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Describing the Anxious Mind

Often clients come to therapy and state “no one understands my anxiety”, “why does my partner get frustrated with me when I am anxious”, “anxiety is destroying my life”, “my chest hurts and I feel like I can’t breathe” and many more statements regarding their ongoing struggle with anxiety. Sometimes anxiety can be recognized by a client as a positive aspect because it helps them to remain on task. Other times it can be extremely debilitating for clients.

In my recent studies to become a PMHNP I found a metaphor that truly describes panic attacks well. It can be used to explain to someone else in our lives that may not understand it. However, it can also be helpful to clients struggling to understand how the anxious mind works. The text I read was called Prescribing Mental Health Medication and written by Christopher Doran MD. Doran describes a panic attack as a smoke detector. The smoke detector is meant to signal to the client that there is real or perceived danger. Therefore, causing the client to leave the situation and find safety away from the danger imagined. This metaphor shows that the anxious mind isn’t always rational but it is protective even if it may not feel like it at the moment. Often anxiety and panic have comorbid diagnoses that will cause anxiety to occur such as OCD or PTSD. These diagnoses can cause anxiety levels to rise and make someone more likely to experience symptoms when feeling danger is present.

Most people have experienced some level of anxiety in their life but not everyone truly understands what it feels like to live with it everyday. It is my hope that this metaphor will provide some clarity, guidance and support to those who feel trapped in their body or mind. Anxiety does not always have to be seen as bad and can in fact be a good sign that our mind is protecting us. Often I will tell clients to reflect on their anxiety and find the positive aspect of its protective properties. Although this can be difficult in the moment, it is important to reframe our thoughts surrounding anxiety to experience a more positive mindset surrounding the anxious mind.

Kailee Merryfield, MSW, LICSW, MLADC, RN

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