with you, you might be prone to freezing when facing an anxiety provoking task, in hopes the threat will disappear.
- Or, you might try and fight the bear off. If this is your first instinct, you may become aggressive when you feel anxious as a means to deal with the threat and general uncomfortableness.
Let me point out that there is absolutely no right or wrong response here. We are simply gaining some insight into how we might respond when anxiety shows up. For me, I am 100% a runner – I would attempt to outrun that bear knowing full well that is humanly impossible; but man, would I try. Take for example my track record of part time jobs in high school. As soon as I felt anxious, I just stopped showing up. Talk about avoidance – I wouldn’t even go back to pick up my paycheque for the few days I worked! I 100% ghosted Chili’s (which doesn’t exist anymore), Sportchek, and giant tiger… whoops.
So my friends, I encourage you to get curious about your anxiety this week. What’s it like for you when you are in the midst of the anxiety cycle? How would you respond to a grizzly bear and what does that tell you about how you respond to anxiety? See you next time!
Enjoyed this podcast & want to help make mental health accessible? Spread the love by following, liking, rating, and taking it out for dinner… just kidding.