Part 1 of a 5 part mini series on how to combat anxiety- practical ideas and tips to help settle and soothe the mind and bodyRead Now
Welcome to the first part of a 5 mini series on how to combat anxiety. Combat might sound a little harsh or not quite the way you view your relationship with anxiety. What I mean by this is how to let your body and your mind know, “thank you for keeping me on alert, but I’ve got some ideas and strategies, I’m ok, and I’ve got this right now”.
I’m writing with teen anxiety in mind, but these ideas can be useful for anyone!
Here's a video in case that works better for your style.
Today, I will be laying out the framework that I’m using to understand how anxious and distressing thoughts impact us and what it is that we can do about it.
I have been working from the framework of Compassion Focused Therapy. Some of the folks in this field are: Paul Gilbert, Deborah Lee, Kristin Neff, Paul Tirsch, just to name a few. All of these folks have done some great work in the compassion focused realm and I think they do a good job at explaining how anxious thoughts, trauma, and different systems impact us in different ways.
It is a really important system if our goal is to stay alive. When this system is activated, it is often associated with feelings of anxiety, anger, disgust, sadness and shame. The model talks about different hormones and endorphins that are released in different systems and cortisol (our primary stress hormone) is the main one in the threat system.
Three circle model
The third system is the soothe system. This system is thought to be one that is often underdeveloped or not as large as the other systems, in particular if you are someone who often experiences anxious or distressing thoughts or if you are someone who often feels shame or guilt. This system kicks in and leads us to feel content, calm, safe and soothed. The related hormone linked to this system is oxytocin.
The soothe system is the one that compassion focused therapies encourage us to develop and grow as a way to support when we are experiencing threat system feelings and are not in fact in immediate danger. Compassion focused therapy also teaches about balance of the systems and getting to know which of our systems is more developed, understanding how it is serving us (helpful vs. harmful), and considering room to develop one of the other systems to better support us.
I like this model because it talks about these systems as ones that exist globally, in all humans. They also talk about it from the framework of it being not a matter of choice, but rather these are the systems we are born with, they are systems that exist in us, and they have specific roles and purposes. There is a reason each system is wired the way it is and they can serve us quite well in different circumstances. They language used is "it is not your fault".
Now, in saying it’s not our fault leaves room for compassion and understanding, but another important point is that we still have a lot of ability to cultivate, grow, and develop certain systems. I like this because it’s saying: “yes we have this hardwiring to respond to certain things and this can serve us well and sometimes it can get in the way, but we have the ability to make some changes in that”.
If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part II, where I’ll be talking about using our 5 senses to combat anxiety.
- Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology- helping older children, teens, and young adults looking to rid themselves of unhelpful anxious, fearful, and negative thoughts
Chantal Côté is a Registered Psychologist in the province of Alberta and the owner of Pyramid Psychology. Pyramid Psychology's goal is for all young people to be able to discover their greatness and uniqueness and to share those gifts with the world. That means being on a mission to help older children, teens, and young adults learn how to rid themselves of unhelpful anxious, fearful, and negative thoughts and feelings. Chantal meets people in person in southeast Calgary, on-line for those living anywhere in Alberta, and outdoors for walk and talk sessions. Chantal uses a trauma informed lens and invites people to try cognitive, mindfulness, and narrative strategies, as well as the expressive arts if it fits.