Wellness Wednesday: A new approach to anxiety

October 28, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources

The COVID-19 pandemic, incidents of racial injustice and political tensions have all worked together this year to create an environment of heightened fear, anger and unrest across the country.

Even before the pandemic, anxiety disorders were the most common mental health concern in the U.S., impacting more than 40 million (18.1%) adults.1

Now, with the added stressors that surround us and touch our daily lives, individuals suffering from anxiety disorders may be experiencing more symptoms, and people who have not previously struggled with anxiety may find themselves filled with worry and fear.

“Anxiety is an emotion a lot of us would rather not feel,” said Erik Anderson, LMSW, CAADC, CCTP-II, faculty and staff counselor with the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience, “but it is part of the human experience.

“For some of us, enduring these past months, anxiety may be playing a bigger part in our lives than it did in the past,” he said.

While anxiety is a natural and often helpful response to dangers around us, too much anxiety can affect our ability to function normally and create challenges in our personal and professional lives.

Be NICE to your anxiety

Anderson has created a strategy for getting to know anxiety in a way that allows people to compartmentalize, acknowledge and even appreciate anxiety so it can exist without taking over.

Anderson explained in a recent episode of the Short Takes Reflect & Recharge video series that his method, using the acronym NICE, acknowledges there are certain parts of us that hold anxiety. Based on a psychological model called Internal Family Systems (IFS), this method recognizes that all of us have a multiplicity, called parts, and that our parts have either a protective role or hold some experience from our past.

N = Notice

The first step in NICE is to turn your attention inward and see if you can find anxiety in your system. Anderson said it can show up in different ways, often through sensations, thoughts or images. Once you find the anxiety, he suggested taking a few breaths while you focus on noticing where the anxiety is located and telling that part of yourself that you are noticing the anxiety.

I = Invite

The next step is to invite the part of you that is anxious to step aside, creating distance so you can get to know it better. He said it is normal for your anxious part to be resistant and that it is important to reassure that part of yourself that you are not asking it to go away forever, but to step aside in order to allow you to have this experience.

C = Curious

Next, ask yourself how you’re feeling toward the part of you that is anxious. Other parts of you may want it to go away, and that’s normal. Ask the parts of you that are critical of the anxious part to step back for a few minutes. See if you can view your anxiety with curiosity, rather than fear or judgment. Let your anxious part know that, while other parts may want to push it away, you are not those parts.

E = Explore

Staying in the curious mindset, you can start to build a relationship with your anxious part by asking it some questions. What is its positive intention? How is it protecting you? As you are asking these questions, listen for the answers. When your anxious part responds, try to understand its point of view. Let it know you understand, and that you appreciate what it is trying to do for you.

A new relationship

Anderson’s hope is that using the NICE strategy to understand the different parts of themselves that hold anxiety will help people acknowledge, appreciate and better cope with that anxiety.

“Using the NICE method for working with your anxious parts is a way to build trust,” he said. “If you practice, you can deepen your relationship with your anxiety.

“In situations where your anxious part was front and center before, it may begin to trust you and take on the role of advisor, rather than flooding you with anxiety,” he said.

For confidential counseling at no cost, referrals and information on how to address mental and emotional health concerns, faculty and staff can contact the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience at counseling.med.umich.edu, or by calling 734-763-5409.

1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics